Linaro: Accelerating Linux on ARM

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

At our last UDS in Belgium it was notable how many people were interested in the ARM architecture. There have always been sessions at UDS about lightweight environments for the consumer electronics and embedded community, but this felt tangibly different. I saw questions being asked about ARM in server and cloud tracks, for example, and in desktop tracks. That’s new.

So I’m very excited at today’s announcement of Linaro, an initiative by the ARM partner ecosystem including Freescale, IBM, Samsung, ST-Ericsson and TI, to accelerate and unify the field of Linux on ARM. That is going to make it much easier for developers to target ARM generally, and build solutions that can work with the amazing diversity of ARM hardware that exists today.

The ARM platform has historically been superspecialized and hence fragmented – multiple different ARM-based CPU’s from multiple different ARM silicon partners all behaved differently enough that one needed to develop different software for each of them. Boot loaders, toolchains, kernels, drivers and middleware are all fragmented today, and of course there’s additional fragmentation associated with Android vs mainline on ARM, but Linaro will go a long way towards cleaning this up and making it possible to deliver a consistent platform experience across all of the major ARM hardware providers.

Having played with a prototype ARM netbook, I was amazed at how cool it felt. Even though it was just a prototype it was super-thin, and ran completely cool. It felt like a radical leap forward for the state of the art in netbooks. So I’m a fan of fanless computing, and can’t wait to get one off the shelf 🙂

For product developers, the big benefit from Linaro will be reduced time to market and increased choice of hardware. If you can develop your software for “linux on ARM”, rather than a specific CPU, you can choose the right hardware for your project later in the development cycle, and reduce the time required for enablement of that hardware. Consumer electronics product development cycles should drop significantly as a result. That means that all of us get better gadgets, sooner, and great software can spread faster through the ecosystem.

Linaro is impressively open: has details of open engineering summits, an open wiki, mailing lists etc. The teams behind the work are committed to upstreaming their output so it will appear in all the distributions, sooner or later. The images produced will all be royalty free. And we’re working closely with the Linaro team, so the cadence of the releases will be rigorous, with a six month cycle that enables Linaro to include all work that happens in Ubuntu in each release of Linaro. There isn’t a “whole new distribution”, because a lot of the work will happen upstream, and where bits are needed, they will be derived from Ubuntu and Debian, which is quite familiar to many developers.

The nature of the work seems to break down into four different areas.

First, there are teams focused on enabling specific new hardware from each of the participating vendors. Over time, we’ll see real convergence in the kernel used, with work like Grant Likely’s device tree forming the fabric by which differences can be accommodated in a unified kernel. As an aside, we think we can harness the same effort in Ubuntu on other architectures as well as ARM to solve many of the thorny problems in linux audio support.

Second, there are teams focused on the middleware which is common to all platforms: choosing APIs and ensuring that those are properly maintained and documented so that people can deliver any different user experience with best-of-breed open tools.

Third, there are teams focused on advancing the state of the art. For example, these teams might accelerate the evolution of the compiler technology, or the graphics subsystem, or provide new APIs for multitouch gestures, or geolocation. That work benefits the entire ecosystem equally.

And finally, there are teams aimed at providing out of the box “heads” for different user experiences. By “head” we mean a particular user experience, which might range from the minimalist (console, for developers) to the sophisticated (like KDE for a netbook). Over time, as more partners join, the set of supported “heads” will grow – ideally in future you’ll be able to bring up a Gnome head, or a KDE head, or a Chrome OS head, or an Android head, or a MeeGo head, trivially. We already have goot precedent for this in Ubuntu with support for KDE, Gnome, LXE and server heads, so everyone’s confident this will work well.

The diversity in the Linux ecosystem is fantastic. In part, Linaro grows that diversity: there’s a new name that folks need to be aware of and think about. But importantly, Linaro also serves to simplify and unify pieces of the ecosystem that have historically been hard to bring together. If you know Ubuntu, then you’ll find Linaro instantly familiar: we’ll share repositories to a very large extent, so things that “just work” in Ubuntu will “just work” with Linaro too.

