Do you have an old iPad lying around? You might be able to get it working on Linux soon

Enlarge / Booting Linux on an old iPad Air 2.

If you have an unused 2013 or 2014 iPad because it no longer receives updates from Apple and has stopped running the apps you need, some developers are working on an alternative software solution for you. Developer Konrad Dybcio and a Linux enthusiast going through “quaack723” collaborated to obtain Booting Linux kernel version 5.18 on an older iPad Air 2a major feat for a device designed to never run any operating system other than Apple’s.

The project appears to use a Alpine Linuxbased on a distribution called “postmarketOS”, a relatively small but actively developed distribution made mainly for Android devices. Dybcio used a “checkm8” hashtag in their initial tweet about the project, which strongly implies that they used the “Checkm8” bootrom exploit released in 2019 to gain access to the hardware. For now, developers only run Linux on some older iPad hardware using A7 and A8 chips, including the iPad Air, iPad Air 2, and a few generations of iPad mini. But the following tweets imply that it will be possible to run Linux on any device with an A7 or A8, including the iPhone 5S and the original HomePod.

It’s not the only project devoted to running Linux on Apple’s hardware. One project, Asahi Linux, has been dedicated to reverse-engineering M1 chip support in Apple’s Macs and pushing patches upstream so they can be integrated into the Linux kernel. Another one, Sand Castle Projecthas a working version of Android on an iPhone 7. Apps such as iSH will give you a Linux shell running on iOS or iPadOS, which is not the same as running Linux directly on hardware, but useful in certain circumstances.

Development work on this latest Linux effort on iDevices is still in its infancy. The photos the developers have shared show both a basic startup process that fails because it can’t mount a filesystem, and Dybcio Remarks that basic things like USB and Bluetooth support don’t work. Getting network, audio, and graphics acceleration to work properly will also be a tall order. But being able to boot Linux might attract the attention of other developers who want to help the project.

Compared to modern hardware with an Apple M1 chip, the A7 and A8-powered devices wouldn’t be great as general-purpose Linux machines. While impressive at the time, their processors and GPUs are considerably slower than modern Apple devices, and they all come with 1GB or 2GB of RAM. But their performance still compares well to the slow processors of devices like the Raspberry Pi 4, and most (but not all) A7 and A8 hardware have stopped receiving new iOS and iPadOS updates from Apple at this point. ; Linux support could give some of these devices a second life as retro game consoles, simple home servers, or other things that low-power Arm hardware is good for.

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