Notable Developer Starts Patreon to Fund Apple Silicon Linux Port

Developer Hector Martin, who describes himself as someone who "likes putting Linux on things," has launched a plan to create a Linux port for Apple Silicon Macs.

mac mini macbook pro macbook air m1
Martin, also known as "Marcan," has created a Patreon with the goal of earning enough funding to be able to take on the complexities of bringing Linux to Macs equipped with an M1 chip. Creating a Linux port is no easy task, and Linux creator Linus Torvalds has even said that he doesn't think it's a possibility.

Martin has experience getting Linux running on unusual platforms and has been able to create a Linux port for the PlayStation 4 but he acknowledges that an ‌Apple Silicon‌ Linux port is a much more serious undertaking. Creating a Linux port for Apple's Macs is a full time job, and Martin says that it's not viable without financial support. He's started a Patreon that's asking for $4,000 per month with $3, $6, and $12 pledge tiers. He's 88 percent of the way funded and doesn't plan to start the project unless he gets the full amount.


According to Martin, he's qualified to take on the project because of his experience working on Linux ports for other devices like the PlayStation 4. From the FAQ on his website:

I've been reverse engineering devices for over half of my life, since the early 2000s. I've worked to build unofficial open software support for platforms such as the Nintendo Wii (where I am one of the largest contributors to hardware documentation, open libraries, "jailbreaking" software (The Homebrew Channel), recovery tools (BootMii), etc), the Sony PS3 (where I wrote AsbestOS and a Linux patchset to enable Linux to work on the PS3 Slim as well as up-to-date PS3 units after the original Linux support was removed), the PS4 (which I ported Linux to, to the point of being able to run Steam games with full OpenGL/Vulkan graphics support), and other smaller platforms.

I always strive to write clean and robust code that is safe, puts the user first, and is upstreamable. I support open hardware and software development. I've gone through the Linux kernel patch process multiple times and I know what it takes to get stuff upstreamed.

Martin says that he wants to create a Linux port for ‌Apple Silicon‌ Macs that people "actually want to use" with all basic hardware working, decent power management, and more. The "big time sink" will be GPU support, which is necessary to make the port happen. Martin was able to get the PS4 version up and running because it's using a GPU that's only slightly customized, but ‌Apple Silicon‌ will be more difficult. There's proof of concept, though, in Nouveau, a GPU driver project for NVIDIA cards.


The project is not sanctioned by Apple, but so long as Martin does not use code from macOS to build Linux support, he says it is legal for him to distribute to users. Apple also allows for the booting of custom kernels on ‌Apple Silicon‌, which paves the way for Linux support, but Martin will need to reverse engineer Apple drivers.

Linus Torvalds earlier this month said that he'd love an ‌M1‌ Mac if it ran Linux, but that he doesn't feel it's possible without Apple's cooperation. "The main problem with the ‌M1‌ for me is the GPU and other devices around it, because that's likely what would hold me off using it because it wouldn't have any Linux support unless Apple opens up," said Torvalds. He went on to say that he thinks it "seems unlikely" Apple would open up its chipsets, but "you can always hope."

If the project is funded, and it's looking like it will be, Martin plans to develop in the open with regular pushes to GitHub, and he will accept help from anyone who wants to contribute.

Top Rated Comments

mathpunk Avatar
45 months ago

Of course the irony is that Macs ARE running Linux, just a heavily customized version.
No they aren't. macOS is derived from NextStep, which is a Mach kernel of BSD, which predates Linux by decades.
Score: 72 Votes (Like | Disagree)
grjj Avatar
45 months ago

Of course the irony is that Macs ARE running Linux, just a heavily customized version.
Not in any way shape or form is macOS based on Linux and I wish this idea would die.

macOS is based on Darwin ('https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darwin_%28operating_system%29'), which is in turn based on the Mach ('https://developer.apple.com/library/archive/documentation/Darwin/Conceptual/KernelProgramming/Mach/Mach.html') micro kernel. None of that has anything to do with Linux or Linus Torvalds.

Both run utilities and codebases written by GNU ('http://www.gnu.org').

All of these are attempts to build a "better" version of UNIX.
Score: 36 Votes (Like | Disagree)
icanhazapple Avatar
45 months ago

Waste of time. Apple will more than likely lock down the ability to boot from other operating systems.
You can run unsigned code on an M1 - if Apple backtracked from this, there would be a HUGE uproar from the Developer Community. Apple does listen to Developers if they go too far on something.
Score: 19 Votes (Like | Disagree)
chabig Avatar
45 months ago

Of course the irony is that Macs ARE running Linux, just a heavily customized version.
macOS is a cousin of Linux, not a descendant.
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Wowfunhappy Avatar
45 months ago

Without proper documentation, it's very-likely NOT possible !
Marcan knows what he's doing, he ported Linux to the Wii, PS3, and PS4 (and many other devices besides). The version of Linux for the PS4 can run games from Steam.

He's made it clear that the Apple Silicon port will be much harder due to all the custom components, particularly the GPU. But, that's why he set up a Patreon!

I do wonder whether Apple might actually provide some minimal amount of assistance (namely documentation, and possibly making an engineer available to answer occasional questions). It's not necessary, but it would help a lot, and why not help developers who are working to make your hardware more capable?
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
MacUser2525 Avatar
45 months ago

Again... no part of anything Linux was EVER in ANY part of macOS.
KHTML and CUPS off the top of my head are clear examples of apple using Open Source code in their macOS operating system. Safari would never have gotten off the ground without the KDE projects code to render web pages.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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