back to article We take Asahi Linux alpha for a spin on an M1 Mac Mini

How was your weekend? Ours was spent trying to persuade the first Asahi Linux Alpha release to run on some Apple silicon. The Alpha turned up at the end of last week and, sacrificial M1 Mac Mini in hand, we had a crack at firing up the distribution. Our hopes were not high – the poor device has also put in service running …

  1. b0llchit Silver badge
    Megaphone

    It works until it is blocked

    We look forward to development continuing apace and maybe, one day, deleting that macOS partition once and for all.

    It is a nice project for enabling choice. But...

    Apple will probably have locked down the hardware through more software locks by that time. Just like they prevent swapping parts or simply upgrading a disk. And when you start disabling "lockdown measures", then you get hit with a cease and desist and dmca threat. Apple's stance is to prevent you from using anything in ways not approved by apple. Just wait for it.

    /me sees sad future, unfortunately

    1. DeathStation 9000

      Re: It works until it is blocked

      Don't know. While I agree that Apple is a bit precious over replacing hardware they seem less so over software. I doubt that in the Intel days they'd have given us Bootcamp unless they were happy to have Windows running on it. I'll be interested to see if something similar comes on the M1 Macs to install an ARM based OS alongside MacOS.

      1. elbisivni

        Re: It works until it is blocked

        I can’t recall a case where Apple blocked an alternative OS from being installed on its Macs. IOS devices yes, but Mac? No. They don’t even force you to install software only from the Mac App Store either.

        1. cdegroot

          Nothing new...

          There's not blocking and actively ignoring all sorts of standards, reinventing wheels, and so on, that all end up having closed hardware that is not really friendly to anything but their own stuff. Practically, they block alternative systems.

          I haven't been able to get Linux to run completely fine on anything later than a 2011 Macbook Pro, so I'm happily typing this on a Dell XPS :)

          1. Montreal Sean

            Re: Nothing new...

            @cdegroot

            I got MX Linux to run natively on my 2017 MacBook Air, except for the webcam.

          2. John 73

            Re: Nothing new...

            Linux (of various flavours) installs fine on my 2013 MacBook Air. That's the newest Mac I have, though. I don't believe there are significant hurdles on any of the Intel Macs, but I could easily be wrong on that!

    2. Wyrdness

      Re: It works until it is blocked

      If Apple is really against this sort of thing, why have they recently added an unlocked boot loader to the M1 Macs?

    3. Proton_badger

      Re: It works until it is blocked

      Well, as I wrote elsewhere: At first Asahi had to use an ugly hack to load the OS, then Apple added a “raw image mode” which allows the bootloader to load things that don’t look like macOS kernels, it’s an officially-supported boot mode for the Asahi project to use. Interesting, eh?

    4. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: It works until it is blocked

      One of Apple's execs is on record at the M1 launch as saying they have no objection to Windows running on Apple Silicon Macs, and that it was up to Microsoft.

      (What wasn't publicly known at the time is that Microsoft and Qualcomm had, and still have, a deal for ARM versions of Windows to run exclusively on Qualcomm ARM chips)

      So, no smoking gun evidence to suggest Apple are hostile to people running Linux on M1 Macs.

    5. Russ T

      Re: It works until it is blocked

      Apple don’t care what software you run on their computers because you already forked over your $$$ and they aren’t as reliant on App Store income on macOS like iOS.

      What they don’t like is you running macOS on non-Apple hardware as then they make $0.

      Whilst they might not actively help a Linux development on their hardware, they won’t cry any tears if you choose to buy an Apple device to run another OS on. I know they certainly would have made a few laptop sales in the past for Windows customers because of the battery and build quality etc.

      1. gnasher729 Silver badge

        Re: It works until it is blocked

        I worked at a company that had a complete Microsoft site license, and anyone who was in a position to get it would run Windows on a MacBook. And not dual booting but MacOS removed and replaced with windows.

        1. TonyJ

          Re: It works until it is blocked

          I had a 2011 MB Pro and as I've said before on here, it was simply one of the best Windows machines I've ever owned and the only reason I didn't upgrade to another one back in the day was they went down the whole soldered-in route and because, at the time, I had to run multiple VM's as a mobile test lab, getting the correct RAM and SSD from new was prohibitively expensive.

    6. Ace2 Bronze badge

      Re: It works until it is blocked

      Like everyone else said, they’ve never done this in the past, and you have no evidence they’re even tempted to start now.

    7. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: It works until it is blocked

      The ability to dual boot an ARM mac with linux would sell one to me. I would do messing about on the native linux and write ups on the Mac, with Windows in Parallels. It would reduce my laptop count by being everything. I would buy one today. Alas, this requirement is but a small niche market.

  2. VoiceOfTruth

    Deleting macOS

    Why would you delete an OS which is designed for specifically that hardware and 'rely' on Linux? What does Linux give you? It's a cult.

    1. b0llchit Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Deleting macOS

      It's a cult.

      Just like apple is a cult too. You see, pot meet kettle... hm, or is this BSD meet Linux.

