Originally Published: Friday, 24 September 1999 Author: Luke Groeninger
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Alternate Linux Platforms

In the past, Linux has always had to play catch up with modern architectures. But, as always, times are changing. Intel, microprocessor giant, has already been involved with porting Linux to the IA-64 architecture. Apple has helped with the porting of Linux to the PowerPC chip through MkLinux. Compaq is supporting Linux on the Alpha, and has recently ceased supporting Windows NT on that architecture. So with all of this development on other popular platforms, why has there been very little publicity about it?...


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In the past, Linux has always had to play catch up with modern architectures. But, as always, times are changing. Intel, microprocessor giant, has already been involved with porting Linux to the IA-64 architecture. Apple has helped with the porting of Linux to the PowerPC chip through MkLinux. Compaq is supporting Linux on the Alpha, and has recently ceased supporting Windows NT on that architecture. So with all of this development on other popular platforms, why has there been very little publicity about it?

From a capitalist standpoint it makes little sense to support "unstable" software on a hardware platform that seems to have very little support. Would it make sense for Red Hat, Inc. to offer their GNU/Linux distribution on the MIPS or Motorola 68xxx platforms, which are much newer and are not as stable or as proven as the x86 code? It makes very little sense from a capitalist point of view. But both of these platforms are reportedly quite stable, even though they are not bug-free. But, thankfully, Red Hat is not the only GNU/Linux distribution. Debian GNU/Linux supports a massive amount of hardware architectures, including the Alpha, ARM microprocessors, and the PowerPC family of chips. Together with good developer support, Debian has managed to take Linux to architectures that range from cheap portable devices to impressively expensive number crunching machines.

Indeed, Linux has matured fast enough that it is easy to lose sight of the sheer number of hardware architectures that it supports. I would personally love to play with Linux on an Alpha or a PowerPC based machine -- you can find older machines based on both of these architectures for quite cheap nowadays. Or you can choose to make your own platform to run Linux. Several projects are underway to make a hardware platform that runs entirely off of Linux, and, in the style of Free Software, they have elected for cheap parts that are readily available. Due to the cost restrictions involved most of these platforms are not running expensive x86 processors, but have instead elected to use cheaper processors such as the Motorola 68k line of processors.

The future of Linux has never seemed quite so promising. With such a varied range of platforms from which to choose, it seems that there is not a computer that does or will eventually run Linux on it. All it requires is work on the part of the people. Try to help out whenever possible; good code hackers are always needed.

Luke Groeninger is currently a full-time student, part-time worker and writer for Linux.com. In addition, he also runs several Linux servers at his school and generally spends most of his time working with Linux. He can be reached at dghost@linux.com if you have any questions or comments.





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