The value of 64-bit vs 32-bit

Bryan Kadzban bryan at kadzban.is-a-geek.net
Fri Nov 28 06:54:50 PST 2008


On Fri, Nov 28, 2008 at 12:01:45AM -0600, Bruce Dubbs wrote:
> One commenter said that virtually everything except flash and grub
> were 64 bit.  I believe that flash is a very important application for
> many users and  until that becomes available, many users will reject
> 64-bit Linux.

That is probably true.  There's the alpha 64-bit flash, though, plus
there's nspluginwrapper if you want to use the 32-bit flash library in a
64-bit browser.

However, as someone else has already said, there's also wine.  (And
dosbox, perhaps, though I don't remember if dosbox is running the
machine instructions on the real CPU or on a virtual CPU.  If it's a
virtual CPU, then it doesn't matter, and dosbox will work either way.)

There may be a few other programs too.  (If you want binary extensions
for Firefox or Thunderbird, for example, you may have issues.  I don't
know if they've started to compile any of those for 64-bit.)

> Compatibility of older hardware is also an issue.  Many of the older
> hardware drivers may have issues when trying to run in 64-bit mode.
> I've heard of a lot of problems with things like wifi drivers in some
> commercial 64 bit distros.

Only when those drivers are provided by clueless vendors, in a binary
only blob form.  If you're using drivers in the kernel, you have none of
this type of issue.  (ndiswrapper is a problem.)

> Building a multi-lib system will be much more complicated than a
> 32-bit system.  For that reason alone, I wouldn't recommend that users
> try it until they were successful in building a 32-bit LFS and a great
> deal of 32-bit BLFS.

Well... I may not be a good judge of what's actually complicated, but my
current machine is 64-bit and multilib, and it really wasn't that much
more complicated.  Sure, you have to install packages twice, and you
have to keep two copies of the *-config scripts (if the package provides
them) -- but other than that, I don't remember any differences at all.

It also takes longer to build (since you get to build glibc three or
four times instead of two), but that hardly makes it more complicated.
Just more of an annoyance.  ;-)

> As a side note to Bryan:  The Itanium is still alive and kicking.  It
> was all over the place at the Supercomputer 2008 Conference in Austin
> earlier this month.

Supercomputing != the rest of us.  :-P

(Specifically, supercomputing people aren't necessarily as worried about
backward compatibility.  But the rest of us needed it, at least for a
while.  The proof is that so many people are using 64-bit capable CPUs,
but still in 32-bit mode.  :-) )

But OK, OK, so they're still making them.  That is news to me; I thought
the whole architecture was dead when they couldn't sell more than three
of them when they were first released.  (And yes, "three" is a bit of an
exaggeration.  But that's what it seemed like.)

Anyway, I don't care a ton -- but I don't want to see people start moving
to 64-bit capable OSes while we're still trying to figure it out.
(Where "we" is either LFS or Linux in general.  It seems like various
other distros have already figured out enough of it to work well, so
hopefully Linux will be OK; the only thing left at that point is us.)

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