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Going Ubuntu on an M1 Mac with Multipass: Thanks VM, it's Linux on the desktop

Command line fun on Apple silicon with Canonical's lightweight VM manager

An Apple Silicon version of Canonical's Multipass has arrived, adding another way of firing up Linux on an M1-powered Mac.

Although getting a full desktop on an M1 Mac is tricky at present (although not too far off) firing up a virtual machine on the platform allows developers to code against the operating system from the comfort of their new gizmos.

We first looked at Multipass in 2019, and found it a handy tool in Windows 10 for when a full-fat Hyper-V session was overkill and Windows System for Linux failed to cut the mustard. While the evolution of WSL into a lightweight VM-based Linux platform might have somewhat cut the need for Multipass on Windows, the arrival of the M1 chip has opened up another front. Hence Multipass on the M1 Mac.

M1 users haven't had many options for running Linux," said Canonical, "Popular VM tools such as VirtualBox and VMWare either do not support the new architecture or are still in the preview stage."

Hmm. We fired up Parallels Desktop 17, which offered a choice of Linux distribution. The Arm64 build of Ubuntu 20.04 took around five minutes to install from scratch. So that's at least one alternative option.

Multipass is free, though, which will tempt many, and getting to an Ubuntu (naturally) command prompt took us a matter of seconds. With support for cloud-init metadata, simulating a cloud deployment on one's M1 Macbook is a straightforward process. A multipass find showed a pair of Ubuntu LTS images available, as well the more cutting edge 21.04 and 21.10. You will also find the inevitable minikube Kubernetes distribution (a single node Kubernetes cluster in a VM).

Also in the list is the Anbox Cloud appliance, which permits the running of Android apps in Multipass, according to Canonical. The inevitable "Would you like to help Multipass developers by sending anonymous usage data?" is also present and correct upon launch.

We took version 1.8 for a spin on an 8GB M1 Mac Mini and can confirm Canonical's claims regarding the speed to get started. Then again, the Arm64 version of Ubuntu 20.04 in Parallels Desktop 17 was also impressively snappy once installed. Multipass, however, dispenses with all the GUI frippery in favour of a command line interface. It also permits users to tie commands within a VM to commands on the host OS via the new Alias functionality.

In 2020, Canonical told us that "many Mac users" were keen on Multipass. The M1 version, despite a heftier installation thanks to the use of universal packages, is unlikely to lose it any friends. ®

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