Linux In The News 8-30-21
Linux In The News 8-30-21

Linux In The News 8-30-21

Linux turns 30: ​Linus Torvalds on his “just a hobby” operating system (August 25, 2020) (

It’s been 30 years since Finnish graduate student Linus Torvalds drafted a brief note saying he was starting a hobby operating system. The world would never be the same.

In 1991, Unix was an important but secondary x86 operating system. That year, on August 25, a mild-mannered Finnish graduate student named Linus Benedict Torvalds announced on the Usenet group comp.os.minix that he was working on “a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones.” No one knew it, not even Torvalds, but the technology world was about change forever.

Thirty years later, Linux rules IT. Almost all major websites — including Google, Facebook, and Wikipedia — run on Linux. It’s the same with the clouds. Even on Microsoft’s own Azure, the most popular operating system is Linux.

As for supercomputers, all 500 of the world’s fastest 500 supercomputers run Linux. Thanks to Android, Linux is also the most popular end-user operating system. Not bad for a hobby operating system! 

Torvalds and I have talked about Linux and its history, and he’s both pleased and bemused by Linux’s rise. But, as for the operating system’s birthday, Torvalds said, you can argue it has four birthdays:

“The first newsgroup post is more public (August 25), and you can find it with headers giving date and time and everything. In contrast, I don’t think the 0.01 release was ever announced in any public setting (only in private to a few people who had shown interest, and I don’t think any of those emails survive). These days the way to find the 0.01 date (September 17) is to go and look at the dates of the files in the tar-file that still remains.

“So, both of them work for me. Or either.

“And, by the way, some people will argue for yet other days. For example, the earliest public semi-mention of Linux was July 3: that was the first time I asked for some POSIX docs publicly on the Minix newsgroup and mentioned I was working on a project (but didn’t name it). And at the other end, October 5 was the first time I actually publicly announced a Linux version: “version 0.02 (+1 (very small) patch already.”

In those early days, Torvalds was encouraged by his professors at the University of Helsinki.

 “Most of the time, Linux was very much under the radar — it’s not like it was ever a university project and I didn’t want it to be — but Helsinki University (at least the CS department) was very open to unofficial ‘extra-curricular’ activities. I don’t think Linux was necessarily all that special in that way either. It just happened to grow to be something big. I never got the feeling that you had to work a special way, or that only the sanctioned official university projects were given resources. For example, the CS department ended up trying out (and then using fairly widely) Linux machines running X as thin clients, but also a DEC Alpha machine running Linux in the server room. Sure, Linux use in universities wasn’t exactly unusual, but I think they were particularly open to it because it was a local, cool project.”

It didn’t take long for Torvalds to realize that his little project wasn’t going to stay little for long. By the end of 1991, it was gaining more attention than the still-born GNU Hurd or Minix [Andrew Tannenbaum‘s ground-breaking free software educational Unix operating system]. Torvalds explained: 

“I started doing some paging to disk around Christmas 1991, and at that point, Linux was doing things that Minix didn’t. It was one of the reasons why the release numbering jumped from 0.03 (perhaps November 1991) to 0.12 (January 1992).

“That wasn’t exactly radical (people had made Minix extensions that did paging etc), but it was a sign that Linux was starting to do things that I wasn’t used to Minix doing.

“By summer 1992, we had X running and Linux just looked like a completely different animal from the Minix I had grown used to (but I don’t even know what Minix did afterward).

“The rest happened pretty gradually and never really hit me as being as exceptional as the early 1992 realization that there were actually people I didn’t know who were using and tinkering with Linux.”

The term for what was happening with Linux hadn’t been invented yet. Today, we know it as open-source. This concept of developers working together on jointly held and managed code became the single most important software development method in history. While Linux would not have existed without Linus, influential early Linux developers such as Theodore Ts’o, James Bottomley,  Gerald Pfeifer, and Greg Kroah-Hartman were also vital to its growth. 

Debian Linux with GNOME Now Runs On Apple’s M1 Mac Mini (8-28-21

Asahi Linux has just reached a major milestone in terms of getting the M1 us

Back in January, we got our first glimpse at the M1 running desktop Linux thanks to the team at Corellium. While that was a great achievement, it did have a lot of drawbacks, such as no access to the internal storage and no GPU driver.

Now, Asahi Linux has just reached a major milestone in terms of getting the M1 usable as a desktop Linux computer: A working GNOME desktop. Unlike the previous achievement by Correllium, this breakthrough utilises a new GPU driver and double-buffering.

Gnome On The M1

Alyssa Rosenweig, who has been working on reverse-engineering the M1’s GPU for more than 7 months, recently posted a tweet showing Gnome desktop running on “bare-metal” M1 hardware.

In the screenshot attached in the tweet, she revealed that she is using Debian 11 with Gnome 3.38.4 and a pre-release version of Linux 5.14. Later, she went on to say that this was running on the mainline kernel, with just three modifications. These were:

  • Pin controller patches (Corellium and Joey Gouly)
  • PCIe patches (Marc Zyngier and Mark Kettenis)
  • Work in progress display driver (myself)

Honestly, I am quite amazed that this is running with so few modifications, especially when considering the closed nature of the M1. It really is incredible.

How This Is Different To The January Demo

Back in January, Corellium showed off Ubuntu running on the M1. Unlike that demo, Asahi’s implementation uses double buffering, where the display uses different on and off-screen framebuffers.

In an interview with The Review, she said, “The older demos rely on Apple’s bootloader allocating a framebuffer and configuring the display hardware to use it. This ‘single buffering’ setup is prone to graphics artefacts like tearing,”

She later went on to say, “Tearing is reduced with ‘double buffering’, where the display driver allocates separate on-screen and off-screen framebuffers. The on-screen buffer is displayed while the off-screen buffer is rendered to. Each frame, the roles are swapped, presenting the rendered frame instantly.”

The result of all this double buffering is a much smoother experience, with far less artefacting compared to January’s demo. This is quite incredible when you consider that Apple guards framebuffers behind a proprietary IOMMU (Input-output memory management unit), for which a driver was written and merged into the mainline kernel by Sven Peter, another member of Asahi.

Overall, this progress is absolutely incredible and really shows the dedication and skill of the Asahi team. Between the new IOMMU and display drivers, it appears that Asahi Linux will soon be ready for the end-consumer. Now we just have to wait to see how the M1X will impact this project…

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