ARM support is a mess in Linux land

While hardware makers talk about ARM based servers, it seems that the software to run them is a long way from catching up.

As Linux has become the most common networking language, Arm chips need to work effectively in that operating system.

However according to IT World’s Brian Profitt, the Linux operating system for ARM is completely and utterly forked and only a specialised group of developers and manufacturers know what is happening.

It has got so grim that Linux kernel maintainer Linus Torvalds has publicly threatened to stop putting ARM-related changes into the mainline Linux kernel.

He thinks that a few years ago when ARM manufacturers first started adding Linux support on their devices they wanted to get embedded devices out quickly. All of them made shedloads of device-specific changes to Linux kernels and did not think twice about it.

They also ignored GPL v2 licence requirements for the changes to be released back upstream to the main Linux kernel.

When they did send their code in for Linus to look at, many of their changes were rubbish and could not work on other people’s devices. The Linux Kernal testing team could not keep up either.

As a result ARM support is a mess and those within the Linux community have been doing their best to bring it all together.

First they develped a separate Git tree for the ARM branch of the kernel, which let Torvalds  start directly patching the mainline Linux kernel himself.

But once he got involved, he started getting miffed about the state of the ARM community and the code it was turning out.

He publically moaned that “most of them are totally unmaintainable crap in the long run”. He was talking about the drivers and not the community.

Two months ago he warned that if the community did not make an effort to fix it, he could not be bothered checking it.

ARM manufacturers realise the state they have gotten themselves into. They formed the non-profit Linaro consortium to sort out the mess. Names connected to the consortium include Freescale, IBM, Samsung, ST-Ericsson, Texas Instruments, and ARM.

The plan is to form an ARM maintainer team for the Linux kernel. This is similar to what already exists for x86. Ironically it is the x86 people who are trying help the Linux people come up with things that will sort out the scaling problems of current Arm designs

Linaro Chief Technical Officer David Rusling said that something needs to be done, Each new release has 70,000 new lines of Arm code in comparison to 5,000 lines of new x86 code.

Before the situation gets better, Profitt predicts things will get ugly. The forks need to consolidate and as they do so pet software products will die.

However if they don’t, then Arm chips based around Linux will effectively become too difficult to administer.