Linux Archive

Dusting off Dreamcast Linux

A keyboard, mouse, a NIC, VGA output, 16MB of RAM and a whole gig (you wish) of read-only optical drive space with a 200MHz Hitachi SuperH SH-4 CPU faulting its paltry 8K of I-cache and 16K of D-cache non-stop. Now freshly refurbished, its cooling fan runs louder than my Power Mac Quad G5 at idle and the drive makes more disk seeking noise than when I can’t find a lost floppy. And since the buzzword with Linux distros today is immutability, what could be more immutable than an ephemeral, desperately undersized RAM disk overlaid on a live CD? i want a DreamCast.

Linux looks to retire Itanium/IA64 support

It’s been many years since Intel Itanium processors made a convincing story and faced a slow demise over the past decade. While the last of the Itanium 9700 “Kittson” processors shipped in 2021, just two years later now the Linux kernel is already looking at possibly seeing its IA-64 support removed over having no maintainers or apparent users. I have a morbid curiosity when it comes to Itanium, and I’ve been on the lookout for an Itanium workstation for two decades now. This is the first time where one of these “Linux to deprecate some old unused architecture” posts might actually affect me at some point, and I’m outraged. Outraged, I tell you!

Repurposing e-waste: turning a TV set-top box into a Linux computer

Our mobile Internet Service Provider (ISP) has a bundle where they provide a 4G modem for internet access, and a separate TV set-top box that can be used to watch their TV content or to watch streaming services. This device was sent to us as part of the bundle, but at Zeus, we don’t really have a use for it: we don’t really watch television in our space. What we do have a need for, however, are low-power computers that can run Linux. In this blog post, we will hack this set-top box to run Linux instead of Android TV. Just some good ol’ fashioned hackery for the weekend. You’ll need a soldering iron.

Vanilla OS 22.10 released

Vanilla OS has released its first version. Vanilla OS is an immutable desktop Linux distribution that brings some interesting new technologies to the table, such as the Apx package manager. By default, Apx provides a container based on your Linux distribution (Ubuntu 22.10 for Vanilla OS 22.10) and wraps all commands from the distribution’s package manager (apt for Ubuntu). Nevertheless, you can install packages from other package distributions. For example, using the --aur flag, a new container based on Arch Linux will be created. Here, apx will manage the packages from the AUR (Pacman and yay), tightly integrating them with the host system. Using the --dnf flag with apx will create a new container based on Fedora Linux. Here, apx will manage packages from Fedora’s DNF repository, tightly integrating them with the host system. Another tentpole technology is ABRoot, which brings atomicity to this distribution. Atomicity is the ability to perform a specific operation in a way where if it fails, nothing will be changed and if it succeeds, the changes will be applied in their entirety. ABRoot achieves this by transacting between 2 root file systems: A and B. Let’s make an example. Let’s say you want to install a new package. ABRoot will check which partition is the present root partition (i.e A), then it will mount an overlay on top of it and perform the transaction. If the transaction succeeds, the overlay will be merged with the future root partition (i.e B). On your next boot, the system will automatically switch to the new root partition (B). In case of failure, the overlay will be discarded and the system will boot normally, without any changes to either partition. Vanilla OS looks incredibly interesting, and I’m definitely keeping an eye on it.

Rant: year of Linux on the desktop

A rant about “year of Linux on the desktop” from a tired old man. I’ve been part of the Linux community since before Linux was called Linux. Over the years there’s been many people telling me directly that Linux is silly or wrong or imperfect, or that free and open source software is foolish or pointless. A lot more people have, of course, pontificated along those lines in public, and not directed it at me. I’m not claiming to be targeted at that, but I’ve been around and active for long enough that things accumulate. It’s the end of a long year for me, and I though I’d let off some steam myself. Hence this rant. Over time, the goal posts of success keep being moved by the naysayers. I’m too tired to dig up all important milestones and dates, or references, but here’s highlights of the timeline as I have experienced it (years may be a little off). The most popular operating system in the world by a huge margin, and yet, it still gets ridiculed by users of platforms that still have to manually install drivers and update applications by hand while getting spied on left, right, and centre. Strange times we live in.

