Support for 32bit (U)EFI - The Curse of Windows 8.1

tl;dr
Please add support for 32bit (U)EFI / grub during the installation process, to help keep a specific generation of old tablets and laptops alive; as is a stated goal of Zorin on many pages across the website.

Some background: around the dawn of Windows 8.1, some technical issues in a Microsoft project called InstantGo / Instant Connect resulted in a swathe of low- to mid-range 2-in-1 tablets and laptops with a cursed mixed bit-depth - i.e. 64bit CPUs but 32bit (U)EFI. Most didn't have more than 4GB of RAM so wouldn't be able to take advantage of the benefits provided by 64bit software, but now, all these years later, a lot are still in use and being bought and sold on eBay as cheap consumption devices. However, time keeps advancing, and continued Windows compatibility is not guaranteed, so alternative operating systems are required to keep these devices in service without giving up security updates.

The situation last week: my Dell Venue 11 Pro 5130, a wonderful little 2-in-1, is perfectly fine in terms of hardware - besides an expected drop in battery health over its lifespan so far - but not in terms of the OS. Specifically, what I assume to be a recent security patch via Windows Update seems to be incompatible, causing Windows 10 to BSOD on boot. I was able to temporarily "fix" things using the troubleshooter on an official Windows ISO, only for the same BSOD to happen about a week later when it tried to reinstall that pesky update.

The solution: rather than disable Windows Update, preventing important security patches, just move to linux, right? Well, that's not so easy. A lot of linuxes (linuxi?) don't really support 32bit any more, including Ubuntu and thus Zorin. As my Dell, and a host of other similar machines from that era, have 64bit CPUs and the Zorin boot media (at least when written to USB via Balena Etcher) works perfectly via 32bit (U)EFI, it booted fine and actually went through the installation process just fine, lulling me into a false sense of security that it would work - until a fatal error occurred at the end when installing the bootloader. Using Super Grub2 Disk to find and boot Zorin, the OS runs perfectly! It just had no bootloader to actually load it during boot.

The second solution: I have pretty much no experience messing with bootloaders and grub so I didn't know how to install just grub by itself other than through an OS install. I found some old Stack threads advising a way to do what I wanted through the installed 64bit OS (Ubuntu, specifically) but Zorin wouldn't let me install the required 32bit grub packages due to conflicts. Thus, I gave up and tried LMDE instead, as that has an official 32bit release. It did successfully install grub and boot perfectly, but turned out to be too resource-hungry to run on my little Intel Atom with 2GB of RAM - the system idled at 1.5GB!

The third solution: my totally inelegant and likely heretical solution was to shrink the LMDE partition and then install Zorin Lite in the free space. Thankfully, Zorin simply added its own config to the 32bit grub installed by LMDE rather than failing to overwrite it with 64bit grub, resulting in a totally successful boot sequence. Bonus: Zorin's grub theme is way nicer than LMDE's theme!

Conclusion: for such cursed devices from the dawn of Windows 8.1 which feature 64bit CPUs and 32bit (U)EFI, Zorin would be the perfect way to prolong their life for many years to come, if its installer can be made to detect such systems and install 32bit grub rather than 64bit. The OS itself being 64bit is no issue, so I'm not asking for "32bit Zorin" at all, just the bootloader, please.

For those interested, here's the story of me stumbling into this "solution":

1 Like

Return feedback... This cracked me up more than I care to admit. :stuck_out_tongue:

5 Likes

Linux Systems, Linux Distro's or Linux Distributions.

I prefer "Linuxi" as read by David Attenborough.

In the vast and intricate ecosystem of the desktop environment, one may chance upon the elusive and versatile Linux, a creature of unparalleled adaptability and robustness. Here we observe a pack of Linuxi in their natural habitat, pouncing fearlessly around malware and spyware. One of the Linuxes separates from his companions, sensing a presence lurking in the nearby undergrowth.
A confrontation looms that is nothing short of a spectacle. The Windows, with its polished facade and widespread dominion, charges forth with confidence, relying on its locked-down interface and extensive paid employees. Yet, the Linux, with its open-source ingenuity and resilient core, stands unyielding. The battle is fierce, a clash of commands and processes, but it is the Linux that prevails. Through sheer flexibility and the power of community-driven innovation, it outmaneuvers and overcomes the Windows, securing its place as a beacon of freedom and efficiency in the digital wilderness.
Silently and without a shred of introspection, the Windows lurks back into the undergrowth, clearly the inferior.

2 Likes

Hmm ... I don't like that I must say. I find, it sounds weird. But when the People want use it ... why not. I stay on mine.