back to article Linus Torvalds says ARM just doesn't look like beating Intel

Linus Torvalds believes ARM has little chance of usurping x86, because the latter has built an open hardware ecosystem that the former just doesn't look like replicating. Torvalds voiced his opinions in a fireside chat with David Rusling, chief technology officer of ARM tools vendor Linaro, at the end of September. Rusling …

  1. P. Lee Silver badge

    Almost bought a QL

    32 bit CPU... with an 8 bit data bus?!

    Went with an Apple ][ instead. Far better to have the same kit as school...so yes, ecosystem matters.

    However, as long as ARM is pushing in the right direction, it can probably fund its existence from mobile and embedded while it gets the ecosystem right.

    1. Zola
      Go

      Re: Almost bought a QL

      I learned to programme MC68K assembler on a Sinclair QL (and BCPL, then C). Then went into my first job where I programmed VAXes in Macro-32, and it turned out the VAX had a very similar instruction set to MC68K - both are/were wonderful (for the time, circa 1988) modern 32-bit orthogonal instruction sets. Presumably Motorola based their 68K instruction set on the VAX as they were that similar. Things would have been a lot harder for me if I'd learned the horrors of 6502 or, god forbid x86, so in that sense I don't regret buying the QL at all!

      On the other hand that keyboard, those microdrives... eugh! The fully pre-emptive mutitasking QDOS operating system with SuperBASIC (all in 48K ROM, in 1984) was quite an impressive achievement though. I'd love to see a proper write up on QDOS with input from the original author Tony Tebby.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Almost bought a QL

        "Presumably Motorola based their 68K instruction set on the VAX"

        Don't think so. There's lots of differences between 68K and VAX at a fundamental level, eg. on VAX most registers can be used for most purposes, not so easy on the 68K.

        If you want a look at what a modernised re-imagined VAX instruction set might have looked like, try the NatSemi 16000/32000 family. But you might have to look quite hard for any relics of the day,

        1. Zola

          Re: Almost bought a QL

          > Don't think so. There's lots of differences between 68K and VAX at a fundamental level, eg. on VAX most registers can be used for most purposes, not so easy on the 68K.

          That's exactly what orthogonal means. You could use the 68K and VAX data or address registers as source or destinations (in any combination) with pretty much any relevant instruction. Try doing that with 6502 or x86.

        2. Zola

          Re: Almost bought a QL

          > Don't think so. There's lots of differences between 68K and VAX at a fundamental level, eg. on VAX most registers can be used for most purposes, not so easy on the 68K.

          Although I'm talking about orthogonality at the assembler level - the 68K had many different opcodes for implementing the various instructions (unlike the VAX) so yes at a fundamental level the hardware implemented very different approaches but as far as the assembler programmer was concerned the 68K assembly language (ie. which is what I mean by the instruction set in this context) is very similar to that of the VAX.

      2. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Almost bought a QL

        They had a fully pre-emptive multitasking OS but the user interface was such that you couldn't really do anything with it. Sinclair could have licensed GEM or something.

        1. Zola

          Re: Almost bought a QL

          Yes, the very basic windowed GUI was certainly lacking, but the underpinnings (IO channels, job control, pre-emptive multitasking) were all certainly far more impressive, particularly when it was done in 48K.

          1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

            Re: Almost bought a QL

            "Yes, the very basic windowed GUI was certainly lacking, but the underpinnings (IO channels, job control, pre-emptive multitasking) were all certainly far more impressive, particularly when it was done in 48K."

            See also OS/9 on a MC6809.

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Almost bought a QL 32 bit CPU... with an 8 bit data bus?!

      Well the original PC was a 16bit CPU with and 8 bit data bus.

      And a lot lot worse it wasnt orthogonal. I wonder how many billions of hours were wasted over the two decades MS and Intel kept us in 64k blocks and yet our code wandered out.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        "over the two decades MS and Intel kept us in 64k blocks"

        Two decades? The 80386 was released in 1986. Just four years after the original PC. Software took longer to become fully 32 bits, but remember many PCs back then had few MBs of RAM only. Many registers use limitations were lifted since the 8086.

        I was reading an "Old New Thing" blog post a few days ago, which remembered than in *1995* most PCs had only 4MB of RAM. Nevertheless, many DOS extenders allowed for 32 bit programs even before Windows switched to 32 bit executables.

    3. boltar Silver badge

      Re: Almost bought a QL

      "32 bit CPU... with an 8 bit data bus?!"

      This was 1983! Producing any kind of affordable machine with a 32 bit CPU was a pretty impressive feat back then. Also IIRC sinclair used the 8 bit bus not only because of price but because their engineers were familiar with the 8 bit support components which were available in bulk. If you wanted true 32 bit machine you would be looking at paying a 5 or 6 figure sum for a unix workstation.

      1. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Re: Almost bought a QL

        Was the M68k really 32 bit internally? I never used it in anger (I went 6502 - ARM) but my recollection is that it was essentially 16 bits with some instructions capable of operating on pairs of registers, somewhat like the Z80. Would you call the Z80 a 16 bit chip?

        The reduced-width data bus was common back then. Every pin added cost, not only in traces on the motherboard but the CPU's packaging - DIL packages become very cumbersome when you try to make them with enough legs to support 32 bit addresses and 32 bit data as well as all the control signals, power etc.

        In the early 1990s I worked with Intel's MCS-96 family, a "16 bit" family, at least one variant of which had an 8-bit memory bus multiplexed with one half of the 16 memory address lines. Retrieving a 16 bit value from memory involved four steps - latching the address, an 8-bit read, a second latch, a second read. All to save perhaps six or seven pins on the package - although you saved 8 data lines, you had to have an additional line (or two?) to signal whether it was address or data on the multiplexed lines. Oh, and you also had to fit an external data latch.

        Bearing in mind that I was a student on placement, and had to self-teach pretty much everything on this project (did all the digital hardware as well as 90% of the software in assembler), I remember one "lightbulb" moment very well. I couldn't work out why my code wasn't saving values properly to EEPROM. It took a couple of days of pouring through the code and probing signal lines before I realised that the EEPROM had a 1ms write cycle time. The RAM had no problem with 16-bit accesses, but the EEPROM couldn't keep up with the double-write required. Solved it by writing as descrete 8 bit writes with a few NOPs in between.

