For the first time, users of Apple Silicon Macs using Apple’s M1 chip—such as the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro, Mac mini, and MacBook Air—can now boot in to and natively run Linux.
The vintage at play here is Ubuntu, and the port was developed by Corellium, which otherwise virtualizes iOS and other ARM-based OSes to enable easier security testing. It’s worth noting as well that Apple has previously sued the company over said iOS security testing tool. The lawsuit didn’t go Apple’s way.
Corellium Chief Technology Office Chris Wade announced the culmination of the team’s work on Twitter yesterday. And in a blog post on Corellium’s website, the team behind the port writes that it was developed in parallel with the group’s efforts at “creating a model of the [M1] for our security research part.”
The blog post has numerous additional details about the hurdles Corellium had to overcome, including dealing with how Apple’s SoC brings up additional CPU cores, dealing with Apple’s proprietary interrupt controller, and much more. Among other things, Corellium added “a pre-loader that acts as a wrapper for Linux and provides a trampoline for starting processor cores.”
The post includes a tutorial for installing Ubuntu on M1 Macs, and there’s a Github repo (corellium/linux-m1) that you can download the kernel from. Following the steps, you’ll end up booting directly from USB. However, we are a long way off from Boot Camp-style dual booting multiple operating systems here. Even after the Corellium team’s work, the steps required are more complex and technical than most users will want to mess with, and it’s certainly not recommended to do this as your daily driver yet.
Still, enthusiasts or those who want to get ahead of the curve now have an option, so if it’s your jam, go to town. Wade calls the port “completely usable,” and you’ll get the fully functional Ubuntu desktop if you go through this process.
There are other efforts to bring Linux to M1 Macs out there, and further refinements of each are sure to come, so it’s still early days. And before you ask: doing this with Windows is still looking quite hazy. You’d need to use the ARM version of Windows, and that’s not an option for most people at this time.
When we interviewed Apple’s marketing SVP Craig Federighi and asked about running Windows natively on Apple Silicon Macs, he said, “That’s really up to Microsoft… we have the core technologies for them to do that, to run their ARM version of Windows, which in turn of course supports x86 user mode applications. But that’s a decision Microsoft has to make, to bring to license that technology for users to run on these Macs. But the Macs are certainly very capable of it.”
Listing image by Samuel Axon