Linux 64-bit woes

13 years ago I switched from 32-bit Solaris to 64-bit and everything just worked. So when I installed Ubuntu 7.10 on my home PC I never considered installing anything except the "best" 64-bit version. As I noted, most things work, even if you have to beat the package manager into submission, insisting that 64-bit x86 is upwards compatible with 32-bit x86. But you have to be really careful with that --force-architecture flag because Linux doesn't seem to allow multiple versions of system libraries, and if you overwrite a critical library routine with an incompatible version, you're hosed.

It turns out that amd64 compatibility on Linux has long been a hot topic, leading some people to debate the merits of falling back to 32-bit Linux. Flash player won't work. Java browser plugin and web start won't work. (I'm embarrassed by that one!) My VPN client software won't work. As someone commented about flash on a discussion forum:
Stop saying something is available on Linux when what you mean is that it is available on Linux, with Intel processor, in 32-bit mode.
But wait, isn't open source supposed to remove all compatibility issues? Well, after compiling a lot of packages I'd add to the advice above, please say if you mean it works on Red Hat distro only, or if you mean kernel 2.6.9 or later, or if you mean uni-processor only.

I found a great workaround for flash. Simply install the Windows version of Firefox using wine. On Ubuntu 7.10 I didn't even have to use the command line instructions listed in the howto. The installer just made a desktop icon for me, which I renamed from "Firefox" to "Windows Firefox" and I just click it to run. I haven't yet found a workaround for the Java plugin, which prevents me from using many web applications like WebEx.

Like flash, the VPN software is proprietary closed source code, so compatibility updates are under sole control of the owner. Using Solaris on the same PC the VPN worked flawlessly. Open source Solaris includes punchin implementing ipsec. So rather than wait for the proprietary VPN vendor to decide amd64 is worthy of their time to do a compilation, I might do better to investigate Linux implementations of ipsec.

So for things I want to use at home, Linux is looking less "open" than Solaris. (See Jim Laurent's comparison.) But I still love Ubuntu!

so ah those things your complaining about not working are all working on Solaris right?...

Posted by guest on January 04, 2008 at 03:32 AM PST #

VPN and flash work. 64-bit Java plugin is lacking. ( ) The biggest thing pushing me to Ubuntu is power management. I've got to have suspend/resume. I hope Solaris catches up on that soon. I also hope Linux catches up on some other things.

Posted by Walter Bays on January 04, 2008 at 04:45 AM PST #

I'm using Ubuntu 7.10 64bit, and Flash works for me. I used it with a 64bit Firefox with nspluginwrapper, and after I started using Swiftfox, it just worked without the wrapper, since swiftfox is another 32bit application that just works.

Some dynamically linked third-party applications outside the packaging system might assume that all of the libraries are present, without informing the user of which libraries should be present. Then you have to jump through hoops to find out which libraries you need, and then you just apt-get install the 32-bit versions of the libraries side by side of the 64bit versions.

Posted by Mikael Gueck on January 04, 2008 at 06:55 AM PST #

I'm with you. It's a f\*cking (excuse my French) shame that 64-bits is not the PRIMARY target for software developers, having 32-bit lag behind. You can't buy 32-bit computers anymore, so why bring out NEW software for it?
I blogged about it, so if you're in for a bit of ranting, click on the x64 tag.

When a new browser comes out, everybody wants prereleases, betas, whatever, just to make sure their website or webapplication works when the "final release" is there. Same with other types of software.
When new hardware comes out, what happens? Right. You are left to your own devices.

Posted by SwitchBL8 on January 04, 2008 at 07:02 AM PST #

Your arguments are a bit unfair, you are comparing apples with oranges.

VPN: I'm sure you're talking about the Cisco VPN client. Doesn't work on 64bit Ubuntu, right. But there is also no version for Solaris. Go ask Cisco for both. As you are using an opensource implementation of the VPN client on Solaris (punchin), go and use an opensource implementation on Ubuntu (vpnc, even better networkmanager-vpnc). Can't go easier than that. This one really is a point for Ubuntu.

Flash is a problem. On both Ubuntu and Solaris. Go ask Adobe, or stop using proprietary technology. At least you can get it working on Linux, but not on Solaris. Another point.

Java Plugin: Go ask our employer to provide one :)

So to say, it's not a Linux vs Solaris comparison, all your issues come from using proprietary software vendors technology. It's a shame, I agree.

Posted by georgz on January 04, 2008 at 07:58 AM PST #

Would someone please explain why would you need a 64-bit browser? What, 4G of address space is not enough?


Posted by Dmitri Trembovetski on January 04, 2008 at 08:40 AM PST #

@Dmitri: no, 64-bit for a browser is not needed for its address space. But I run Ubuntu partly because I don't want to fiddle around with manual installations. I really like aptitude. Yes, the packages lag behind (that I don't like) the "real" versions, but that's a little price to pay. But manually googling for installation instructions for 32-bit versions with all sorts of hacks is NOT a price I like to pay. So, I don't mind a 32-bit version of the software, but 99% of the times that means I need to manually get it up and running. I'm a Unix admin, so I know how to hack my way around (try running new Oracle versions on an unsupported Unix/Linux), but I don't like to do that. It takes a lot of time that I want to spend otherwise.

So I still agree with the original post: don't say software is available for Linux, when you only mean Linux x86 32-bit.

Posted by SwitchBL8 on January 05, 2008 at 01:15 AM PST #

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I am a software engineer in San Diego, president of the Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (, formerly a mathematician and a violist.


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