        I really pity the poor person who had to take that code on when my placement year was over...

        M.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Almost bought a QL

          Your recollection is both right and wrong. The 68000 was 32-bit as far as the programmer was concerned so no combining 16-bit registers or other such stupidity but the implementation was a bit less so, meaning that 32-bit instructions might have been slower to execute than 16-bit ones (even internally, not just because of the narrow external data bus). But the important thing was the programming model. The 68020 was the first "full" 32-bit implementation but the nice thing was all your 32-bit code from the 68000 would be ready to run and take full advantage of it.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Almost bought a QL

            'Your recollection is both right and wrong....The 68020 was the first "full" 32-bit implementation but the nice thing was all your 32-bit code from the 68000 would be ready to run and take full advantage of it.'

            Yes, the 68k family became very popular for Unix boxes by being 32-bit but it was probably 68020s and later that were used.

          2. RMycroft

            Re: Almost bought a QL

            Ready to go, unless you'd put things in the "unused" top 8 bits of the address registers.

        2. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: Almost bought a QL

          The QL had a 68008, not a 68000. It was the same as the 68000 apart from the 8-bit data bus instead of a 16-bit one.

        3. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. P. Lee Silver badge

        Re: Almost bought a QL

        Yes it was impressive, but it was advertised as 32 bit and when you found out the databus was only 8bit it seemed a bit dishonest. 16bit all through would seem to have been a better balance.

    4. Michael Habel Silver badge

      Re: Almost bought a QL

      I doubt it, what with all the added bits by the ODM, that work alongside ARM, but weren't really part of the Spec. Add to that, the fact that these ODMs, not least among them Samsung, have had any interest to actually release any info, or Source Code for such SoCs means those unlucky enough to run a Exynos Device, have about as much chance as anyone else running some MediaTek Part. i.e. Non at all!

  2. Voland's right hand Silver badge
    Devil

    Linux has facilitated the cituation he is lamenting about

    Well, one of the reasons for Arm hardware wild west is exactly because you can adapt a Linux tree to handle a particular hardware flavor and live with it from there onwards. The manufacturers do not care, they keep their 3.4 (on a good day) tree and stay with it. Example Samsung till recently on the Exynox, LeMaker on the Banana Pi series, etc. Windows did not allow any such liberties with the PC that is why it is so uniform.

    This is also why Arm has practically won everywhere where the hardware specialization is the key - such as mobile. This is why Windows got pushed out of the way there in favor of Linux too.

    I agree about the Razzie being a toy - I have started moving all the stuff I had built on Razzies to Bananas. 10+ times more reliable, significantly lower latency and all of the bundled hardware just works (tm).

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: Linux has facilitated the cituation he is lamenting about

      Yep, open source types shouldn't be surprised if not everyone keeps up!

      To me it sounds a little bit like he's thanking Microsoft, albeit indirectly. Having to be compatible with DOS then Windows was what drove the PC clone ecosystem to standardise. MS even weighed in with that with the PC System Design Guides (PC'97, PC'98, etc). That is also what made it practicable for Linux to thrive too - it was easier to get Linux to the point where you didn’t have to compile it to use it.

      In my opinion MS missed an opportunity about 9 years ago to do the same with ARMs. As an experiment they showed Windows 7 and Office running on an ARM board, printing to an Epson printer. But instead of defining an ARM based PC or server architecture, they went off and did Windows RT, tablets, etc. We all know how well that went.

      They kinda did it with mobiles, defining a hardware spec that would give binary compatibility with Windows mobile. Trouble was it wasn't open; not many bothered to follow it. Now had it been open, that hardware spec would have been ideal for all sorts of interesting things. Just as you can run Linux, Solaris, Windows, FreeBSD, etc on a PC, an open mobile spec would allow the same diversity to exist on handsets.

      Instead we have proprietary mobile hardware that no-one can keep Android up to date on, punters are continually exposed to security risks, and manufacturers can gouge the market simply by not supporting their current product line.

      It's about time governments got involved and forced the market open.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: "It's about time governments got involved and forced the market open."

        But . . . but . . the market auto-corrects itself !

        Doesn't it ?

        1. bazza Silver badge

          Re: "It's about time governments got involved and forced the market open."

          @Pascal Monett,

          But . . . but . . the market auto-corrects itself !

          Doesn't it ?

          There's a lot of people who say as such without stopping to wonder why the SEC and other regulatory bodies exist. Where there's a dysfunctional market you need a government regulator to clean it up.

          A lot of the problems in the US were caused by things like sub prime mortgages, a good example of how inattentive oversight by regulators allowed awful practises to flourish to the point of bringing down the whole economy.

          There's no really meaningful competition left in the online world. Google, and that's about it. Why they've not been broken up Bell style is simply because the politicians have no idea that there's a monopoly.

          1. boltar Silver badge

            Re: "It's about time governments got involved and forced the market open."

            "There's no really meaningful competition left in the online world. Google, and that's about it. Why they've not been broken up Bell style is simply because the politicians have no idea that there's a monopoly."

            When it comes to science, engineering and tech, politicians have no idea. Full stop.

        2. Apprentice of Tokenism
          Pint

          Re: "It's about time governments got involved and forced the market open."

          > But . . . but . . the market auto-corrects itself !

          > Doesn't it ?

          Sir, I'll drink to that. And you shall have one, too.

        3. Mr.Bill

          Re: "It's about time governments got involved and forced the market open."

          The free market is a powerful force, but must be kept in check over the long haul with regulation. Unregulated, the market forces inevitably lead to negative long term consequences, from the natural trend toward cost savings/profit earnings, that goes unnoticed until things are in a bad state. I'm thinking of the mortgage crisis here. Industries that generate pollution, because its cheaper to just dump it, so regulation and laws are required. FCC requirements for RF interference. We need similar regulations of security and updatability for anything put on the internet. It will cost us more, however. If things got bad enough, eventually capitalism gets labelled "evil", the root of all our problems, and some commie dictator rides in, like cuba, venezuela, and then you get to see what real bad is. I'll take capitalism and a good dose of regulation, thanks.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "It's about time governments got involved and forced the market open."

            " If things got bad enough, eventually capitalism gets labelled "evil", the root of all our problems [...]. I'll take capitalism and a good dose of regulation, thanks."

