Linux might come to M1 Macs with your help

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Linux on an M1 Mac is possible. With a lot of work.
A developer with decades of experience porting Linux to game consoles wants to make a Linux M1 Mac.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Hector Martin (aka marcan) wants to port a full, useful version of the Linux operating system to the new Macs running Apple Silicon, but he needs help.

He’s got the skills for it — he put Linux on a PlayStation 4, for example. But the developer wants assistance from the public bringing the operating system to Macs running the new M1 processor. Not technical help, but financial contributions.

Apple recently began phasing out Intel processors on Macs, and introduced a trio of macOS computers running the M1 chip that Apple designed in-house. The processor pulls in some impressive benchmarks, so it’s hardly surprising Linux users want access to it.

Bringing Linux to M1 Macs is a herculean task

Martin is ambitious about the project. “The goal is to bring Linux support on Apple Silicon Macs to the point where it is not merely a tech demo, but is actually an OS you would want to use on a daily driver device,” he said.

But he’s realistic, too. “Since these devices are brand new and bespoke silicon, porting Linux to run on them is a huge undertaking,” said Martin. “Well beyond a hobby project, it is a full-time job.”

And that’s why the developer is looking for enough contributors to total $4,000 a month. If/when he reaches that point, he’ll begin work porting Linux to the M1-based Mac mini. Martin is asking for monthly contributions on Patreon to support the project.

An ambitious project

Martin is confident Linux can be ported to Apple’s new processors. Cupertino does not block unsigned/custom kernels from booting on Apple Silicon Macs. And he’ll be reverse-engineering Apple’s code, so the project won’t break any laws.

The plan is to support every M1 Mac, as well as future ones. But the project will take an enormous amount of effort. “Running Linux on things is easy, but making it work well is hard,” said Martin. “Drivers need to be written for all devices. The driver for the completely custom Apple GPU is the most complicated component, which is necessary to have a good desktop experience. Power management needs to work well too, for your battery life to be reasonable.”

The code he’s creating will be open. “All development will be in the open, pushed to GitHub regularly,” said Martin.

And he developer points out he has the experience to make Linux run on M1 Macs. “I’ve been reverse engineering devices for over half of my life, since the early 2000s,” Martin said. In addition to porting Linux to the PS4, he did the same for the PS3. And he helped develop open software support for the Nintendo Wii as well.

Martin launched the Patreon project Monday, November 30. Funding hit 90% on the first day.