Setting up my new laptop: Nix style

This week I received a new 12th Gen Intel laptop from Framework. And like with any new piece of hardware I get these days, my first instinct was to put NixOS on it. But I wasn’t just content with firing up the NixOS installer and getting to work. Oh no no no. You see, I knew there was a better way. I didn’t now exactly what that better way looked like just yet, but I could feel in my bones that it existed. So I did what I usually do when I suspect there’s a better way of doing something in Nix land and pinged Mic92. What you’ll read in the rest of this post is the result of our conversations. NixOS seems incredibly cool, but at the same time, it also seems obtuse and complex, and like any Linux system, it has its share of problems, too. I’m just not entirely sure if it’s of any value to most regular desktop Linux users, or if it is almost exclusively aimed at developers. Since NixOS seems to be popping up in comments all over the web, I’m trying to keep an eye on it and understand what, exactly, it offers over competing products.

Upgrading my old Chumby 8 Linux kernel part 1: U-Boot

With that initial explanation out of the way, in 2022 I’ve been getting my Chumby working with the mainline Linux kernel and slowly trying to submit fixes upstream for issues as I find them. To be clear, I’m not trying to get the stock Chumby software working with the new kernel. That’s likely impossible. The stock software is heavily dependent on Flash which is a dead end. I’m just getting the new kernel running well enough so that I can develop my own custom software for it. I’m going to write a few posts about that process and some of the fun challenges I had to overcome. This first post in the series will talk about some of the work I did with U-Boot. If you’re into Linux kernel development, there’s massive number of devices out there running outdated kernels you could be updating for fun, in your spare time.

Apple GPU drivers now in Asahi Linux

This release features work-in-progress OpenGL 2.1 and OpenGL ES 2.0 support for all current Apple M-series systems. That’s enough for hardware acceleration with desktop environments, like GNOME and KDE. It’s also enough for older 3D games, like Quake3 and Neverball. While there’s always room for improvement, the driver is fast enough to run all of the above at 60 frames per second at 4K. Please note: these drivers have not yet passed the OpenGL (ES) conformance tests. There will be bugs! Increasingly impressive work.

Tales of the M1 GPU

There is still a long road ahead! The UAPI that we are using right now is still a prototype, and there are a lot of new features that need to be added or redesigned in order to support a full Vulkan driver in the future. Since Linux mandates that the UAPI needs to remain stable and backwards compatible across versions (unlike macOS), that means that the kernel driver will not be heading upstream for many months, until we have a more complete understanding of the GPU rendering parameters and have implemented all the new design features needed by Vulkan. The current UAPI also has performance limitations… it can’t even run GPU rendering concurrently with CPU processing yet! And of course there is still a lot of work to do on the userspace side, improving conformance and performance and adding support for more GL extensions and features! Some features like tesselation and geometry shaders are very tricky to implement (since they need to be partially or fully emulated), so don’t expect full OpenGL 3.2+ for quite a long time. This article is a detailed look at the work done by Asahi Lina to create a Linux GPU driver for Apple’s M1, after Alyssa Rosenzweig reverse engineered the M1 GPU on macOS. This is a tour de force of excellence, and every current and future M1/M2 Linux user should be thankful for the amazing work these people are doing.

Asahi Linux November 2022 progress report

Time for another overdue progress report! This month’s update is packed with new hardware support, new features, and fixes for longstanding pain points, as well as a new bleeding-edge kernel branch with long-awaited support for suspend and the display controller! Asahi Linux is the project bringing Linux to Apple’s M1 and M2 platform, and they continue to make great strides. I’m still skeptical about how wise it is to buy expensive hardware you have zero control over to run an operating system not explicitly endorsed, but y’all are smart enough to make those calls on your own.

The Linux kernel may finally phase out Intel i486 CPU support

Linus Torvalds has backed the idea of possibly removing Intel 486 (i486) processor support from the Linux kernel. After the Linux kernel dropped i386 support a decade ago, i486 has been the minimum x86 processor support for the mainline Linux kernel. This latest attempt to kill off i486 support ultimately arose from Linus Torvalds himself with expressing the idea of possible requiring x86 32-bit CPUs with “cmpxchg8b” support, which would mean Pentium CPUs and later. I think that would be a fair call. It’s highly unlikely any modern additions to the Linux kernel are usable on a 486 anyway, so existing kernels which still have support for this ancient processor should suffice. On top of that, there’s no doubt in my mind that at least someone or some group of people will step up to maintain a special 486 branch if there is indeed any residual need for it.

Linux optimised for 386 and 486

Do you have some old 386 or 486 machines lying around, collecting dust, but want them to become productive members of your computer household? Fret no more – there’s gray386linux and gray486linux, distributions specifically tailored for these two older architectures. I’m not entirely sure what you’d actually do with them, but fascinating projects nonetheless.