            That's excellent. So when are the UK and the US and others going to try this capitalism thing then, rather than the corporate kleptocracy they currently have ? (As evidenced by the taxpayer funded bailout of the banksters (UK+US) and the bailout of the auto industry (US)) and various others?

            And where are the regulatory authorities that haven't been got at by 'regulatory capture', and where are the politicians (even just a few of them) whose strings aren't pulled by corporate lobbyists and special interest groups?

      2. Sil

        Re: Linux has facilitated the cituation he is lamenting about

        I'm really not sure why Microsoft sometimes only go half the way.

        Windows RT did work really well, and the experience on Office on a Surface 2 is pretty impressive for an ARM-based 2 Gb RAM tablet.

        If Microsoft did not lock RT and enabled devs to recompile their apps easily, or offered some kind of x86 emulation or on the fly translation (like the Windows Ubuntu subsystem), maybe Windows on ARM would be a reality.

        The same happened with Windows NT which used to be truly multiplatform. After having invested so much in hardware abstraction, why throw it away so fast ? I understand that the user base was much smaller than x86, but sometimes you just need to give it a little time. And Microsoft has/had the financial means to be patient.

        1. picturethis
          Meh

          Re: Linux has facilitated the cituation he is lamenting about

          "I'm really not sure why Microsoft sometimes only go half the way."

          I think this happened for at least 4 reasons:

          1) The 80/20 rule: They got RT to 80% of the ecosystem that they wanted, but that last 20% was going to take "another" 80% effort. Basically, they didn't think the juice was worth the squeeze.

          2) The RT system with .NET was how .NET was originally intended, .NET IL code interpreted and running on both x86 and ARM devices. It worked too well except no COM. To implement that last 20% (of COM) would have required massive effort (another 80%).

          3) Having apps run without being retargeted for different CPUs conflicted with MS desire of a walled garden. They wouldn't be able to have a controlled App store under the "RT" model.

          4) It's Microsoft after all. We need to only look at Zune, (insert favorite half efforted technology here) for why..

          1. bombastic bob Silver badge
            Devil

            Re: Linux has facilitated the cituation he is lamenting about

            "80/20 rule" (etc.)

            well, SOME of what you're saying is correct, but I think you got it backwards for other stuff...

            The biggest problem with Windows has been TOO MUCH on the "20%". Except NOW they're removing that 20% and saying "do it OUR way" and taking away choices, legacy hardware support, etc.. (Win-10-nic and 2D FLATSO being the 2 worst outcomes from this).

            On a related note, Linux has focused more on the 80% until recently, with a huge push to support every possible bit of hardware that exists, and NOT remove legacy hardware support while doing it.

            The RT system with ".Not" - just "ew". It was a SNAFU out of the concept box. It should have NEVER been done, like disco "music" and Obaka-care. Developers took ONE look and went "W.T.F.?" and didn't play in Micro-shaft's sandbox under Micro-shaft's ridiculous rules. And, with lack of "Developers, developers, developers, developers" even the CUSTOMERS said "W.T.F." and now it's *HISTORY*.

            The ".Not" initiative was the _WORST_ thing (next to Win-10-nic and Windows "Ape") that Micro-shaft EVER rectally extrapolated out of the bowels of HELL. Ballmer did it the moment he took the reigns from Bill. But I'll reserve THAT discussion for another forum...

            However, you're #3 comment is RIGHT ON. "Having apps run without being retargeted for different CPUs conflicted with MS desire of a walled garden. They wouldn't be able to have a controlled App store under the "RT" model.". THAT it DOES! Though, of course, using ".Not" run-time might as well cripple your 'app' into a 'CRapp', so 'go figure' on THAT one.

            Developer note: If I MUST need a VM to run my application, I'll write it in JAVA. THEN, it should run EVERYWHERE, literally, and NOT just on stupid ".Not" capable winders boxen. The fact that I don't really like Java is the only reason I haven't done this... [ok I've been forced into it for Android development, but still...]

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Linux has facilitated the cituation he is lamenting about

          Quote: "I'm really not sure why Microsoft sometimes only go half the way."

          The reason is simple -- Microsoft under BG and SB was only ever interested in money and monopoly and customer lock-in. MS was absolutely never interested in engineering elegance.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Linux has facilitated the cituation he is lamenting about

            "The reason is simple -- Microsoft under BG and SB was only ever interested in money and monopoly and customer lock-in. MS was absolutely never interested in engineering elegance."

            Are things different now?

        3. LDS Silver badge

          Re: Linux has facilitated the cituation he is lamenting about

          The Windows-Ubuntu subsytem is much "easier " to implement - it translates Ubuntu kernel calls into Windows ones, but everything is still x86 (and, AFAIK, command line only).

          Emulating a CPU is an heavy task (look at IA-64 when it had to run x86 code...), and Windows RT is not a full ARM implementation of the "NT" kernel and "Win32" subsystem, thereby nor simple recompilation works nor emulation is an easy task.

          Windows NT was truly multiplatform because it had everything - HAL, kernel and user space subsystems - each running natively on each supported CPU. The HAL never abstracted the CPU code - it just abstracted the hardware architecture interaction (i.e. hardware I/O, physical memory managment, etcl). Note that HAL also allowed systems which used x86 processor but didn't follow the IBM PC architecture to run Windows.

          It could done, of course - but depends on the ROI. Back then it was clear that Alpha and MIPS CPUs would have no brought enough money.

      3. LDS Silver badge

        "But instead of defining an ARM based PC"

        The reason is the walled garden which worked so well for iOS made MS greed and hungry. They exactly didn't want to replicate the PC business where IBM first, and later MS almost too became irrelevant. Really, MS doesn't care about hardware you can run Linux, Solaris, FreeBSD, etc. on. And why should it? No revenues from it. MS is a business company, not a charity. Does Google help to build alternative search engines?

        The PC was an exception, not the rule. IBM didn't really believe in it, and so didn't protect it. It was a lucky accident. If it could get back in the past, IBM would surely fix such a mistake.

        Yet, sorry, governments - but authoritarian ones - can't intervene and "force the market open". It would be a violation of basic democratic rights.

        1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

          Re: "But instead of defining an ARM based PC"

          "Yet, sorry, governments - but authoritarian ones - can't intervene and "force the market open". It would be a violation of basic democratic rights."

