indecision on 32-bit support
Ubuntu has since changed its mind and says it will continue to package select 32-bit libraries. See our post for more details.

A leading Ubuntu developer has said it is “simply not the case” that Ubuntu will drop support for running 32-bit applications in Ubuntu 19.10 and subsequent editions.

“I’m sorry we’ve given the impression we’re dropping support for 32-bit apps. It is simply not the case.”

Steve Langasek, Ubuntu dev

That’s according to Canonical’s Steve Langasek, the author of the original “end of 32-bit support” mailing list post that led to a colourful parade of opinions from users, developers and software projects over the past few days..

Reaction to the mailing list post’s implication that Ubuntu will no longer support 32-bit apps culminated in a dramatic decision by Valve, who say Steam for Linux will not support Ubuntu 19.10.

Now, in a forum reply on the Ubuntu Discourse, Langasek appears to row back on the notion that 32-bit libraries will be removed wholesale in the ‘Eoan Ermine’, writing:

“I’m sorry that we’ve given anyone the impression that we are ‘dropping support for i386 applications. It is simply not the case. What we are dropping is updates to the i386 libraries, which will be frozen at the 18.04 LTS versions.”

—Wait, what?!

Ubuntu Not Dropping 32-bit App Support?

photo of ubuntu on a laptop

If Ubuntu is only freezing its i386 archive, i.e. making a snapshot of it as it stands and not removing access to it entirely, then …Well, why wasn’t it made clear to start with?

If Ubuntu is merely freezing the 32-bit repo, not removing it, then the situation isn’t quite as dire as first thought

Because, as read, Langasek’s forum comment paints an entirely different scenario to the one his initial announcement post (and Canonical’s follow-up FAQ) drew.

It would mean that 64-bit apps that rely on or make use of 32-bit libraries to work (like Steam, Wine, and many hardware drivers) WOULD continue to run on Ubuntu 19.10 with few, if any, major headaches.

Software would simply lean on older versions of 32-bit libraries as shipped in 18.04 LTS rather than (where available) newer versions. And since an awful lot of legacy 32-bit software, tooling and libraries are ‘frozen’ in time anyway, the impact on users and developers would be minimal at best.

To see just how much of an impact removing the i386 repo might have on gaming, Canonical’s Alan Pope disabled 32-bit repos in an Ubuntu 19.10 daily build.

His results were… concerning.

What is the status of the 32-bit archive?

Canonical clearly has a massive communications failure here.

Canonical clearly has a massive communication issue here; the drama might all be moot!

If the distro is not, as reported, removing its 32-bit repo entirely, then the dramatic fallout the decision mete out during this weekend is largely moot — Steam for Linux won’t need to drop support for Ubuntu after all!

Langasek indicates that clarification is coming, saying that “…there is every intention to ensure that there is a clear story for how i386 applications(including games) can be run on versions of Ubuntu later than 19.10.”

Hopefully the ‘intention’ manifests itself as a plainly worded update as soon as the relevant Canonical bods are back in the office.

Right now, based on the certainty of the language in the first announcement and the resulting reaction to it, Ubuntu appears to be doing damage to its reputation as the leading desktop Linux OS users and developers alike

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