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OpenBSD 7.2: The other other FOSS xNix released, runs on Apple M2 Macs

Plus better support for some newer Intel wireless and graphics chipsets

OpenBSD 7.2 is here, spanning an impressive 14 different computer platforms, including FOSS fans who have the newest Apple Arm-based Mac models.

The Reg FOSS desk took a look at OpenBSD 7.1 in April, and for an overall assessment, what we said there stands. Version 7.1 was mainly noteworthy for including fairly preliminary support for Apple Silicon-based Macs, meaning the M1 processor. The new version 7.2 builds on that by adding three new Arm-based platforms: Apple M2-based Macs, Ampere's manycore Altra CPUs, and Lenovo's Snapdragon-based Thinkpad X13s.

The release notes list this version's new features in detail, and there's even more in the changelog. Here's a summary: various bugfixes, improved handling of power management and SMP, and better support for running in Oracle Cloud instances. There's better support for some newer Intel wireless and graphics chipsets, including the AX210 and AX211 Wi-Fi chips, and the built-in graphics of Intel Alder Lake and Raptor Lake processors.

Support for the Arm family is improving. As well as new SoCs, it's notable that the maximum number of CPU cores supported on 64-bit Arm is 256, which should be enough for now: even Ampere's chips currently max out at 128 cores.

Support for Qualcomm's Windows-friendly Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 SoC means that not only the Thinkpad X13s should work, but other devices based around the same system-on-a-chip, such as the Arm version of the Microsoft Surface Pro 9.

At the same time, support for some older hardware has been dropped, such as the late-1980s 80386SX and 386DX processors, although as the release notes say:

OpenBSD/i386 hasn't actually supported running on either for some time.

It also no longer supports any Cyrix chips lower than the M2 (released in 1998).

OpenBSD's ability to support newer Arm devices parallels the progress in Asahi Linux, the ongoing effort to reverse-engineer Apple's newer hardware. A good sign of progress is that Linus Torvalds was able to release kernel 5.19 using a machine running Asahi. This is of course a benefit of open source development. OpenBSD's licensing is a little complicated, although as a derivative of the Berkeley Software Distribution, much of it is under the Berkeley licence or the ISC License. Apart from GCC and a few other small components, OpenBSD doesn't use GPL code and tries to avoid it. The Asahi Linux project is a Linux (the clue is in the name) and that means it's licensed under the GPL.

The implication is that OpenBSD won't directly incorporate code from Asahi but OpenBSD developers can still study that code and implement their own drivers based on what the Asahi team work out about how Apple's hardware works.

The other thing worth noting are that OpenBSD is a rather simple and technologically conservative OS. It does support Wi-Fi, but don't expect to get a touchscreen tablet with a wireless keyboard, mouse and headset working. Similarly, one reason that the OS has added support for such relatively new hardware as Apple Silicon Macs is that its baseline for support is relatively low: an unaccelerated framebuffer for the display, the built-in keyboard and pointing device, and networking.

To be honest, if you want to run a modern graphical desktop on a modern PC, you'd be better off with FreeBSD. OpenBSD focuses on correctness and security, not features, and it's better suited to things like network firewalls than a Microsoft Surface. ®

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