Google has begun work on a 64-bit version of Chrome for Linux, a move likely to whip Linux loyalists into a lather of excitement.
"The V8 team did some amazing work this quarter building a working 64-bit port. After a handful of changes on the Chromium side, I've had Chromium Linux building on 64-bit for the last few weeks," said Chrome engineer Dean McNamee in a mailing list message Thursday.
Virtually all PCs today come with 64-bit processors from Intel or Advanced Micro Devices, but for desktop computing, 32-bit operating systems and software are common. The transition to 64-bit software is well under way--notably with Linux and Mac OS X--but the change isn't simple. In the browser world, for example, it can be problematic running a 64-bit browser with a 32-bit plug-in such as Adobe Systems' Flash, Microsoft's Silverlight, or Sun Microsystems' Java.
In 64-bit versions, programs can take advantage of larger amounts of memory, performance can benefit from extra storage spaces called registers on processors, and some mathematically intense computing tasks can run faster. But along with issues such as broken plug-ins, 64-bit software can hog more disk space, complicate programmers' testing and support chores, and often doesn't really run appreciably faster, so the transition isn't necessarily a top priority.
But Linux fans, who offset their smaller numbers with higher technical proficiency and a fondness for programming, are champions of 64-bit software. They hammered Adobe until it released a 64-bit version of Flash Player for Linux, and now they're agitating for 64-bit browsers.
Indeed, a discussion emerged on Wednesday about why a 64-bit version of Firefox isn't a higher priority.
Windows is another matter altogether for browser makers; although 64-bit Windows is a common option nowadays on new machines, the vast majority of existing ones are still using 32-bit Windows, and there are plenty of late adopters.
So what's standing in the way of 64-bit Chrome for Windows?
"Motivation," according to another message by Google's Marc-Antoine Ruel. Well, not just that. Google or others also need to work on the sandbox security mechanism and gyp programming tools, he said.