In a recent post on the Real World Technologies forum—one of the few public internet venues Linux founder Linus Torvalds is known to regularly visit—a user named Paul asked Torvalds, “What do you think of the new Apple laptop?”
“I’d absolutely love to have one, if it just ran Linux,” Torvalds replied. “I’ve been waiting for an ARM laptop that can run Linux for a long time. The new [Macbook] Air would be almost perfect, except for the OS.”
Torvalds, of course, can already have an ARM based Linux laptop if he wants one—for example, the Pinebook Pro. The unspoken part here is that he’d like a high-performance ARM based laptop, rather than a budget-friendly but extremely performance constrained design such as one finds in the Pinebook Pro, the Raspberry Pi, or a legion of other inexpensive gadgets.
Apple’s M1 is exactly that—a high performance, desktop-and-laptop oriented system that delivers world-class performance while retaining the hyperefficient power and thermal characteristics needed in the phone and tablet world. On paper, an M1-powered Macbook Air would make a fantastic laptop for Linux or even Windows users—but it seems unlikely that Apple will share.
In an interview with ZDNet, Torvalds expounded on the problem:
The main problem with the M1 for me is the GPU and other devices around it, because that’s likely what would hold me off using it because it wouldn’t have any Linux support unless Apple opens up… [that] seems unlikely, but hey, you can always hope.
Torvalds is almost certainly correct that Apple won’t be forthcoming with sufficient detail about the M1 System on Chip (SoC) for Linux kernel developers to build first-class support. Even in the much better-understood Intel world, Macs haven’t been a good choice for Linux enthusiasts for several years, and for the same reason. As Apple brings its own hardware stack further and further in-house, open source developers get less and less information to port operating systems and write hardware drivers for the…