Asahi Linux reaches 'very early Alpha'

Owners of Macs running M1 silicon now have a a native – but rough – Linux to test

Asahi Linux – the most prominent effort to create a Linux distribution for Apple's M1 silicon – has loosed what project lead Hector Martin has described as "a very early alpha release."

"It is intended for developers and power users," Martin wrote, adding that all users are welcome but may find the experience of running the release "a bit rough."

That phrase translates to a distribution that can't currently handle DisplayPort, HDMI on MacBooks, Thunderbolt, Bluetooth, GPU acceleration, inbuilt cameras or the Touch Bar. Chromium and Emacs are known to be broken, as is anything that uses the jemalloc memory allocation tool, or the libunwind project that aims "to define a portable and efficient C programming interface to determine the call-chain of a program."

Happily, it's not so rough that users will face an ugly upgrade path as enablers for the items listed above become available. "Behind the scenes, this release brings with it several future compatibility features. What this means is that users who install it will be able to keep up with all future improvements by simply upgrading their packages – no reinstalling necessary," Martin wrote. He's also styled this as the "first Alpha" – so upgrades can be expected.

Those willing to take the distro for a spin will need a Mac powered by a M1, M1 Pro, or M1 Max processor, 53GB of disk space, and macOS 12.3 or later logged in as an administrator. The newly announced Mac Studio is the only M1-powered Mac that won't work with the release.

The installer offers the chance to implement three environments that Martin described as follows:

  • Asahi Linux Desktop
    A customized remix of Arch Linux ARM that comes with a full Plasma desktop and all the basic packages to get you started with a desktop environment. It includes a graphical first-boot set-up wizard, so you won't have to dig around to change your settings or create your first user. No root password by default; use sudo to become root.
  • Asahi Linux Minimal (Arch Linux ARM)
    A vanilla Arch Linux ARM environment, with only the minimal support packages to integrate with the boot process and hardware on Apple Silicon machines. Arch users will feel right at home!
    Log in as root/root or alarm/alarm. Don't forget to change both passwords! SSH is disabled by default for security reasons, so you'll have to enable it manually.
  • UEFI environment only (m1n1 + U-Boot + ESP)
    No distribution, just a minimal UEFI boot environment. With this, you can boot an OS installer from a USB drive and install whatever you want (as long as it supports these machines, of course)!

Martin reassured would-be users that "We have strived to make this installer as safe as possible. All disk management operations are performed behind the scenes using native macOS tools (diskutil) and the installer doesn't really do anything truly dangerous."

Whichever option you choose, Martin wrote you'll find yourself running "pretty much" Arch Linux, based on Arch Linux ARM and using the Arm64 support already found in the Linux kernel. He's even shared the scripts used to build the release.

Upon installation, Asahi Linux will become an option in Apple's bootloader – albeit one that Martin warned might have unpleasant consequences.

"As with all open source software, especially an alpha release like this one, we can't make any promises. It could eat your data. It probably won't, but don't blame us if it does."

If you're still game to give Asahi Alpha a go, open a Terminal window on your Mac and paste curl | sh to start your adventure. ®

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