          They have quite a lot of leverage. They could start with their own infrastructure, for example.

        2. chasil

          The only safe PC is a SPARC

          Both Intel and [most of the] ARM [community] are guilty of bundling opaque processor controls, and the i386/ARM architectures cannot be trusted as the opaque components have unrestricted access to networking, memory, and i/o.

          http://www.networkworld.com/article/3085494/security/intel-management-engines-security-through-obscurity-should-scare-the-out-of-you.html

          It appears that the best "open" CPU architecture is the decade-old SPARC T2 - the full Verilog source for the CPU is provided, and there is no "management engine."

          http://www.oracle.com/technetwork/systems/opensparc/opensparc-t2-page-1446157.html

          Unfortunately, no "Raspberry Pi" or otherwise reduced form-factor board is available on the market at this time. If you want to run a SPARC T2, you will likely have to purchase a used Netra server.

          1. bazza Silver badge

            Re: The only safe PC is a SPARC

            @Chasil,

            It appears that the best "open" CPU architecture is the decade-old SPARC T2 - the full Verilog source for the CPU is provided, and there is no "management engine."

            Not so. The openpower bunch have done some interesting things, and you can buy an ATX motherboard with a POWER CPU that is completely open. That is the CPU design, board schematic, BIOS source code and much else besides is freely available. They use (I think) the words 'blobless computing', referring to the fact that the source code for every bit of software and firmware is available.

            The best bit is that it offers competitive performance, and is a lowish price too.

            Take a look at Raptor Engineering

    2. Christian Berger Silver badge

      Same goes for virtually all "embedded plattforms"

      For example for Windows CE you also got the source license, and if you didn't you at least got the "Board Support Package" from your SoC vendor.

      All operating systems in the embedded world are highly customizable. It's nothing special to Linux.

    3. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      Re: Linux has facilitated the cituation he is lamenting about

      > Windows did not allow any such liberties with the PC that is why it is so uniform.

      Ah, those who don't remember history.

      I can just about remember the early days of "the PC", though I was only involved as a user back then. You caould buy loads of "PC"s from other vendors, that came with PC-Dos from MS, and would run "PC" software. But they really didn't have the uniformity of hardware that people think - there was a lot of variation and MS would provide each manufacturer with a PC-Dos tweaked to suit.

      As I recall (rather vaguely through the mists of time), it was some game reviewer in a magazine that coined the "PC Compatible" that people take for granted these days. SHe worked on the basis that if you could take ${random_game} off the shelf, unwrap it, and boot the PC with that disk and be able to play the game - only then was it "PC Compatible".

      As so, fairly quickly, all the manufacturers quickly learned that they had to mimic the IBM PC fairly closely (eg putting the serial ports at the same I/O addresses etc) or they'd be labelled as "not compatible" and would lose sales. Thus the "PC Compatible" standard "happened" !

      I deliberately say "happened" because it wasn't really designed, it sort of came into being in a very accidental way.

      AIUI, the original IBM PC wasn't actually an IBM project. Some small electronics company took a National Semiconductor data sheet/design notes for their 8080 family of processors, and with very little of their own design, made an implementation of a suggested system design. IBM were geared up to "big stuff" (where productivity is measured in how many lines of code you make, not how small you make it !) and as they could see the likes of Commodore and Apple eating their lunch in the small office - bought the company and stuck an IBM badge on it.

      Thus the original PC was born, and more or less by accident, the design "choices" made by Nat Semi and some never heard of hardware house became the de-facto industry standard.

      .

      But Linus is right about ARM. It's not the processor, it's the way every system manufacturer does their own thing - in the same way that the original desktop PC makers did. The difference is that there is no process these days that would pressure any of them into following any standard - eg each phone is made to run a specific OS provided by the device manufacturers, and thrown away before it needs too many upgrades. So the manufacturers really don't give a sh*t how hard it is for anyone else to put a different OS on it - long gone are the days when the games came with their own OS to boot the system into.

      In the server world that may change eventually, but not for anything else.

      And the modern user (in general) doesn't give a sh*t either as long as they can get their cat videos on FarceBork.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        "Ah, those who don't remember history."

        It wasn't so simple... while some established brands avoided to clone exactly the IBM PC and made their own x86 computers with their versions of MS-DOS, probably to avoid litigation with IBM and hope in some form of lock-in, others, mostly "startups" in modern term, cloned the PC completely very early, reversing and/or re-implementing the BIOS also. No need to ask then for specific versions of MS-DOS and its applications, something very important for small, young companies.

        Because software began very early to bypass MS-DOS and even BIOS for performance reasons (especially video stuff, being MS-DOS really to slow and cumbersone, and feature-limited) - and not only games. While MS Flight Simulator was often used as a test due to its complexity - what matter most was compatibility with software like Lotus 1-2-3, WordStar or Sidekick. For most of these companies, still in their infancy, coding, testing and supporting different systems was a real burden.

        And probably also the diffusion of pirated software boosted the market for PC clones....

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          Re: "probably to avoid litigation with IBM"

          Um, if I remember correctly, there was no chance of litigation since IBM did not bother to protect anything via copyright. It was a truly open market.

          That's why IBM attempted a market takeover with the PS/2 when it realized how the market was shifting - except that it didn't work for various reasons, but mainly because there was no point, technically speaking.

          Avoiding litigation with IBM concerning the PS/2 was definitely a concern, though, which is why the PS/2 is dead and the PC lives on.

          1. Richard Plinston Silver badge

            Re: "probably to avoid litigation with IBM"

            > Um, if I remember correctly, there was no chance of litigation since IBM did not bother to protect anything via copyright. It was a truly open market.

            Your rememberence is incorrect. While the ROM BIOS source was available it was fully protected by copyright (as is all FOSS software). It wasn't until Phoenix did a clean-room reimplementation that there was a cheap enough way to implement clones. IBM did protect its copyrights agressively.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_Technologies#Cloning_the_IBM_PC_BIOS

      2. Richard Plinston Silver badge

        Re: Linux has facilitated the cituation he is lamenting about

        > I can just about remember the early days of "the PC",

        Unfortunately you seem to have misremembered most of it.

        > bought the company and stuck an IBM badge on it.

