Linux is not exactly "ready to run" on Apple silicon, but give it time

Linux is not exactly
Feb 2023

It's an odd thing to see the leaders of an impressive open source project ask the press and their followers to please calm down and stop celebrating their accomplishments.

But that's the situation the Asahi Linux team finds itself in after many reports last week that the recently issued Linux 6.2 kernel made Linux "ready to run" on Apple's M-series hardware. It is true that upstream support for Apple's M1 chips is present in 6.2 and that the 6.2 kernel will gradually make its way into many popular distributions, including Ubuntu and Fedora. Work on Apple's integrated GPU by the four-person Asahi core team has come remarkably far. And founder Linus Torvalds himself is particularly eager to see Linux running on his favorite portable hardware, going so far as to issue a kernel in August 2022 from an M2 MacBook Air.

But the builders of the one Linux system that runs pretty well on Apple silicon are asking everybody to please just give it a moment.

"You will not be able to run Ubuntu nor any other standard distro with 6.2 on any M1 Mac. Please don't get your hopes up," the Asahi Linux team tweeted on Sunday morning. In a threaded reply, they added, "We are continuously upstreaming kernel features, and 6.2 notably adds device trees and basic boot support for M1 Pro/Max/Ultra machines. However, there is still a long road before upstream kernels are usable on laptops. There is no trackpad/keyboard support upstream yet."

That's far from the only issue. Asahi Linux's own feature support document details the long list of things working in both its own Asahi release and upstream Linux in general. Across all Apple silicon, USB 2/3 function, a video decoder, and various CPU states are either a work in progress, available for edge-level testing, or yet to be announced. On specific Apple devices, items like microphones, webcams, speakers, HDMI out, and other necessities are hit or miss.

Asahi's docs show a wide range of impressive achievements, given how the team is generally reverse-engineering everything from either Apple's new system-on-a-chip or its legacy ARM components. And yet, as the Asahi team points out, it's not ready for every M-series Apple device, nor standard distributions.

The main roadblock to other distributions allowing the newest Mac owners to be heavily disappointed in how their systems run is the 16kB page size that must be built into a kernel for it to run. "No generic ARM64 distro ships 16K kernels today, to our knowledge," the Asahi team tweeted. Distributions would need to repackage Asahi's userspace tooling, the team suggests, and either offer 16K-page-size kernels or wait until more standard 4K-size kernel builds are "somewhat usable."

Asahi notes that it is "already working with some" distributions and expects to announce Asahi-based support "for a mainstream distro in the near future." Back in March 2022, when Asahi was ready for install but still quite new, the team noted that for those seeking a USB-stick-and-go "Just Works" distribution (insert informed chuckle about Linux here), Asahi Linux would not be "'done' for another year, maybe two." Nearly a year from that point, it's looking more like two.