Why would anyone use a 32-bit OS in 2012?

I’ve been browsing some mailing lists and so on (it doesn’t matter which ones) and came across the Great 32-Bit Debate afresh. The debate always starts with someone saying “I need 32-bit support” or “this doesn’t work on 32-bit systems,” and someone else raising an objection to that, saying that nobody uses 32-bit systems anymore and anyone who does is doing something wrong.

Why would anyone use a 32-bit OS in the year 2012? I can think of a few very good reasons.

  1. The universe isn’t wholly x86_64 yet; there’s still ARM and other non-server systems.
  2. Developer laptops often run 32-bit operating systems, especially when Linux is the developer’s preference, because it works better with a lot of proprietary software such as Flash and audio drivers, and generally causes a lot less user headache. This is especially relevant because Ubuntu, Fedora, and other popular distributions are targeted towards 32-bit. My experience is that they just don’t work as well in 64-bit versions. Besides, if my laptop has only 4GB of RAM (I’ve never had one with more than that), there’s no benefit at all to 64-bit in any case.
  3. A cost-conscious person may very well spin up one of the smaller EC2 instances for lightweight jobs, and those are 32-bit. Many other cloud hosting providers follow the same pattern: getting a 64-bit instance is more expensive.

How is this relevant to MySQL? For a while some of the MySQL forks weren’t available for 32-bit systems. It reminded me that a surprising number of people will use a product in edge-case ways, and failing to serve minorities ends up excluding the majority.


About The Author

Baron is the founder and CEO of VividCortex. He is the author of High Performance MySQL and many open-source tools for performance analysis, monitoring, and system administration. Baron contributes to various database communities such as Oracle, PostgreSQL, Redis and MongoDB.


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