        No. The IBM 5150 PC was an internal project based on their previous System 23 Datamaster and somewhat on their Displaywriter. While the System 23 was Z80 based Intel persuaded them to use the new 8088 which had an 8bit data bus and would not need much rejigging of the planar (motherboard), though it was redesigned somewhat for the 'Model B'.

        > You caould buy loads of "PC"s from other vendors, that came with PC-Dos from MS, and would run "PC" software. But they really didn't have the uniformity of hardware that people think - there was a lot of variation and MS would provide each manufacturer with a PC-Dos tweaked to suit.

        'PC-DOS' was strictly for IBM and only available from IBM (though it could later be used on clones). Many other 8088/8086 (or compatible such as V20/V30) machines could run MS-DOS and they did not need to be anything like an IBM-PC. They could be S100 based, or Wang or DEC Rainbows. But, no, MS would not provide a 'tweaked' version. Exactly like DRI's CP/M and CP/M-86, MS-DOS (which was actually written by SCP) was structured as a BDOS, a CCP (Command.COM), a BIOS and utilities. The BDOS and CCP was invariant, the manufacturer needed to write a BIOS to suit their hardware. It happened that the IBM-PC had a ROM BIOS which only required a small stub software BIOS to translate the BDOS calls to the ROM BIOS**.

        > SHe worked on the basis that if you could take ${random_game} off the shelf, unwrap it, and boot the PC with that disk and be able to play the game - only then was it "PC Compatible".

        Much software in the early days could run on any hardware that was running MS-DOS. Some came in 'PC-DOS' or 'MS-DOS' versions where the former required an IBM-PC or clone and the latter had a configuration program that could choose the appropriate way of using the screen or terminal. For example Wordstar and Borland Pascal 3 came in several versions (also for CP/M and CP/M-86). Because MS-DOS terminal handling was so poor, and so slow with ANSI.SYS, many software writers included to option of using BIOS terminal handling. This was also poor and, on IBM PC, they started doing direct screen writes to the CGA or MDA, or Hercules. _This_ is what changed the users to needing clones.

        > IBM were geared up to "big stuff" (where productivity is measured in how many lines of code you make, not how small you make it !)

        Many mainframes of the time had quite small memories. While LOC was one metric used to measure programmers productivity that does not imply that the programs were huge, nor that RAM was freely available.

        > and as they could see the likes of Commodore and Apple eating their lunch in the small office - bought the company and stuck an IBM badge on it.

        The small office was not the primary aim of the IBM 5150 PC. Apple IIs and Commodore Pets were appearing in the IBM sites running Visicalc, Wordstar and dBaseII. IBM wanted a machine that would keep these sites 'pure'. The IBM PC was designed (by IBM - NOT a bought-in company) to be just a bit better than the Apple II and to run the same software. It was also intended to be a terminal (which is why its serial ports were DTE when most other micro computers were DCE*). There were also versions of the IBM-PC that were 3740 terminals and 360 Emulators (with additional 680x0 boards).

        IBM were also already in the small business market with the 5100, 5120, 5130 and small System 3s.

        > As so, fairly quickly, all the manufacturers quickly learned that they had to mimic the IBM PC fairly closely (eg putting the serial ports at the same I/O addresses etc) or they'd be labelled as "not compatible" and would lose sales. Thus the "PC Compatible" standard "happened" !

        The 'PC Compatible' was not just a few port addresses, it relied on having a compatible ROM BIOS and an internal address mapping of hardware, such as the video adaptor. Manufacturers could have licenced this from IBM (some 'stole' a copy) but a deliberate clean-room implementation by Phoenix provided a cheaper way of making clones.

        > I deliberately say "happened" because it wasn't really designed, it sort of came into being in a very accidental way.

        No. It was not even close to being 'accidental'.

        * DTE= Data Terminal Equipment. DCE= Data Comms Equipment (eg a Modem). A 1-1 cable will connect a DTE to a DCE. S100 systems used DCE serial port to plug 'green screen' terminals into.

        ** The first version of MS-DOS that _required_ the machine to be an IBM-PC clone with a ROM BIOS was MS-DOS 5.

        1. Alistair Silver badge
          Windows

          Re: Linux has facilitated the cituation he is lamenting about

          "IBM were also already in the small business market with the 5100, 5120, 5130 and small System 3s."

          And I shudder recalling the 7 5120's hooked up to the S36 that I cut my teeth on. Dear god the nightmares, the support calls.

        2. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

          Re: Linux has facilitated the cituation he is lamenting about

          One of the differences between clones and PCs was that the PCs had BASIC in ROM. (Int 18h) Clones relied on GwBasic.exe

          And nobody, but nobody, used the DOS or BIOS video routines for anything worthwhile. Maybe you used the BIOS for mode switch or cursor control. After that it was direct memory IO, even for text mode. But I never saw an MDA adaptor.

          1. Richard Plinston Silver badge

            Re: Linux has facilitated the cituation he is lamenting about

            > One of the differences between clones and PCs was that the PCs had BASIC in ROM. (Int 18h) Clones relied on GwBasic.exe

            The IBM 5150 PC did have IBM Cassette BASIC in ROM. This could access the cassette tape port (fitted to the original 5150 PC - I have one here) and the machine could boot up into BASIC without needing a diskette or even a drive. This was similar to many machines of the time, such as Apple II or Commodore Pet. To use BASIC from MS-DOS there was a BASICA.COM program that used some of the ROM and provided disc access routines.

            Clones didn't bother with this as they didn't have cassette ports (and always had diskette or disk drives), which was to only point of having ROM Cassette BASIC. GWBASIC was a far better version, ROM BASIC was very poor - eg it only allowed variables of 1 letter plus 1 digit.

            > And nobody, but nobody, used the DOS or BIOS video routines for anything worthwhile.

            I ran quite a bit of MS-DOS software on non-IBM Clones. Much of this had configuration software that required the terminal type to be set (eg ANSI or Wyse-60) as well as the printer and other items.

            For example: Wordstar 3.3, Borland Pascal 3, Supercalc 2. Note that many of these had versions for PC-DOS that used direct screen writes as well as versions for MS-DOS that could be configured to use various terminal controls when outputting via the DOS routines. (they also had CP/M and CP/M-86 versions which also could output to various terminals). Later editions of these did only provide PC-Clone versions.

