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Amiga and the Motorola Port

Linux is a Unix-like operating system, but not a version of Unix. This gives Linux a different heritage than, for example, Free BSD. What I mean is this: the creators of Free BSD started with the source code to Berkeley Unix, and their kernel is directly descended from that source code. So Free BSD is a version of Unix; it's in the Unix family tree. Linux, on the other hand, aims to provide an interface that is compatible with Unix, but the kernel was written from scratch, without reference to Unix source code. So Linux itself is not a port of Unix. It's a new operating system.

Porting this new operating systems to other platforms was really not on my mind at the beginning. At first I just wanted something that would run on my 386.

A serious effort to make the Linux kernel code portable began with the effort to port Linux to DEC's Alpha machine. The Alpha port was not the first port, however.

The first port came from a team who ported the Linux kernel to the Motorola 68K series, which was the chip in the early Sun, Apple, and Amiga computers. The programmers behind the Motorola port really wanted to do something low-level and in Europe you had a number of people who were in the Amiga community who were especially disenchanted with the idea of using DOS or Windows.

While the Amiga people did get a system running on the 68K, I don't really think of this as a successful port of Linux. They took the same kind of approach I had taken when writing Linux in the first place: writing code from scratch targeted to support a certain kind of interface. So that first 68K port could be considered a Linux-like operating system, and a fork off the original codebase.

In one sense this first 68K Linux was not helpful in creating a portable Linux, but in another sense it was. When I started thinking about the Alpha port I had to think about the 68K experience. If we took the same approach with Alpha, then I would have three different code bases to support in order to maintain Linux. Even if this had been feasible in terms of coding, it wasn't feasible in terms of management. I couldn't manage the development of Linux if it meant keeping track of an entirely new code base every time someone wanted Linux on a new architecture. Instead, I wanted to do a system where I have an Alpha specific tree, a 68K specific tree, and an x86 specific tree, but all in a common code base.

So the kernel underwent a major rewrite at this time. But that rewrite was motivated by how to work with a growing community of developers.

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Next: Microkernels Up: The Linux Edge Previous: The Linux Edge

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Last updated: 1999-08-06