Wednesday, May 22, 2024

ARM’ing Linux

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The ARM chip architecture is emerging to become an extremely popular one for embedded and mobile devices. It’s also an architecture that has had some issues when it comes to Linux.

Speaking at the LinuxCon conference this week, Linux creator Linus Torvalds detailed his frustrations with ARM. Coincidentally this week, Canonical, the lead commercial sponsor behind Ubuntu Linux, announced ARM support as part of the upcoming Ubuntu 11.10 release.

“I think that ARM is very promising,” Torvalds said. “The problem is that ARM doesn’t have a standard platform.”

In Torvalds’ view, ARM is a ‘hodgepodge’ of companies making random pieces of hardware. He noted that on the kernel side, Linux has tried to support alot of ARM.

“It has been a painful thing for me,” Torvalds said. “Look at the x86 and ARM trees and ARM is many times bigger, it’s not constrained by platform and it has random crap all over.”

Torvalds suggested that since ARM doesn’t have a main device in the same way that x86 has the PC, that represents a challenge. He added that ARM maintainers within Linux have also had issues with working with each other. It’s an area that Torvalds is working on, as are others.

Issues with the ARM tree aside, it is a platform that is growing. Ubuntu announced this week that it will ship an ARM version of Ubuntu 11.10 later this year. For Ubuntu, supporting ARM isn’t an issue of porting code.

“Most code already works for ARM since it has been reused for mobile platforms,” a Canonical spokesperson told “The main challenge is to upscale the code performance to serve the volume required for servers.”

The spokesperson added that optimizing server workloads for ARM is pretty greenfield, although others will surely follow.

“It is also worth stressing that Ubuntu Server itself is a huge success in the very workloads that ARM microservers will ultimately be targeted at,” the spokesperson said.

At a core business level the spokesperson stressed that Ubuntu is platform agnostic and the firm’s users and customers want to see great performance on Intel, AMD and ARM.

“The majority of our pre-installs and certification are on x86, and our business around ARM is growing rapidly. And devices like the Motorola Atrix that use Ubuntu packages are only accelerating that,” the spokesperson said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

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