32-bit versions of Windows 10


Anyone else think it’s about time for Microsoft to look to ending the 32-bit (x86) releases of Windows 10?

Apple’s latest OS (Catalina) has dropped support for 32-bit apps and libraries.

I believe iOS also either already has, or is due to very soon.

Many vendors of apps that require high RAM use (e.g. Adobe, CAD software) no-longer provide current 32-bit app versions.

NVIDIA and AMD no-longer offer new features in their graphics-drivers for 32-bit (not sure about Intel?)

Ubuntu only officially now offers a 64-bit ISO for download.

According to a ZDNet article, from 1 Aug 2021, anyone with a 64-bit Android OS on their phone won’t see any 32-bit only apps in the Store.

So… isn’t it time for Microsoft to finally consider plans for retiring the 32-bit version of Windows 10?

If I were them, I’d plan as follows:

Home users: announce that the 20H2 release will be the final 32-bit one with new features, and from 21H1, only bug-fixes and security-fixes will be offered. Built-in apps won’t see new features, except perhaps those considered separate from the OS, such as the new Edge. The bug-fixes and security-updates should continue for “the lifetime of that device”.

Business users: advise them to move to the 32-bit LTSC release this year, and advise no LTSC released after this years’ will be offered in 32-bit. Provide 10 years support for bug and security fixes, as is usual for LTSC releases, so that by 2030 no 32-bit releases are offered in the LTSC, Pro or Enterprise SKUs.

Kiosks/PoS systems: 32-bit could continue here, as these are specific-use cases, though Microsoft should start to charge more for 32-bit installs than 64-bit to discourage their use.

As for some issues people may comment on:

Driver support: maybe Microsoft should use their telemetry to see which are the most-common devices still in-use that only have 32-bit drivers and see if any 64-bit drivers for similar models could have their .INF file tweaked to support some of them? Or see if they could fudge-together some generic drivers to cover them?

16-bit app support: surely some sort of virtual Windows 9x kernel could be added to run these apps in? (Think “XP Mode” in Windows 7). The Windows 9x kernel must be tiny!

DOS support: integrate DOSBox?

CPUs that are 32-bit only: aside from ARM CPUs for some smartphones, I doubt any desktop/laptop/server CPU has been 32-bit only for some time now, so the only PCs needing this would be very-old ones, or those cheap-as-dirt tablets/netbooks you can find online. Surely by now 64-bit CPUs must be cheaper to use even in those dirty-cheap devices, given how many will be made in a production-run batch compared to 32-bit ones?

Just to be clear: I’m not suggesting the removal of 32-bit app support from 64-bit versions of Windows 10, just the retirement of the 32-bit versions of Windows 10

Any thoughts?

Comments (37)

37 responses to “32-bit versions of Windows 10”

  1. lvthunder

    Why? What benefit is there to removing the 32 bit versions?

    • illuminated

      In reply to lvthunder:

      Halve the number of windows versions to maintain.

      • lvthunder

        In reply to illuminated:

        Are you sure they are separate and the build process the Windows team uses just doesn't spit out two binaries in the end?

        • illuminated

          In reply to lvthunder:

          It may spit out two binaries but testing still must be done for two versions. For one all memory pointers in 32-bit systems take 4-bytes and in 64-bit systems they are 8 bytes. That alone is a very important reason to test. Different memory pointer sizes mean different structure sizes or the same sizes but some empty/unused bytes.

          If you have not done any development that may seem like a trivial difference but it is not.

          For example even today Microsoft is unable/unwilling to produce 64-bit Visual Studio. Developers were asking for 64-bit version back in 2008 but it was/is too expensive to convert.

  2. Lauren Glenn

    I bet the main driving force behind this will be everyone stopping making drivers for 32-bit Windows. With the 4GB memory limit, I think that's more of a reality in a couple of years.

