Some folks may find the idea of using a 32-bit distribution of Linux to be downright silly. After all, we live in a 64-bit world these days, right? Well, that depends on who you ask. The fact of the matter is there are still a lot of fully functional PCs out there that run 32-bit Linux. Up until recently, this was all well and good. Then the news came down that Ubuntu would no longer be supporting 32-bit systems come the next Ubuntu release. Clearly not everyone is thrilled about his news.
Rather than throw in the towel and recycle these PCs, I think it's important to realize there is a world beyond Ubuntu. Yes, many other distros have also stopped support 32-bit distros. However for the time being, there are still options to choose from. In this article, I'm going to share some great non-Ubuntu based 32-bit friendly Linux distros you should check out.
The first set of distributions I want to share with you are best for those who are already comfortable with Linux.
Debian – I've often said that Debian was the biggest game changer in terms of Linux adoption. It also happens to be the distribution in which Ubuntu and its countless derivatives is based on. This 32-bit friendly distribution is available in stable, testing and unstable offerings. My guess is that you will see 32-bit support with Debian for the foreseeable future.
Fedora – I'll be first to admit that Fedora and I have had a rocky relationship over the years. While I think the team does a great job with GNOME, I've never really "fit" the Fedora way of doing things. This is my fault, not Fedora's though. As things sit now, you can visit the Fedora website and download a fully supported 32-bit ISO for your PC.
Arch – If you're someone who enjoys following instructions and wants to learn about the underpinnings of Linux on the desktop, then Arch is for you. Best of all, this rolling distro also supports 32-bit PCs without any problems. That said, Arch isn't for everyone and is best for those who want to completely customize the distribution from the terminal prompt up to a working desktop environment.
Slackware – If you enjoy dialing in your customized 32-bit compatible distribution even deeper than what Arch provides, Slackware might be for you. With no systemd for init duties, Slackware provides a solid Linux experience. Like Arch, this isn't a distro I would recommend for newer users.
Gentoo – This highly advanced 32-bit compatible rolling release distribution is one of the most "involved" distributions of Linux out there. One of the claims to fame that Gentoo offers is that it builds to anything. Name an architecture and you can build Gentoo on it. It's also worth noting that installing software on Gentoo has a significant learning curve. Great for folks willing to learn the work-flow, but not for users looking for an out of the box experience.
Point Linux (Based on Debian) – I've used a TON of Debian-based distributions suitable for newbies over the years. That said, my testing with Point Linux has been amazing thus far. I'm actually considering installing it onto my 32-bit Eee 1005HAB netbook in the not too distant future. That way, when Ubuntu's support fades, the netbook is still alive and rocking. For anyone looking for a newbie friendly Debian distro, I'd suggesting giving Point Linux a try. Their documentation may not be all that vast, but it's a welcome change from the usual wall of words found else where.
Mageia (Based on Mandriva) – I never had much use for Mandrake when it was a popular distribution. Years later, when it morphed into Mandriva, I found it to be a good distro without really gaining enough popularity. Today, there's a fork of Mandriva called Mageia. After spending time with this distribution, I feel very comfortable recommending it to 32-bit users who enjoyed Mandriva from years past.
Antergos (Arch with a pre-defined repo and default setup) – If you're someone who is considering Arch Linux strictly for its bleeding edge rolling release cycle and package availability, then I would suggest you give Antergos a try first. This is indeed Arch proper, with an extra repository and a predefined desktop setup for you. But make no mistake, this is Arch Linux. Like the distributions mentioned before it, Antergos is available in a 32-bit download that will give you Arch Linux minus the setup.
Manjaro (Based on Arch) – Unlike Antergos, Manjaro is "based on" Arch. This 32-bit compatible distribution provides the same tools found in Arch or Antergos. However where it differs from those two distros is it has a slower rolling release cycle and utilizes its own repositories as well. My experiences with Manjaro have been mixed, though mostly positive with some past security concerns with regard to packages.
Korora (Based on Fedora) – Because I'm lazy when it comes time to setup a desktop, this is the Fedora I'd be most inclined to use. Also compatible with 32-bit PCs, Korora has a lot of the stuff built-in so a newer user can get up and running in much the same way as they might with Ubuntu. Perhaps the best comparison (be it not entirely accurate) would be Korora is to Fedora as Ubuntu is to Debian.
32-Bit Linux is doing just fine
The idea that 32-bit computers are going to suddenly stop working tomorrow is silly. Even if you choose to stick with Ubuntu, the 12.04, 14.04 and 16.04 LTS releases are all still supported. Ubuntu 16.04 is supported with updates until the year 2021. By then, your old 32-bit PC will likely be dead and you'll be commuting to work with a jetpack. That said, it's good to know that there are still oodles of great desktop Linux distros designed for those who are ready to use non-Ubuntu based distributions.
What say you? If you were stuck using a 32-bit PC, which distribution would you run with? Myself, I've had a ball with Ubuntu MATE...but I'm also chomping at the bit to get Point Linux installed on my old netbook. Who knows, I may decide to throw caution to the wind and dual-boot both distributions!
Please add your thoughts in the Comments section.