"How many people are
running x86 binary platforms (libre or not) optimized for the lowest
common denominator, i386, i586, i686 if one is lucky, because it's not so
practical to deliver all those options and more (latest SSE optimized,
etc) in a multitude of binary packages?"
Fortunately, it doesn't matter if you compile for i386 or not, because almost every piece of software that needs SSE or the like does the detection at *run-time*. Simply compiling for a newer version of an architecture isn't going to make your apps run any faster; heck, depending on exactly what the app does and which compiler you use, it might even end up slower. You can't automatically turn some random bit of code into an SSE-using speed demon.
For the few apps and libs were the recompilation *can* make a difference, at least some "lowest common denominator" distros provide multiple architectures of those packages, Debian and Fedora included.
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