    CPUs that are 32-bit only are good for low powered notebooks and things like Chromebook-like devices.... ones where you can have a tablet with 2GB of RAM and have it be adequate.

    • dftf

      In reply to alissa914:

      I think both NVIDIA and AMD have already stopped new 32-bit graphics drivers? NVIDIA at-least said in 2018 "[...] Critical security updates will be provided for 32-bit operating systems through January 2019". I think AMD followed soon after, so maybe Intel are the only ones still doing 32-bit graphics drivers now?

      As for Adobe, they say all the latest versions of these apps are now only in 64-bit versions: Flash Pro CC; Premiere Pro CC; After Effects CC; Audition CC; Prelude CC; SpeedGrade CC

      Many of the latest versions of the Autodesk CAD products are 64-bit only now.

      Microsoft now recommend system admins install 64-bit Office as-default now (as of Office 2019).

      • wright_is

        In reply to dftf:
        Microsoft now recommend system admins install 64-bit Office as-default now (as of Office 2019).

        Do you have a link for that? I must have missed that. The last advice I saw was, unless you need incredibly large Excel models, install the 32-bit version, even on 64-bit machines, for add-on compatibility.

        • dftf

          In reply to wright_is:

          As a free member, I can't use URLs in messages or "Post Comment" doesn't work

          Do a Google search for "Office ProPlus and Office 2019 now install 64-bit as default" in quotes and the first result should be from techcommunity.microsoft.com in a post made on 03-08-2019 by Daniel Canning.

          First paragraph:

          "Office has been available in both 32-bit and 64-bit for several years and beginning at last Ignite, we updated our recommendation and now default setting to 64-bit. We are excited about the 64-bit default update, because it allows customers take advantage of the resources of current hardware and a 64-bit operating system for increasingly common heavy workloads in Office. We have also seen the rest of the industry catch up in support of 64-bit Office add-ins."

          The article he links to at the bottom ("Choose between the 64-bit or 32-bit version of Office") also now says at the start "the 64-bit version of Office is automatically installed unless you explicitly select the 32-bit version before beginning the installation process", If you click Office 2016, the text says "the 32-bit version". So it has changed for the Office 2019 release, and the Office365 version it was built from and above

      • christian.hvid

        In reply to dftf:

        Microsoft also recommends that you install the 64-bit version of Visual Studio. Oh, wait.

      • beckoningeagle

        In reply to dftf:

        You just reminded me of my Office 64bit / Microsoft Store rant. Here it goes even though it is not 100% related to you post.

        You are correct in stating that Microsoft recommends 64 bit and it is also the default in Office 365 as well when you click "Install Office" button. The problem with 64bit versions of office are plugins. In the enterprise, there are so many plugins that the developers have not updated to 32bit that it makes the recommendation moot. It is not Microsoft's fault, but it is a problem, especially in Accounting and Audit software.

        What is Microsoft's fault, however, is that the store version of Office changes the path and sandboxes the installation rendering plugins, 64bit or 32bit unusable. Apparently OEM's got wind of this problem and now they are pre-installing the regular Office instead of the Store Office. There was a period between 2018 and 2019 that you would have to uninstall the Office that came pre-installed and then re-install using a download.

        To top it all off, Microsoft has changed how these applications were installed and depending on which version of Windows 10 you have you would get a UWP application that would download the Office applications from the store, then they changed it to pre-installing all of the applications which could then be individually removed, but the Office UWP was still there, even though the Office was already installed. Then they put an item in the Add Remove Programs that says "Remove Office Desktop Applications" which would take care of uninstalling all the pre-installed, Store based Office with just one click, the catch however, it had to be done on a per-user basis. Oh, and the Office icon to get and download Office is still there. These inconsistencies drive me crazy.

        • wright_is

          In reply to BeckoningEagle:

          Yeah, our CIO in America bought a new laptop at the end of last year and it came with Store Office pre-installed and nothing worked. Even our Exchange wasn't reachable (Exchange Server 2010).