Linux command line for you and me

Linux command line for you and me is a book for newcomers to command line environment. Exactly as it says on the tin. This is a great, easy to use resource for command line use. Even though I’ve used Linux for more than two decades, and have been Linux-only for a few years now, I rarely use the command line, and having a resource like this in my back pocket for the few times I do dive into the command line is very nice – especially when you need to use some of the less obvious commands.

Hackable $20 modem combines LTE and Pi Zero W2 power

extrowerk tells us about a new hacker-friendly device – a $20 LTE modem stick with a quadcore CPU and WiFi, capable of running fully-featured Linux distributions. This discovery hinges on a mountain of work by a Chinese hacker , who’s figured out this stick runs Android, hacked its bootloader, tweaked a Linux kernel for it and created a Debian distribution for the stick – calling this the OpenStick project. ’s writeup translates the ’s tutorial for us and makes a few more useful notes. With this writeup in hand, we have unlocked a whole new SBC to use in our projects – at a surprisingly low price! There’s so much computing power in cheap, disposable technology these days, and you can do fun things with it.

Linux 5.19 released

Linus Torvalds just released Linux 5.19 as stable for the newest version of the Linux kernel. He also mentioned this is the first time he released the new Linux kernel from an ARM64 laptop in the form of an Apple MacBook running an AArch64 Apple M2 SoC. Linux 5.19 brings many new features from initial LoongArch CPU support to continued work on bringing-up AMD Zen 4 CPUs, AMD RDNA3 enablement continuing, more work on Intel DG2/Alchemist, Intel Idle driver support for Alder Lake, initial Raptor Lake P graphics support, Zstd compressed firmware, and some nice performance improvements. In addition, Torvalds intends to call the next release Linux 6.0, because he’s “starting to worry about getting confused by big numbers again”.

Atari open-source Linux DRM graphics driver being worked on in 2022

In addition to the OpenChrome DRM/KMS driver hoping to be finally mainlined in 2022 for supporting aging VIA graphics hardware from the long-ago days of their x86 chipsets, separately there is a DRM/KMS kernel driver in the works for something even older… A Linux DRM graphics driver for the Atari Falcon from the early 90’s. Over the past two years a DRM driver has been in the works for the Atari graphics hardware with its built-in graphics chipset. This is not to be confused with the 2021-launched Atari VCS mini PC / game console, but the Atari Falcon personal computers out of the Atari Corporation from the early 90’s that featured Motorola 68000 series processors and a programmable video controller. It’s not yet in mainline, so it’ll be fun to see if Torvalds is up for including such an old and niche driver once it’s matured. I’ve always wanted an Atari Falcon, but they’re even more expensive than most other classic computers, so that’s most likely never going to happen.

Text consoles and framebuffer consoles in Linux

And the second post by Chris Siebenmann, this time about how the Linux console has gotten slower over the years. If you’ve been running x86 Linux servers for long enough, you’ve probably noticed two changes in the kernel’s text console. On the one hand, the text console has gotten substantially bigger, sporting sizes like 128×40 instead of the much smaller old sizes, for example 80×25. On the other hand, text output to the console has generally gotten slower, usually much slower than you would expect for the change in console size. These two changes are not unrelated, because they are both part of a fundamental change in how the kernel console normally worked and works on x86 hardware. Hint: the two posts are related.

How we wound up with Linux’s kernel mode setting

I’ve got two fantastic posts about Linux today, from the same author – Chris Siebenmann. First, the history behind kernel mode setting in Linux. In the older days of Linux, the kernel didn’t know very much about graphics (at least on PCs). Instead, setting up and handling graphics hardware was the domain of the X server; the kernel gave it access to PCI (or AGP) resources, and the X server directly stored values and read things out. Part of what the X server did was set the graphics mode (ie, the modeline resolution, depth, and scan frequencies), initially from explicit modelines and then over time from EDID information and other things you didn’t have to configure (which was great). This was user space mode setting. There were a variety of reasons to do this at the time (cf) but it had various drawbacks, including requiring the X server to have significant privileges (cf Fedora removing them). You can see where this is going.

Have an old iPad lying around? You might be able to make it run Linux soon

If you have a 2013- or 2014-era iPad sitting around unused because it’s not getting updates from Apple anymore and has stopped running the apps you need, some developers are working on an alternative software solution for you. Developer Konrad Dybcio and a Linux enthusiast going by “quaack723” have collaborated to get Linux kernel version 5.18 booting on an old iPad Air 2, a major feat for a device that was designed to never run any operating system other than Apple’s. This is an amazing achievement, and further goes to show that given enough time, someone will port Linux to it.