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Should I install 32 or 64 bit?

I want to migrate from Ubuntu to OpenSUSE, and I need to decide between the 32bit and the 64bit versions. 6 years ago, when I purchased a Windows desktop, I was advised to stick with the 32bit version of Windows XP due to compatibility reasons.

That was 6 years ago, so I assume things are different now. Also, that was on Windows, and Linux works differently(which can either make things better or worse), so I need to know:

  1. How much of the software library of OpenSUSE(Linux in general?) compatible with 64bit?
  2. Is there a performance difference between a 32bit Linux running a 32bit application on a 64bit processor and a 64bit OS running a 32bit application in 32bit emulation mode?
  3. In the rare occasions 32bit emulation mode fails to activate(happened to me once on Windows Server 2008...), is there a way to force Linux to activate it for specific applications?

Thanks in advance! Most of the data I find on Google is old, and probably outdated...

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    A side note is that the first Linux kernel port that was not Intel x86 was the DEC alpha 64bit architecture, and that was a long time ago... So a majority of all linux libs (and the kernel) has "always" been both 32bit and 64bit. That is why this 64bit never was a big thing for most Linux distributions.
    – Johan
    Feb 21, 2012 at 19:14

1 Answer 1

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  1. Most open-source software has been working in 64-bit for quite a while. For proprietary software, many 64-bit applications are already available, but sometimes they don't work as well as they do in 32-bit.

    Flash, proprietary codecs etc... should work. Maybe if you have any hardware which requires proprietary drivers - and even then, most of those drivers (e.g. nVidia, ATI) have 64-bit versions.

  2. None, as far as I can tell.

  3. Yes, you can have a 32-bit Linux system inside a chroot, and run 32-bit applications in a 64-bit system is possible too.

Those days, there is pretty much no reason not to use 64-bit if your hardware supports it.

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  • Thanks! that's good to know. How does that chroot thing work exactly? The man page says chroot only changes the root folder (and the logged in user) - is that enough to run the 32bit emulation mode?
    – Idan Arye
    Feb 21, 2012 at 19:50
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    You install a 32-bit Linux inside a chroot and then change to it as needed. I don't know how it works with openSUSE, but there are examples of this in Arch Linux and Ubuntu.
    – Renan
    Feb 21, 2012 at 19:59
  • OK, I'll try it after the install. Thanks again!
    – Idan Arye
    Feb 21, 2012 at 20:07
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    Low memory situations (does anyone really consider 256MB low?) give 32-bit the advantage, with its reduced pointer size. Feb 21, 2012 at 22:44

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