          He had a devil's own job to get it working. In the end, we threw out the pre-installed version and loaded it straight from his Office 365 account.

  3. jimchamplin

    I run three systems, one is an old P4 running XP SP3, an AMD Phenom X4 runs Windows Vista, a Celeron 633 notebook dual-boots Windows Me and MS-DOS 6.22. None are networked. The XP box runs games and software from '02-05, and does in some ways overlap with the Vista machine which runs early 64-bit games. The Celeron runs software as old as the PC/XT/AT era.

    A 32-bit Windows box (a real frankenstein) can run pretty much anything the XP or Vista (though in 32-bit mode) machines can run, and is 60% of the time the optimal way to run these things. Also, I have an old netbook (Eee PC 1000) with a 32-bit CPU. With an SSD, it's surprisingly snappy, and is a great little bedside PC because it's so small but has a halfway decent keyboard.

    32-bit software is still needed for certain things, and 32-bit Windows needs to be there to run that software.

    • dftf

      In reply to jimchamplin:

      I didn't suggest Microsoft outlaw the use of all their previous 32-bit operating systems though, so if you have old PCs you want to run 32-bit Windows XP or older on (heck, even 16-bit Windows 3.x) go ahead!

      My point is purely: should Microsoft continue to go-on providing new releases of Windows 10 in the 32-bit versions, given 64-bit ones can run 32-bit apps, and in cases like yours, where people want to run old apps and games on old hardware, you'd never think about putting Windows 10 on those PCs anyway (assuming you could even find drivers for the hardware they'd have).

      And for Pentium III or older, it's a no-go full-stop as during the Windows 7 era (for one of the security updates) they retroactively changed the minimum spec to say your processor must support SSE2 or later. (I believe the current Linux kernel still supports back to the original Pentium, but not anything before that.)

    • warren

      In reply to jimchamplin:

      32-bit Windows 10 systems can also run 16-bit Windows software if NTVDM is enabled.

      • jimchamplin

        In reply to warren:

        Yes, but the WoW subsystem didn’t get ported to x64. Since x64 is the ongoing concern, 16-bit WoW is essentially deprecated.

        • dftf

          In reply to jimchamplin:

          WoW still exists in x64 versions of Windows... it's what allows 32-bit apps to run on 64-bit Windows.

          64-bit DLLs are located in: C:/Windows/System32 (name retained for compatibility reasons)

          32-bit DLLs are located in: C:/Windows/SysWOW64 (notice the "WoW" part)

          Similarly, in the Registry, 64-bit HKLM software data goes into:


          And 32-bit software data is redirected into:

          HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/SOFTWARE/Wow6432Node (again, note the "WoW" part)

          So the 16-bit WoW subsystem didn't get ported, no. But the functions it provided were re-purposed into allowing 32-bit apps on 64-bit Windows instead. Wikipedia's "WoW64" article gives more details

  4. dftf

    As far as I know, no Windows Server release now still offers a 32-bit version.

    Madly though the "Windows 10 Pro for Workstations" (essentially same as Pro, but you can use 2-4 separate CPUs, new ReFS file-system and up-to 6TB RAM) still offers a 32-bit release, at-least if you check the "System Requirements" at the bottom of Microsoft's official page for it.

    That seems pointless to me... why release a version of Windows 10 Pro specifically for high-performance and have a 32-bit release? Enjoy using 4GB of that 6TB RAM! (Aren't 32-bit client versions also limited to 2 physical CPUs too?)

  5. illuminated

    Yes. It would be time to get rid of 32-bit windows. What benefit is there to keeping two windows versions?

    • sevenacids

      In reply to illuminated:

      On the other hand, what benefit is there removing it? Except for some additional free storage. Most of the kernel and user libraries are portable code, so the maintainance overhead between x86/x64 is quite low.

      As long as there are devices and software around that can profit from x86, it should be kept around. The compatibility promise is what has made Windows so strong in this regard.

