Linux? On the Macintosh? With Mach?

Discover MkLinux—what machines it runs on and what it will do when it gets there.
What About Intel?

By porting MkLinux to the Power Macintosh, Apple opens the doors for a new market, but that's only half the story. As a bow to the Linux community's Intel orientation, Apple has also made sure an Intel port of MkLinux is available. In fact, the MkLinux/Intel port was developed first and was completely funded by Apple. The Intel port is tracking the Power Macintosh version; although you may not see it prominently displayed on the Apple Web pages, it's still quite alive.

By also porting MkLinux to the Intel platform, Apple opens the door for Intel and Power Macintosh users to try each other's systems, trade software and ideas, and generally enlarge the Linux world. For instance, we expect some valuable and interesting interchange in PCI driver software and multimedia applications.

Nitty Gritty Details

Okay, you're almost convinced. You understand why Apple is funding a Linux project, and you've begun to believe in Linux on the Power Macintosh. But it's still called a Developer Release. How complete is MkLinux? Are all Power Macintoshes supported? What's there, and, perhaps more important, what's not there? The following summary describes the MkLinux DR2 release with all posted updates through early January, 1997.

The first two MkLinux Developer Releases were fairly complete in terms of the base operating system and command set, but were still lacking in a few areas. As noted above, these versions were based on Linux 1.2.13, a somewhat dated version of the Linux server. Linux 2.0 support has recently been added, however (officially, as of the December 1996 update). The MkLinux kernel changes have been sent back to Linus Torvalds for inclusion in the next revisions of Linux; we believe we'll be in sync from now on.

From the beginning, MkLinux has had full SCSI support, including the ability to mount (and eventually boot from) removable disks such as Iomega's Jaz drive. It supports a wide range of monitors connected to the motherboard video or the HPV and A/V cards. It includes serial support for DMA and modem control, plus support for SLIP and PPP connections, as well as Ethernet. X11R6 supports a wide range of multiple-button pointing devices as long as they conform to Apple's Desktop Bus (ADB) protocol.

Several things are still missing, to be sure. Both audio and floppy disk support are still in development. Serial support does not yet extend to printers. At this writing, multiple monitors are not supported; in fact, no NuBus or PCI Bus cards are supported yet. Shared libraries are almost ready; these should be available for Developer Release 3.

To the dismay of many early adopters, MkLinux lacked support for most current Power Macintosh models. DR1 and (as shipped) DR2 supported only the Nubus-based, PowerPC 601-based systems (Power Macintosh 6100, 7100, 8100 series, Power Computing 100 and 120 clones). As these Power Macintosh models were discontinued shortly before MkLinux was first announced, it was impossible for users to buy a new system for MkLinux.

Following the release of DR1, however, the Apple MkLinux Team posted a survey, asking the MkLinux user (and prospective user) community to help choose the next set of machines to be ported. Not surprisingly, the overwhelmingly popular choice was the latest and fastest family of machines—the PCI-bus, PowerPC 604-based chip systems (Power Macintosh 7200, 7500, 8500, 9500, and clones).

Things always take longer than hoped; DR2 was released in September, still without PCI support. We promised support by Christmas, however, and managed to keep our promise. The DR2 update in mid-December contained (beta) support for the aforementioned PCI-based machines, rolled in the 2.0 Linux server, and was a major hit with our long-waiting and patient MkLinux fans.

With PCI support well underway, the team can concentrate on supporting the remaining systems (primarily Performas and Powerbooks) and begin to think about the upcoming CHRP (Common Hardware Reference Platform) systems. The only difficult decision will be which to implement first.

Unfortunately, although many machines seem similar on the surface (and Apple's System Software teams do an excellent job at making them look the same!), they're really all a little bit different inside. So, it may take a while... but rest assured, the team is committed to making MkLinux available on all of the Power Macintosh platforms in time.

The History and the Team

MkLinux was started as the dream of Brett Halle, then manager of Apple's kernel team within the Modern OS department. With the blessings of Apple Vice President Ike Nassi, Brett began sponsoring a handful of OSF Research Institute employees to port the Mach 3.0 Microkernel, and Linux, to the first Power Macintosh platform. Several months into the project, the first Apple engineer, Michael Burg, came on board to work part-time on the MkLinux effort.

Shortly before the DR1 release, Apple decided the project was worth a little more backing and spun the two Apple employees (Halle and Burg) off into their own, dedicated team. What became Apple's Leveraged Technologies Group is now up to five employees, with three more engineers at the Research Institute and hopes for reasonable growth in the future.

Unfortunately for our anxious and growing body of MkLinux fans, this is still a very small team. While we concentrate on porting to the next series of Power Macintoshes, keeping our Web pages and FTP site up to date, and managing the whole project, many interesting developments are “resource-limited”. Fortunately, this is Linux, where “everything is done by someone else”. The MkLinux Developer's Corner is a small but intrepid band of MkLinux programmers who are willing to take on (and complete) needed projects. Our Developers Corner has provided us with the X11R6 port, NetaTalk, GNU-step for MkLinux, HFS filesystem utilities, and a number of other interesting and desirable additions. We're happy to count these developers as members of the MkLinux team.

Last, but not least, our thanks go to all the MkLinux users who bravely download and install each new update as it is posted. In a small internal project such as MkLinux, we don't have access to Apple's dedicated software testing organizations. We've tried to test and debug our Developer Releases and updates before they are released, but we rely on our user community to stress-test our releases in a wide range of network environments and hardware configurations. We've been most impressed by the helpful comments, willingness to get involved, cogent bug reports and sensible e-mail we've received from all these folks.