      When it rains both will no longer get cooked in either pot or kettle, I guess.

      1. spireite Silver badge

        Re: Deleting macOS

        Cult?

        Most Apple users I meet are more of a cunt...

        1. Philip Stott
          Thumb Down

          Re: Deleting macOS

          No need for language like that

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Deleting macOS

            *woop woop*

            Snowflake detected.......

            1. Philip Stott

              Re: Deleting macOS

              Not at all.

              That's a word reserved for indicating that you absolutely detest somebody, not for chucking about flippantly on a tech-site's comment section.

    2. ThomH

      Re: Deleting macOS

      Maybe you're a Linux user who wants a high-performance but svelte laptop that can go 14 hours on a charge? But you're not interested in adapting your workflow to a new OS?

      1. HildyJ Silver badge

        Re: Deleting macOS

        Fine, but Dell, Lenovo, and others offer svelter laptops (Dell's XPS and Lenovo Carbon lines are a half pound lighter than the Macbook) with Linux preinstalled.

        Seems to me this is more for MacOS users who want to dabble in Linux.

        1. AdamWill

          Re: Deleting macOS

          You missed the "high performance, charge lasts 14 hours" bit. That's quite important.

          I'm no Apple fan, but by all accounts this is extremely good silicon, much better for non-gaming tasks than any x86 hardware. I'd be super interested in running Linux on it if the HW support gets good enough.

          1. Zolko Silver badge

            Re: Deleting macOS

            I had a MacBook Pro 13 Retina from 10 years ago: was the best Linux machine you could have. Today, I have a Dell, which is good, but it overheats, has a plastic feeling, the touchpad is not as good, no MagSafe ...

            Apple makes/made very good hardware, to good price, but their OS sucks.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Deleting macOS

        I've wanted a Linux based ARM laptop forever. Going back as far as the original EEE PC.

        We had a small golden era where netbooks were awesome, then the weird GPU chips came along and fucked it all up.

        As a person that lives in the Linux terminal, a high powered god tier performance laptop isnt really for me.

        I've no idea why we havent got a general purpose ARM laptop yet. Techies like me would kill each other and drag their balls over broken glass for one.

        There was an AMD netbook that Asus made that was fucking amazing about 10 years ago. I can't remember the model number but man it was perfect. Low energy CPU, decent GPU and a 1080p screen in a 10" form factor. Battery went for days.

        Even the Sony P series was amazing until they went Poulsbo.

    3. An_Old_Dog Bronze badge

      Re: Deleting macOS

      You might delete macOS because you want the disc space for a different OS. Why a different OS? Because you dislike~hate the way the macOS UI fad-flavor of the day works, or because Apple no longer supports your still-working hardware (no new OS releases or security updates available for your hardware).

      PowerPC G3 laptop Mac owner here, running OpenBSD.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Deleting macOS

        Search "Linus Torvalds Macbook Air" for his reasons for making said laptop with OSX his main interface when at home. For sure this was years ago, but it does show he was pragmatic ablut such things.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: Deleting macOS

          Yes, it seems he was.

          Linus Torvalds would like to use an M1 Mac for Linux, but…

          Torvalds explained he has "fairly fond memories of the 11" Macbook Air (I think 4,1) that I used about a decade ago (but moved away from because it took Apple too long to fix the screen - and by the time they did, I'd moved on to better laptops, and Apple had moved on to make Linux less convenient)."

    4. Solviva

      Re: Deleting macOS

      Well, you can git rid of annoying features, such as

      Close a window, the next window from the same program pops to the foreground. Why? Did I ask for said window to appear? No.

      Customise the size of various elements as you wish. I've recently acquire the latest 2016 MBP. The DPI is even higher than the previous gen, and me not wanting to run at some 1920x1200 type resolution, go for the full 1:1 3456x2234 resolution. There are utilities to make the top menu bar black thus rendering the notch invisible. But there aren't any possibilities to enlarge the icons and text in this menu bar to fill the space, instead they are rather tiny. There's actually an option for the size of the menu bar items, regular or large, and large is still tiny here :) I'm sure most Linux WMs would offer you, regular, large, how large would you like? (or could be easily hacked to do that) Of course, this being Apple I'm using it wrong...

  3. JDX Gold badge

    53GB

    I thought Linux was meant to be slick and efficient... I'm sure my Windows install is less than that!

    i assume you can also run it in a VM using Parallels or similar which for many might be the preferable option?

    1. marcan

      Re: 53GB

      It's not 53GB, it's 18GB for a full install (that still leaves 5GB or so free, and includes the full Plasma application suite). The 53GB is because *macOS* needs something like 30+GB free for system upgrades not to break. We don't want people to shoot themselves in the foot, so the installer asks for that much extra slack by default, and won't let you resize macOS tighter than that. So 53GB free before the install, and 38GB free after the install, giving Linux 18GB. You can bypass that safety check in expert mode if you really want to.