  6. jimchamplin

    Re: support for 16-bit applications.

    That hasn't been a concern for years, otherwise Microsoft would have built it into x64 Windows.

    • dftf

      In reply to jimchamplin:

      It would still be a nice-to-have though, given how many Windows 9x era games simply don't work at-all under 64-bit Windows (though many are still unusable in 32-bit Vista or later, without downloading 3rd-party, fan-created patches).

      As with "XP Mode" in Windows 7, it would be great to have an official, Virtual Windows 98SE which you could actually run these apps in... even if not as a built-in feature, as a Windows Store app.

      And sure, there are stuff like Steam and GoG who do repackage these with all the patches integrated, but even they don't work for everyone...

      • Lauren Glenn

        In reply to dftf:

        Couldn't you do that in Hyper-V? But games shouldn't be the metric here as many games break every and any OS / API rule they can to get better performance.

        I learned this lesson decades ago with the Atari ST/Falcon line. It taught me to stay within the OS API specs and guidelines to keep my stuff compatible. So many things broke from OS to OS (mostly games though) but only because people assumed certain memory locations and registers would stay constant..... if you wrote things properly, things would continue to work (as a good handful of games did)

        They don't even have Windows 7 mode in Windows 10. If you need that, install a VM in Hyper-V.

  7. crp0908

    Enterprises still need 32-bit Windows to run equipment that's too expensive to upgrade. Just today I ran into this situation for someone who wants to upgrade a piece of equipment from running 32-bit Windows 7 to 32-bit Windows 10. The equipment is still serviceable but it is too old for the manufacturer to offer a 64-bit driver for it. The business needs at least a year to budget enough money to replace it with a newer model that does offer a 64-bit driver. This scenario is relatively common in enterprises even today.

    • dftf

      In reply to crp0908:

      Just as wright_is has said though: if you have a really old PC still running a device there are only 32-bit drivers or 16-bit apps for, would you really need 32-bit Windows 10 on that PC, if the computer is not connected to the Internet, and especially if it's non-networked, standalone?

      If the PC is isolated from wider networks, heck, even keep running Windows 95 on there if required.

      I just wonder though if Microsoft should keep investing in adding all the new features to the 32-bit version of Windows 10, given aside from the dirt-cheap devices you can buy online, the biggest need for 32-bit Windows 10 will be in cases like yours, where it just needs to run an old device or app. In which case, all those new features aren't getting used so it feels like a waste.

      They really should transition 32-bit Win 10 to "security and bug-fix only" at the very least...

      • crp0908

        In reply to dftf:

        There are cases in industry where the PC attached to the old piece of expensive equipment also needs to connect to the Internet. Not every case is on an isolated VLAN and disconnected from the rest of the world.

        • wright_is

          In reply to crp0908:

          I know the IT manager of a local factory, they have an old XP-based CNC machine, it should be attached to the Internet. Whenever they phone up for support the support personnel first ask for the user to start TeamViewer on the XP machine.

          She tells them the machine isn't connected, they tell her to connect it. She tells them, as soon as they provide her with an upgrade to the software that runs on a supported version of Windows, she will attach the system to the network, but until then, the support will have to go through the machine operator. Their decision...

    • wright_is

      In reply to crp0908:

      You are lucky that you can run it on Windows 10! We have a lot of lab kit that only runs on XP or Windows 7, if we are lucky. The kit still has a good decade of working life left in it, but the manufacturer stopped providing software updates years ago. Nobody is going to throw out a $500,000 piece of kit, just because it only works with XP, when it is still working flawlessly.

      We tend to isolate the kit, either no network, or its own segment with no access to the Internet or the standard office network.

  8. wright_is

    There are still a lot of 32-bit only machines out there. A lot of Windows tablets are 32-bit only, as are a lot of low-end desktop machines running Atom processors, for example, and some of those aren't that old.

