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Asahi Linux Releases Basic Desktop Usable on Apple M1 • The Register

Efforts to bring Linux to Apple Silicon have resulted in a basic functional desktop, according to Asahi’s Linux team.

The project got off to a good start with a lengthy blog post earlier this year detailing the challenges of installing the operating system on Apple’s latest and greatest.

Since then, Apple M1 support has been incorporated into the Linux kernel and in August the GNOME desktop was shown booting up with the experience described as “not great, but usable”.

The September progress report, released today by founder Hector Martin, was filled with good news for fans of the project, including the comment that Asahi Linux “is usable as a basic Linux desktop”, albeit without graphics acceleration.

As to which desktop, Martin said The register: “Whichever office you want, it’s up to you!”

He went on to tell us that the plan was to provide a preconfigured Arch Linux ARM image with KDE (“which just happens to be my desktop of choice”) and probably a barebone image so users can set their own preferences.

The lowest level drivers were merged into the Linux kernel earlier this year, but Martin said more is needed to make things usable. The ultimate goal is to put everything upstream.

Already merged for Linux kernel version 5.16 (5.15 is currently in RC status) are the PCIe bindings and driver, and the USB-C PD driver. Other things are under review, including the Pinctrl reader for the GPIO pins of the Apple M1 and the code to manage the power management of the M1 peripherals. In development, we are working on the hardware of the display controller, among other things.

The team also worked on the installer. Handy, because getting the code to work on a vanilla M1 Mac Mini is still a bit difficult. “Once we have a stable kernel base,” said Martin, “we’ll start releasing an ‘official’ installer which we hope will see wider use among adventurers.”

Martin said El Reg that the installer would be a script that dealt with the murky world of partitions and the like before possibly installing a linux distribution. Completing the installation will require restarting in recovery mode via the power button and running another script configured by the installer.

Once the chosen distro is up and running (and Martin has noted the interest of a Fedora developer as well as the use of Debian), ARM64 applications should run smoothly. Martin added, “To run Rosetta-style x86 apps, there’s FEX, which I’m very happy to try. It should work with Wine so you can run Windows games as well.

The progress report is positive, even with the GPU elephant hiding in the corner of the room. Developer Alyssa Rosenzweig reported impressive code performance on Apple’s M1.

Martin said in his article: “While there isn’t GPU acceleration yet, the M1’s processors are so powerful that a software-rendered desktop is actually faster on them,” but acknowledged that many rough edges still needed smoothing before the desired polished experience could be delivered, especially this GPU.

“Having said that,” he continued, “we hope this will give those who want to be at the cutting edge of technology to get a taste of what running Linux looks like on these machines – and, for some, this might be sufficient for production use. “®

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