            Note that even Microsoft Software, such as MultiPlan and earlier versions of Word and all their languages could run on non-clone machines - using DOS and ANSI.SYS (or equivalent).

            > But I never saw an MDA adaptor.

            My IBM 5150 PC Model B has an MDA and an IBM Mono monitor. I got it from a business throwing out old machines in the mid-late 80s.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is Linus's vision really this narrow?

    It's not the x86 architecture (or even the AMD64 architecture that replaced Intel's failed attempt at "industry standard 64bit") that means there's a lot of x86 about, it's the Wintel monopoly and the resulting vendor-defined architectural specs, going all the way back to (e.g.) the Lotus Intel Microsoft specification for "extended memory" (or was it "expanded memory") in the world above 640kB. Which led in due course to things like the PC98 spec and so on.

    When there's no PC98 spec (or equivalent) to hold things together, x86 hardly gets a look in.

    Outside the world of the Wintel-centric IT department and its consumer equivalent (and outside the world of Apple too) there's a lot of ARM and not a lot of x86, But the ARMs are often invisible to Joe Public, and apparently invisible to Linus too, if the reporting here is to be believed.

    Imagine a world without ARM. It'd be a bit different. Nokia-style mobile phones, except with a battery life of two hours. Portable 2.5" disk drives with a capacity of hundreds of MB not hundreds of GB because they haven't the space or power for the x86 version of the ARM-centric embedded processing disk drives have all been using for many years - how many of them are using x86?

    And so on.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Is Linus's vision really this narrow?

      There is MIPS and if there were no ARM then PowerPC would probably have thrived despite IBM.

      And Linus has done his bit with effing compiled-in kernel drivers. Instead of complaining so much about ARM (which, basically, has made Linux mainstream), perhaps he should do his bit.

      1. Lars Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Is Linus's vision really this narrow?

        "perhaps he should do his bit", which bit would that be?

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: Is Linus's vision really this narrow?

          which bit would that be?

          Split drivers and kernel, stable ABI to interface them. Otherwise him complaining about the ARM ecosystem is like the pot calling the kettle black.

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Is Linus's vision really this narrow?

        Linus's gripes about ARM seem to have more to do with various incompatible 'flavors' at the hardware architecture level. ARM is a CPU core that defines an instruction set. x86 defines the architecture as well, from what I can tell anyway. Though I remember having a *LOT* of trouble with a motherboard that had an NVidia chipset on it (about a decade ago), because it would only boot up a single core of a multi-core CPU under FreeBSD, and I don't know if Linux had a fix for it at that time. My solution was to get a board with an intel chipset and keep everything else [CPU, RAM], and it also forced me to get a separate video card (which turned out to be another NVidia device).

        THAT is the kind of thing that drives OS developers nuts, having to support some vendor that INSISTS on NOT being 100% compatible with "a standard"... especially when there appears to be *NO* standard.

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Is Linus's vision really this narrow?

      Possibly - its a fucking hugely wide field and he works in one apex of it and I doubt he spends his evenings playing with RaspberryPi zeros at £4 a pop going 'fucking ada I can do that on it!' as I do.

      I've just spent a couple of weeks pissing about with a Pi-Top and baring the slightly shit keyboard the the PI-Top OS wanting to be Pi-Top and not raspbian I could type and code and play with shit quite happily for 7 or 8 hours battery life at a go - and it will only cost me around £30 to upgrade it when the Pi4 comes out.

      My children's (10-15) friends are not in the least interested in PCs - everything they own is ARM. Of my friends 40 years older I have seen 1 surface and a couple of laptops (one of mine included) and some PCs that are intel - all the rest are ARM devides

      The Pi is open architecture I believe and if someone can take that and find a matching SOC that does 4GB ram then Intel are fucked.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Is Linus's vision really this narrow?

        I'm with you Tom, found Linus Torvalds's viewpoint very narrow too.

        Maybe he is too close to the coalface? Not seeing Raspberry PI in actual use by today's generation. Looks like someone from Intel has tried to pull him onside.

        I learnt my metal on 6502/Arm on Acorn Archimedes. I learnt Arm Chip fundamentals transitioning from 6502. I was certain ARM would win out over Intel in mobile early on, and IoTs before it was taken over by SoftBank. Now I'm less certain, but not by much (yet). SoftBank is still an unknown to me.

        Power/Efficiency are key where {at a fundamental level} ARM wins hands down over Intel. Intel can never catch up, if Arm/Intel are fabbed at the same level, because you aren't talking about one ARM processor in a device. With self driving vehicles, it could be 400.

      2. HmmmYes Silver badge

        Re: Is Linus's vision really this narrow?

        Yep. The generation under 30 mainly interact with ARM tablets.

        1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

          Re: Is Linus's vision really this narrow?

          Yep. The generation under 30 mainly interact with ARM tablets.

          Sadly, this is the same generation with a school "computer science" curriculum comprising mostly of how to use MS Office

          1. Martin an gof Silver badge

            Re: Is Linus's vision really this narrow?

            Sadly, this is the same generation with a school "computer science" curriculum comprising mostly of how to use MS Office

            Maybe, but things are changing. Here's the current WJEC GCSE Computer Science specification.

            The year I did my Computer Science A-level was the last year they required binary maths as part of the curriculum, but it appears to have made a bit of a comeback.

            Both above links are for the WJEC exam board. I dare say other boards differ.

            M.

            1. LionelB

              Re: Is Linus's vision really this narrow?

              Sadly, this is the same generation with a school "computer science" curriculum comprising mostly of how to use MS Office

              Maybe, but things are changing....

              Indeed they are. A friend's son has just started GCSE CS (aged 14), and so far they're learning C and Ruby, and their most recent homework assignment was to describe the Von Neuman architecture in some detail. And they work in Linux (in a VM on the school's Windows platform, as far as I can make out).

            2. Naselus

              Re: Is Linus's vision really this narrow?

              "Maybe, but things are changing."

              God damn it, if MY IT GCSE had included something more detailed than 'here is how to open excel' I may actually have shown up. As it was, I already understood the hardware better than the teacher - who was still trying to convince the school that buying more Acorns would be a good idea in 1997, and had to be over-ruled to buy actual PCs (he was convinced they wouldn't catch on, some 10 years after they had already caught on).

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Is Linus's vision really this narrow?