    Ubuntu also did a bit of backtracking, because Steam on Linux is 32-bit only, so they had to include the 32-bit libraries, even on the 64-bit versions.

    • dftf

      In reply to wright_is:

      As I stated in my original post, are those 32-bit CPUs actually cheaper thesedays than using a 64-bit CPU, given how-many 64-bit CPUs are made per production-run thesedays?

      As all desktops, laptops and servers thesedays come-with 64-bit CPUs, as do all iPhones, iPads and Macs (Apple Watch I believe is still a 32-bit CPU; Apple TV might also be), then the only devices to use 32-bit CPUs will be some Android phones and tablets, cheapo Windows tablets and netbooks, and possibly some integrated systems (smart TVs, smart fridges and things like lifts/elevators -- which may even still be using 16-bit CPUs, given the very-basic functions they perform!).

      Surely 64-bit CPUs of the same die size, wattage, speed, cores and threads must be cheaper to bulk-buy than equivalent 32-bit ones thesedays simply due to how many of each are made? Or are 32-bit CPUs still substantially cheaper?

  9. Patrick3D

    No, it would reduce the workload for Systems Administrators like myself that get paid keep all this legacy software/hardware running. To put things into perspective: it's not about a company shelling out a few hundred bucks for a new version of software, it's about companies having to shell out a few million dollars to replace entire production lines that have integrated systems that only talk to versions of server software that require a security dongle for licensing that the vendor only provides 32-bit drivers for, combined with 32-bit only apps for monitoring and controlling the machines. It's the desktop software, server software, and entire production floor that would all have to be replaced simultaneously. Never going to happen. What does happen is that production machines eventually die and no longer have replacement parts available for them so they get replaced naturally over the course of time. In rare cases the manufacturer of the machine offers an upgrade kit, but those require new service contracts which is a taboo subject matter of its own.

  10. maethorechannen

    I actually think Ubuntu (and other Linux distros) dropping of 32 bit versions is a mistake. There's still a lot of 32 bit systems out there that could still be put to use.

    • Paul Thurrott

      It's probably more important for Linux than for Windows now, honestly. A lot of people will want to reuse an old PC with Linux. But that experience with Windows 10 would be horrible on most 32-bit systems.
    • dftf

      In reply to maethorechannen:

      There are likely better distros out there than Ubuntu and Mint (even the XFCE one) if you have a really old 32-bit system. I'm not sure how well Mint XFCE would run on a Pentium III or older system with around 256MB of RAM or less, for example.

      Also, the Ubuntu controversy was actually that they were looking to remove 32-bit libraries/dependancies from the 64-bit version, so 32-bit apps would not work, but backtracked after finding very-common apps, such as Steam and I believe parts of WINE, would not work.

      There hasn't been an official ISO of Ubuntu in 32-bit now for a number of releases (I think early 2017's 17.04 (Zesty Zapus) was the last for clients, and late 2017's 17.10 (Artful Aardvark) the last for servers?)

  11. kevin_costa

    I would keep 32-bit versions until the next LTSC release (that MS said would come late 2021), and make all 32-bit standard SKUs (Home, Pro, Enterprise, etc) receive security updates for 10 years (LTSC version will already receive that), stopping on this "v2109" release. After that, just keep 32-bit emulation in 64-bit SKUs (WOW64) and in ARM, of course. After the 32-bit discontinuation, MS should announce that will NOT release any 32-bit SKU anymore, and give people and enterprises that 10 year period to adapt, migrate, upgrade, whatever.

    About the DOS program emulation and 16-bit app support, there are means to run those things in 64-bit today, but it's not supported by MS, it's unofficial. MS should include a virtualization/containerization layer for anyone that needs it.

    For application makers, they should support their apps to and extended period of time (preferably the same 10 years from before), launching long term support versions for that market (Firefox ESR for example).

  12. ashakantasharma

    Let both co-exist. Let people use as per their requirements and needs.