28 Responses to “Linaro: Accelerating Linux on ARM”

  1. Antoine Says:

    Great, exciting news!

  2. Akshat Says:

    If its schedules and development will be as open as canonical that would be awesome.

  3. Tom Says:

    Will any of the hardware vendors really support FOSS as in FOSS 3D driver for ARM??? At the moment there exactly ZERO. AMD and Intel do a much better job in that regard. History has shown that users are boned if they have to rely on binary blobs.

    If not people will end up with unupdatable bricks that will suck IMO.

  4. Shuttleworth: Excited by Linux on ARM movement : Tectonic - The Source for Open Source News Says:

    […] chief Mark Shuttleworth has penned a long post on his blog in which he says that the project is exciting because it will make it “much easier for […]

  5. Miloš Mandarić Says:

    I hope we will _finally_ see Ubuntu Arm Netbooks this year!

  6. Don Marti Says:

    @Tom “History has shown that users are boned if they have to rely on binary blobs.”

    They should carve that in stone over the entrance to the electronics store.

    It would be interesting to see the numbers on how time to market depends on number of out-of-tree drivers in a product.

  7. » “Linaro” da oggi ha un nuovo significato Says:

    […] questo consorzio ci sarebbero Android, LiMo, MeeGo, webOS e …Ubuntu. In effetti ho letto la notizia proprio nel blog di Mark “de prima me fa na piotta” Shuttleworth, che nel suo modo […]

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  10. lzap Says:

    Yes, early consolidation could push ARM on Linux forward. Good idea.

  11. Claudio Says:

    Google has managed to attract attention to Linux. All the biggest companies are about to move in the direction taken by Google. The future is now and bad guys like Apple and Microsoft will bow to the power of open source industry. Long live to Ubuntu and Canonical!

  12. Claudio Says:

    Ubuntu should become the means by which Android will spread into the desktop. If they will, soon we will see exponential growth of the system more beautiful and easy on the face of this planet. I’m writing with the help of a translator. I must admit that works pretty well. Hello Mark, Take care!

  13. moondowner Says:

    Strange, but Qualcomm aren’t in this new alliance. And another thing. Every now and then, a set of big companies form and announce an alliance for a cause (I don’t say that that’s a bad thing). Let’s hope that this one delivers some goods, besides of lack of certain companies that have businesses based on ARM technology.

  14. KenP Says:

    Its good to hear from you about KDE and GNOME in the same breath. Why then, is kubuntu lagging so far behind Ubuntu in terms of ubuntu-isation?

  15. Anuncian Linaro en el Computex: por el mejor Linux para ARM Says:

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  17. Jens Says:

    I am also a fan of fanless computing. A nice example for (X)Ubuntu on an OPEN (!) ARM device
    (Cortex A8) is the Pandora gaming device, which also can be considered as small ARM Netbook.

    The revolution already started in the backyard :).

  18. Anzan Says:


  19. Zac Says:

    I am happy that Canonical is involved and that this won’t fragment the market. Bring on Ubuntu on ARM.

    BTW: Ubuntu 10.04 Netbook Edition is fantastic. This deserves to be offered to the public from the OEM’s.

  20. LXer: Linaro: Accelerating Linux on ARM - xBlurb Says:

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  21. See's Message » Linaro移动联盟宣布成立 Says:

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  22. Anders Says:

    Some kind of direct2d accel api for linux would be nice (that works across different hw manufacturers).

  23. Kriston Says:

    I’m still bummed that Freescale threw away the PowerPC architecture products.

  24. Dan Says:

    Without Google as a sponsor, will merging the Android kernel run smoothly?

    Small typo: “goot precedent” -> “good precedent”

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  27. Zac Says:

    Google will be getting the mind share but PLEASE get Ubuntu/Canonical up there. Ubuntu must be at the forefront at this important time.

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