            For some reason schools always seem the most narrow-minded, conservative and backward.

      3. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: Is Linus's vision really this narrow?

        "The Pi is open architecture I believe and if someone can take that and find a matching SOC that does 4GB ram then Intel are fucked."

        You should read up on the Pi's GPU then, a distinctly non-open architecture that explains precisely why no-one has taken that and found a matching SoC that does 4GB.

    3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Is Linus's vision really this narrow?

      I think we can assume that Linus is talking mainly about the world of servers and data centres, where ARM is just a rounding error.

      x86 has the advantage of the various ISAs (industry standard architecture) over the years that has made investment in it as a platform less risky: chip manufacturers aside, there are lots of suppliers for the rest of the kit. ARM is still chasing this kind of uniformity so that moving from one ARM-64 box to another requires more than just recompiling.

      However, the sheer volumes of ARM in personal devices has goosed development to levels beyond those that Intel can match and competitive server products are now becoming available. Initially it might only be bespoke hardware for some of the private data centres such as those of Google and Facebook or CDNs like Akamai and Cloudflare, but we can probably expect more generic products as more experience is gained in the field and manufacturers see real cashflow.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Is Linus's vision really this narrow?

        "I think we can assume that Linus is talking mainly about the world of servers and data centres"

        Have you noticed who Linus was talking to?

        it wasn't some hack (crap journalist) from the world of servers and data centres.

        It was someone who knows about processor architecture and chips (especially ARM in recent years) *and* about Linux.

    4. LDS Silver badge

      Re: Is Linus's vision really this narrow?

      Never heard about the i960? It is true it wasn't good for battery powered devices, but it was broadly used in many embedded controllers and devices. And there are still many others embedded processors (i.e. Freescale ColdFire, a 68000 descendant). So, even without ARM, the world would have kept turning...

    5. druck Silver badge

      Re: Is Linus's vision really this narrow?

      Well you could say Linus doesn't have that good a crystal ball for seeing the future, take his very first post about Linux back in '91:-

      It is NOT protable (uses 386 task switching etc), and it probably never will support anything other than AT-harddisks, as that’s all I have :-(.

      Linux today works on a slightly larger variety of hardware and architectures :-)

    6. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Is Linus's vision really this narrow?

      "It's not the x86 architecture [...], it's the Wintel monopoly and the resulting vendor-defined architectural specs,"

      In the article that I read, that was exactly Linus' point.

      "Imagine a world without ARM. It'd be a bit different. Nokia-style mobile phones, except with a battery life of two hours. ... "

      You mean, a world where every non-pc application had a bespoke CPU and system architecture and locked you in to that vendor for support. Sounds familiar and, again, I think that was Linus' point.

  4. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    So Wintel not-a-monopoly has nothing to do with this then?

    Really?

    Until something breaks up the Micky & Mallory Knox of IT development that's likely to stay the situation.

    On the plus side MS is looking slightly more willing to look at other architectures (but we saw how far that went with Windows RT) and intel is running out of road with Moores "law" as they push further into X-ray imaging.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ARM ecosystem drivers, they are a nightmare.

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      If anybody steps in to sort this out, it will be Google. (Or possibly Amazon.)

      But I think we have to acknowledge it was the closed source nature of Windows that avoided this. You couldn't rewrite the driver, so you had to meet the spec.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ARM ecosystem drivers, they are a nightmare.

      "Nightmare" wasn't my experience when writing my first ever Linux driver (I'd done others before) for a MontaVista-on-ARM box to talk to a high performance serial chip *raw*, without going through all the bells and whistles and overhead of the tty driver stack.

      In fact when the IT department insisted that only Dell kit was persmissible, we found the same serial chip on a PCI card, and recompiled the driver (under Suse rather than MontaVista), and the IT department were happy, till they noticed it wasn't Windows, therefore still wasn't permissible on *their* network. But that's another story.

      I was impressed, even if others might not have been.

      1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

        Re: ARM ecosystem drivers, they are a nightmare.

        I was going to say its fairly hard to fuck up a UART. Then I remembered the 16550/16550A debacle - one of the PC chipset's finer moments...

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ARM is not very popular as desktop

    because you can't find configurations like the x86, ie socket ARM CPUs , so people can buy itx/mATX etc boards and just upgrade the ARM from time to time.

    1. teknopaul Bronze badge

      Re: ARM is not very popular as desktop

      I have not upgraded the CPU on a motherboard on a desktop ever. I expect 2-4 years from a PC. by that time there are a whole host of reasons a new pc is sensible. i suspect arm desktops are not common is because 64bit arm is relatively new, 2gb is not enough ram for a modern desktop. If/when the server platform and the phone are 64bit ARM ,and virtualization works reliably, an arm desktop for development starts to make more sense.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: ARM is not very popular as desktop 2gb

        I'm not sure - most of the grunt seems to go in the GPU these days and even 1G seems to be enough for even the most evil spreadsheets.

        I think the only problem with ARM is that MS cant work out how to convert that BLOB at the bottom of VB and .NET that is tied to Intel architecture and leaves them only offering a subset of whatever .NET is called these days on ARM.

        1. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: ARM is not very popular as desktop 2gb

          "I'm not sure - most of the grunt seems to go in the GPU these days and even 1G seems to be enough for even the most evil spreadsheets."

          Maybe for Open Office, but try some "cloudy" version [google docs comes to mind] and you'll be stressing a 2G or even 4G system trying to do ANYTHING with it [as well as your bandwidth].

          (facepalm for the javascript-based *CRAPWARE* that poses as a substitute for an appLICATION that runs natively on YOUR CPU without some "layer" that takes up 10 times the RAM)

          I only use a (single) google doc spreadsheet because a client INSISTED upon it, and I've complained about it many times (when appropriate). I don't like waiting 2 seconds after I press 'enter' for "something to update". OK it was written by a junior-level (millenial) "programmer" who was really more of an ACCOUNTANT, but still... [what do you MEAN, your computer isn't FAST enough? Your bandwidth isn't UNLIMITED? Something WRONG with YOU! - yeah typical 'millenial' thinking, who doesn't have to increase monthly expenditures by $100 for the 'better connection', nor purchase "new" hardware at confiscatory prices on a limited budget because they're not giving you enough work to PAY! THE! RENT! and then ENCUMBER YOU with THIS... and then bitch at YOU about it! yeah, if they didn't pay me money, I'd take a hike]

          1. Hans 1 Silver badge
            Pirate

            Re: ARM is not very popular as desktop 2gb

            >I don't like waiting 2 seconds after I press 'enter' for "something to update".

