Linux developers get ready to wield the secateurs against elderly microprocessors

Use it or lose it

With 5.10 under its belt, the Linux community is discussing swinging the axe on some elderly platforms and CPUs, including a bunch that are ARM-based. Even the poor old 80486DX/SX has come in for scrutiny.

Arnd Bergmann, co-maintainer of the ARM SOC kernel tree, kicked things off at the end of 2020 with a piece discussing the future of 32-bit Linux.

As last week drew to a close, he followed up by starting a thread entitled "Old platforms: bring out your dead", dedicated to identifying dusty platforms still lurking within the Linux kernel that could be candidates for purging.

Using the simple metric of what hadn't seen much change action in recent years, Bergmann suggested ARM platforms including axxia, dove and efm32 for removal. PicoXcell also made the list, but was already in the queue for deletion.

Bergmann went on to list some additional ARM platforms "that are old but have still seen some work in the past years," which he would be happy to assist in dropping if the maintainers wished.

He then turned his gaze to non-ARM platforms that could well be past their sell-by dates, including several in the PowerPC family. He noted that powerpc/amigaone was last updated in 2009 while powerpc/cell (for which he is the maintainer) was in his backlog for removal (and separate from PS3).

He also mooted dropping support for old non-ARM CPUs, with the first generation Itaniums, some later PowerPC chips and the venerable 80486SX and DX CPUs suggested as being "past their best-served date."

"There are," he said, having noted that 80386 CPUs were dropped in 2012, "indications that 486 have no users either on recent kernels."

As one would expect, there was a chorus of "I'm not dead yet!" responses as well as some in the community pointing out that a lack of updates was not necessarily an indicator of a platform's demise. Others volunteered their time in maintaining kernel support for entries in Bergmann's lists.

Others reckoned that a bit of pruning would do no harm.

While Bergmann is only suggesting that "there might be some value in dropping old CPU support on architectures and platforms that are almost exclusively used with more modern CPUs, those with a particular affinity for one or more of the platforms identified would do well to make their voices heard." ®

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