      We're just trying to avoid getting people stuck so tight that they can't upgrade macOS, especially folks who intend to just use Linux and want to make the macOS partition as small as possible - if you shrink it so much you can never actually free up enough storage for an upgrade to go through, you're kind of screwed and defeating the purpose of leaving a macOS partition in the first place (which, right now, is largely for firmware updates and other things we don't handle from Linux yet, but will in the future).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 53GB

        Why are you wasting time reading TheRegister? Get back to work! :-)

    2. Bruce Hoult

      Re: 53GB

      >i assume you can also run it in a VM using Parallels or similar which for many might be the preferable option?

      Mate.

      I've been running arm64 Ubuntu in a VM on the M1 Mac Mini since ... checks ... 22 November 2020. That's 16 months. They ere only released on November 17, 2020, so it took all of 5 days to get mine and get Ubuntu working...

      Performs *really* nice. But I want it native, so as to not waste 4 GB of RAM on the host OS.

      https://twitter.com/BruceHoult/status/1330236899546591235

      More benchmarks at...

      https://hoult.org/arm64_mini.html

  4. FernTheConcentricGuy

    Apple can certainly create a following by having Linux run on their hardware. The more fanbois they have the better their sales will be. Bootcamp is the perfect example where a relunctant Windows user had no reason not to migrate towards fruity fabrications if they had the desire.

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
      Linux

      Why?

      The M1 Mac Mini running Linux WILL be a very capable replacement for old Intel based SFF servers such as the Intel NUC. The reduced power consumption alone is a big plus.

      Given the demise of macOS Server running Linux on the M1 hardware is almost a no brainer.

      1. Lazlo Woodbine Silver badge

        Re: Why?

        My Mac Mini daily driver was a file & print server for the first 8 years of its life.

        i7, 16GB & a new 500gb SSD and it's stll a very capable computer running Big Sur even though it's not supported on a 2012 machine

        1. James O'Shea

          Re: Why?

          How did you get it to load Big Sur? I have a 2012 Mac mini server and it's running Catalina. I'd like to have at least the option to go to Big Sur, as Catalina will be out of support Real Soon Now.

  5. marcan

    On resolutions

    Linux in the alpha currently relies on the boot-time framebuffer, meaning there is no support for switching resolutions, VSync, hot-plugging, or anything like that. We have a driver for that (DCP), and it will be merged and released soonish, but first it needs a bit of clean-up and making sure it works on all the laptops too. That will make monitors work as you'd expect, with resolution switching and scaling and VSync and standby mode and all that jazz (and brightness control on the laptops). And as soon as the physical bits to switch the Type C ports to DisplayPort mode are ready (which is also being worked on as we speak), that will enable multi-monitor too.

    The black screen you saw is probably because our bootloader (m1n1) failed to initialize video on the first boot. This is something we've seen happen; some monitors are temperamental and will do a reconnect cycle, and it's not clear why this happens (the internal DisplayPort-to-HDMI converter chip is probably also partially to blame). But the bootloader needs to kick off the screen and it needs to stick unattended, since at that point there's no real driver to handle hotplugging and all that. This is something that also affected Apple's bootloader (iBoot); it relies on the same interface to initialize monitors and what Apple put together is... quite primitive. Then in 12.0 Apple disabled that feature on the Mac Mini and they provide *no* boot-time display so now we have to use the same interface and take a guess as to what the best approach is. m1n1 is better than iBoot was with some monitors, and worse with others. We could make it more reliable, forcing it to wait several seconds for the output to stabilize, at the expense of increasing boot times for everyone... The good news is none of that matters once the Linux DCP driver loads, so the worst that an unreliable bootloader display will do is that your screen will sometimes stay black during the boot process until the real driver loads. Not great, but not a showstopper. But until DCP is in, yeah, a broken boot display means no display until you reboot.

    We'll still take a stab at poking around and seeing if we can make it more reliable. It might come down to giving users a "flaky boot display mode" option on install, something where they can add 5 seconds to the boot process in exchange for handling these weird situations better.

    Fun fact: when a display is not connected or just by default since 12.0, iBoot initializes a fake display mode that has the screen resolution of the iPhone 5.

    1. Ace2 Bronze badge

      Re: On resolutions

      This is awesome, and I’m shocked that you all have gotten it so far so fast!

  6. Dave559 Silver badge

    Bluetooth and WiFi

    Ah, Bluetooth and WiFi, sadly the cursed artefacts of so much Linux hardware support. By and large, Linux does a very good job of supporting many/most hardware devices these days, but Bluetooth and WiFi chipsets sadly too often seem to have very kludgy drivers that are third-rate at best even on Windows, and require some pretty icky reverse engineering and/or bad smelling firmware blob downloads to get working even semi-properly. You would hope that Apple would have picked slightly classier chipset suppliers for these components (or perhaps they're just using very new chips that aren't well-supported in Linux yet?)!

  7. This post has been deleted by its author

  8. Philip Stott

    You used to be a developer

    And a pretty good one too.

    I know because you hired me twice, first as a contract VB then C# developer back in the early years of this century.

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