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Debian dev to the rescue after proposal to remove Itanium from Linux kernel

Nobody uses it, Linus Torvalds was happy to lose it, but it looks like sticking around


Linux kernel developers have debated removing support for Intel and HP's now officially defunct Itanium/IA64 platform from the project, with the outcome appearing to be a proposal to keep it alive.

A Wednesday post by Arm principal software developer Ard Biesheuvel pointed out that "The IA64 port of Linux has no maintainer, and according to a report from its only remaining user [0], it has been broken for a month and nobody cares."

Biesheuvel suggested that set of circumstances makes persisting with support a bad idea.

"Given that keeping a complex but unused architecture alive uses up valuable developer bandwidth, let's just get rid of it," he wrote.

Linux boss Linus Torvalds weighed in with his opinion that "I'm not a fan of IA64 as an architecture, but it's a bit sad to remove it entirely. It's not like it's been a huge maintenance burden in general."

But he admitted that "if it doesn't work, and nobody has the time and/or inclination to figure out why, I don't really see any alternative" to ending support. He later opined that keeping IA64 alive isn't much more onerous than the effort to keep another long-dead architecture – DEC's Alpha – as an option for kernel users.

As the thread considering the future of Itanium burbled along, a savior emerged: Physicist and Debian developer John Paul Adrian Glaubitz posted "I definitely have the time to look after the architecture as I am also maintaining it in Debian."

Glaubitz even admitted "I always have an Itanium server ready for testing kernels that I can power on and control remotely via its built-in management system."

Better yet, he had set aside some of next weekend to fix the recent regression that caused the kernel to break on the platform.

Discussion then drifted off into the details of what's needed to make the kernel work on Itanium, again.

Intel formally and finally retired Itanium in July 2021, bringing to an end an odd story that started in the mid-1990s. Back then, Intel and a pre-split HP felt the x86 architecture wasn't a viable heir to the Unix-centric minicomputers that functioned as the midrange servers of the era. IA64 was their response – a bad one as it turned out, because x86 servers did just fine.

Although sales of Itanium-powered systems reached around $4 billion in 2008, the platform never escaped niche status, and attracted enough users that Linux kernel support made sense. Intel kept developing new variants, but seemed considerably more enthusiastic about its own Xeon platform.

A near twenty-year afterlife as legacy tech ensued.

And thanks to Glaubitz's kind offer, that afterlife looks set to continue. ®

This story was corrected on March 15th to remove a reference to work on Itanium ending in 2004, and altered to better reflect adoption of the platform.

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