Steam customers who run the gaming client on Ubuntu machines were in for a shock when Canonical, Ubuntu's parent company, announced that it would not support 32-bit packages on Ubuntu going forward. Valve Software, parent company of Steam, revealed that Steam would not support Ubuntu anymore once the change landed and that Valve would not recommended Ubuntu either anymore.
Ubuntu has been the only Linux distribution that Steam supported officially up until now. While Steam works fine on many other Linux distributions, Valve would not offer any kind of support if Steam was not run on Ubuntu.
The dropping of 32-bit packages from Ubuntu would pose serious troubles for Steam going forward. Valve notes that the Steam client requires 32-bit libraries and while Valve might be able to fix that in time, Linux users would find out soon thereafter that thousands of games would not play anymore because they required 32-bit environments.
Steam relies on certain components that need to be available on the systems the software is run on, and some of these happen to be 32-bit.
There's a lot more to the technical and non-technical reasons behind our concerns, but the bottom line is that we would have had to drop what we're doing and scramble to support the new scheme in time for 19.10. We weren't confident we could do that without passing some of the churn to our users, and it would not solve the problems for third-party software outside of Steam upon which many of our users rely.
Canonical, as a response, published a statement in which it announced that the next Ubuntu releases, 19.10 and 20.04 LTS, would include "selected 32-bit i386 packages". The company plans to involve the community to find out which 32-bit packages are needed to run legacy software and games.
For mid-term, Canonical wants to "work with the WINE, Ubuntu Studio and gaming communities to use container technology to address the ultimate end of life of 32-bit libraries".
The company notes that it had several motivations for the decision to drop 32-bit packages including that these receive limited testing and that many Spectre and Meltdown mitigations are not available for 32-bit systems.
Valve Software, while admitting that it is not "thrilled" about the removal of existing functionality, said that it welcomes the plan and that it seems likely that the company can "continue to officially support Steam on Ubuntu" as a consequence.
The company plans to look at distribution support going forward and considers working "closer with many more distribution maintainers in the future".
Support for Ubuntu 20.04 LTS ends in 2025 at the earliest. Valve improved game support on Linux recently by introducing a new feature called Steam Play which brings more Windows games to Linux.
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