Is the 64bit desktop really still so far off?

Lately I find myself running quite a few large compiles and virtual machines, so I tricked out my Thinkpad T61 with a full 4 GB of RAM. Anyone with a more than a casual acquaintance with 32-bit operating systems and/or the powers of 2 will quickly see the problem I faced - on next boot Suse proudly reported I had a full 3.8G of RAM available.

 Now, to a man of my age that means that there is more memory laying fallow on this machine than I have had in most of the machines I've worked on throughout my career, and that's just a shame. So I decided to dual-boot and try out a 64-bit distribution.

 At this point let's reflect - when was the last time you actually worked on a 32bit desktop? Can you buy a laptop with a true 32-bit processor in it? Shouldn't this charade have ended long ago?

 Well, I tried Fedora 10 x86_64, and I can tell you the charade has not ended. There is hope: For your browsing pleasure, Adobe now has an alpha available of their 64 bit flash plugin for linux, and my own employer just this month released update 6 of the JDK/JRE featuring for the first time a 64 bit Java plugin for mozilla. That's right, folks, 64 bit linux will soon have cutting edge technology like Flash and Java applets in production-ready form!

Now for the bad news. Webex does not like the 64-bit Java environment (though admittedly I have yet to try the actual release, I have been using the final beta), which is a showstopper for me. Skype is still in 32-bit form, and while it works fine for chat & voice I never did get video to do anything but crash it. And I've found some really bad (freeze-your-laptop bad) bugs with the nvidia driver and NetworkManager - more and worse than this laptop has seen in a lot of distro-hopping. 

 The more cynical may say that my experience of instability could be chalked up to the fact that I'm not acutally comparing apples to apples - I went from OpenSuse 11.0 to Fedora 10 as well. I will say OpenSuse is the most stable distro I've used, but I don't think Fedora is so lacking to explain the experience. I'm temped to re-install the whole box OpenSuse 11.1 in both flavors of bitness... but I'll probably just go to 11.1 x86.

 I will still feel wasteful and depressed every time I run `free`, though.


Of course, if you ran your employer's product you'd already be able to use all that memory.

Posted by guest on February 04, 2009 at 04:12 AM EST #

And run 64-bit along with 32-bit applications all at the same time. None of this 64-bit only or 32-bit only nonsense.

Posted by Phillip Wagstrom on February 04, 2009 at 04:39 AM EST #

I second the first anon poster. It's nice that you comment on OpenSuse and Fedora, but you really ought to try OpenSolaris as well -- you'll like what you see, provided that you first understand that just because the kernel is 64-bit doesn't mean that all apps should also be 64-bit.

I also second Phillip Wagstrom -- what's crucial is that the \*kernel\* run in 64-bit mode and that apps that would benefit from being 64-bit also be 64-bit. I don't see why Skype needs to be 64-bit, for example -- can you clarify?

Posted by guest on February 04, 2009 at 05:35 AM EST #

I love opensolaris - I do! - but the problem I run into there is still a lack of third-party or community support (so far). Skype? Flash? Webex?

@ - You are right, I really don't care about application "bitness" if it's not using >4G of RAM (and nothing should on this box!). It's the "new source of instability" that I mind. Maybe it's 32bit Skype accessing a 64bit Video4Linux layer - I don't pretend to know. But more things broke.

Posted by Philip Antoniades on February 04, 2009 at 10:19 AM EST #

I have no problems with flash inside firefox3 on OpenSolaris. Ditto for webex. I don't use skype, and if I wanted to try the VoIP thing I'd got with ekiga. I believe you can also run skype inside an lx-branded zone. You might even be able to run it inside VirtualBox. You know that OpenSolaris is a tier-1 host platform for VirtualBox, right?

Posted by James McPherson on February 04, 2009 at 06:01 PM EST #

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