Update: Five days after the announcement of dropping the i386 structure, Steve Langasek has now changed his stance. Yesterday, 23rd June, Langasek apologised to his users and said that this is not the case. He now claims that Ubuntu is only dropping the updates to the i386 libraries, and it will be frozen at the 18.04 LTS versions. He also mentioned that they are planning to have i386 applications including games, for versions of Ubuntu later than 19.10.
This update comes after Valve Linux developer Pierre-Loup Griffais tweeted on 21st June that Steam will not support Ubuntu 19.10 and its future releases. He also recommended its users the same. Griffais has stated that are planning to switch to a different distribution and are evaluating ways to minimize breakage for their users.
Ubuntu 19.10 and future releases will not be officially supported by Steam or recommended to our users. We will evaluate ways to minimize breakage for existing users, but will also switch our focus to a different distribution, currently TBD.
— Pierre-Loup Griffais (@Plagman2) June 22, 2019
Between all the uncertainties of i386, Wine developers have also raised their concern because many 64-bit Windows applications still use a 32-bit installer, or some 32-bit components. Rosanne DiMesio, one of the admins in Wine’s Applications Database (AppDB) and Wiki, has said in a mail archive that there are many possibilities, such as building a pure 64 bit Wine packages for Ubuntu.
Yesterday the Ubuntu engineering team announced their decision to discontinue i386 (32-bit) as an architecture, from Ubuntu 19.10 onwards. In a post to the Ubuntu Developer Mailing List, Canonical’s Steve Langasek explains that “i386 will not be included as an architecture for the 19.10 release, and we will shortly begin the process of disabling it for the eoan series across Ubuntu infrastructure.”
Langasek also mentions that the specific distributions of builds, packages or distributes of the 32-bit software, libraries or tools will no longer work on the newer versions of Ubuntu. He also mentions that the Ubuntu team will be working on the 32-bit support, over the course of the 19.10 development cycle.
The topic of dropping i386 systems has been in discussion among the Ubuntu developer community, since last year. One of the mails in the archive, mentions that “Less and less non-amd64-compatible i386 hardware is available for consumers to buy today from anything but computer parts recycling centers. The last of these machines were manufactured over a decade ago, and support from an increasing number of upstream projects has ended.”
Earlier this year, Langasek stated in one of his mail archives that running a 32-bit i386 kernel on the recent 64-bit Intel chips had a risk of weaker security than using a 64-bit kernel. Also the usage of i386 has reduced broadly in the ecosystem, and hence it is “increasingly going to be a challenge to keep software in the Ubuntu archive buildable for this target”, he adds.
Langasek also informed users that the automated upgrades to 18.10 are disabled on i386. This has been done to enable users of i386 to stay on the LTS, as it will be supported until 2023. This will help users to not be stranded on a non-LTS release, which will be supported only until early 2021.
The general reaction to this news has been negative. Users have expressed outrage on the discontinuity of i386 architecture.
A user on Reddit says that “Dropping support for 32-bit hosts is understandable. Dropping support for 32 bit packages is not. Why go out of your way to screw over your users?”
Another user comments, “I really truly don’t get it. I’ve been using ubuntu at least since 5.04 and I’m flabbergasted how dumb and out of sense of reality they have acted since the beginning, considering how big of a headstart they had compared to everyone else. Whether it’s mir, gnome3, unity, wayland and whatever else that escapes my memory this given moment, they’ve shot themselves in the foot over and over again.”
On Hacker News, a user commented “I have a 64-bit machine but I’m running 32-bit Debian because there’s no good upgrade path, and I really don’t want to reinstall because that would take months to get everything set up again. I’m running Debian not Ubuntu, but the absolute minimum they owe their users is an automatic upgrade path.”
Few think that this step was needed, for the sake of riddance.
Another Redditor adds, “From a developer point of view, I say good riddance. I understand there is plenty of popular 32-bit software still being used in the wild, but each step closer to obsoleting 32-bit is one step in the right direction in my honest opinion.”