            1. I have bandwidth

            2. I would be lucky if I could expect Office 365 (online word) to respond in under 10 seconds, but that might also be just me ...

            Then again, if YOU cannot afford decent bandwidth for work, consider some other job ... I mean, your bandwidth is bringing bread on your table, apparently, so move somewhere else where you can get decent bandwidth at a reasonable price or do something else ... 4G means jack shit, how far are you from the transmitter ?

      2. Tom Womack

        Re: ARM is not very popular as desktop

        Since Conroe I have expected PCs to last forever. Builds have grown big enough that it's nice on a software-development workstation to have 2GB per thread and ideal to have 4GB per thread, but that's been possible since Haswell.

        A problem is that memory controller IP, which is very black magic and comes from a very small number of suppliers, charges a big premium for each extra address line; so it would be a significant extra expense to make a phone or set-top-box SoC which happens to be able to support 16GB, and therefore you're not going to be able to make a nice 16GB devboard around a ubiquitous SoC.

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: ARM is not very popular as desktop

      Not sure about offices as I dont play in them much anymore but the home PC market seems to have gone - in the people I know there have only been two PC purchases in the last couple of years - I used to get almost monthly 'does this PC look good to you' requests. Not anymore - and the machines break a lot faster these days.

    3. druck Silver badge

      Re: ARM is not very popular as desktop

      It night not be very popular, but I've been using one ARM desktop or another since 1989, and doing ARM on ARM development with them.

      1. timrowledge

        Re: ARM is not very popular as desktop

        Likewise (hi druck!) but dating from 1986. Never been without an ARM desktop machine since then. Made a nice living almost exclusively from Smalltalk on ARM the whole time.

  7. boltar Silver badge

    Now that ARM has been bought by a bank its future is uncertain IMO

    They could invest huge sums to turn it into a true competitor to Intel, or being a bank more likely they'll just suck up all its profits until its no longer viable due to lack of investment then flog it off for a song to some chinese manufacturer who'll use its IP and move any further IP creation to china.

    Thanks UK government for letting it happen. So much for supporting british industry. @rseholes.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Now that ARM has been bought by a bank its future is uncertain IMO

      Softbank, despite its name, is not a bank.

      1. boltar Silver badge

        Re: Now that ARM has been bought by a bank its future is uncertain IMO

        "Softbank, despite its name, is not a bank."

        Fair cop, my mistake. Ok, its a tech corp so they'll use ARM for their own ends but ultimately it'll probably still eventually disappear from the UK and be re-housed in japan. It should still never have been allowed to be sold, it wasn't a struggling business that needed investment. Shame on the ARM directors who gave the go ahead. Not that they probably care now they can count their money while playing golf all day.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Now that ARM has been bought by a bank its future is uncertain IMO

          They're also Japanese so I doubt they'll be moving their IP (or anything important that they don't mind being burnt down in some moment of wild anti-Japan sentiment) to China.

          1. bombastic bob Silver badge
            Pirate

            Re: Now that ARM has been bought by a bank its future is uncertain IMO

            " I doubt they'll be moving their IP <snip> to China."

            maybe true, it'll most likely go to S. Korea first. THEN maybe China [or elsewhere, as appropriate].

            I suspect, however, that this won't happen at LEAST for a while. Japanese employees probably cost more than the existing group in UK.. Japan is expensive when it comes to cost of employing people. It's probably MORE expensive than UK. [that would make an interesting study]

            "Offshore" of engineering work is USUALLY a bad idea. Now, when it comes to actually MAKING the things, you go with the cheapest 3rd party vendor...

            1. Richard 12 Silver badge

              Re: Now that ARM has been bought by a bank its future is uncertain IMO

              ARM doesn't make chips. They make CPU designs, and licence those out to a multitude of companies who put those CPUs into actual chip designs and manufacture them.

              That's the general issue Linus is talking about. There's no such thing as a standard ARM based processor let alone motherboard, they're all custom implementations.

        2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: Now that ARM has been bought by a bank its future is uncertain IMO

          It should still never have been allowed to be sold

          By whom? And it wasn't just the directors who approved the sale, the shareholders did as well.

          Personally, I don't think the extremely highly leveraged deal was a good idea. But there's no doubt that shareholders made a tidy profit in this latest "debt for profits" move.

          1. boltar Silver badge

            Re: Now that ARM has been bought by a bank its future is uncertain IMO

            "By whom? And it wasn't just the directors who approved the sale, the shareholders did as well."

            Sadly "shareholders" these days is usually a euphamism for hedge funds and banks. All they're interested in is maximum short term return on investment, they couldn't give a flying feck about the long term viability of a company or whether it stays in the UK if they can make a quick profit now.

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Now that ARM has been bought by a bank its future is uncertain IMO

      Its going to be a few years before we have 128bit CPUs so I dont think Softwank will have any reason to flog off what they've got for a while. They can probably exploit what they have for 30 years or so without any real need to do any true development.

      I have a feeling they will end up charging a bit more and just resting on the companies laurels. As a financial investment they've done well and the rest of us have lost a lot - especially the old shareholders who thought they were laughing all the way to the bank.

      1. Lars Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Now that ARM has been bought by a bank its future is uncertain IMO

        "I have a feeling they will end up charging a bit more and just resting on the companies laurels". Perhaps I am a bit rude but that could sound more British than Japanese on a bad day, the laurels that is. I think more companies should go private (like Dell).

  8. vanpeebles

    QL Forum

    Come back to the QL Linus, we still have a little community holding out strong!

  9. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Wilseus

      Re: I *wanted* an Acorn Archimedes when I was at school...

      "(only the Commodore series attempted a serious effort at making certain system calls portable across their range via their 0xFFxx kernel jump table, but the C128 used a Z80 to boot the system!)"

      I think the same is true for all Acorn's pre-Archimedes BBC machines, including those with 16 and 32-bit second processors.

      In fact it's the case on the Arc as well: in BASIC type A%=65: CALL &FFEE. It won't try to execute ARM code at 0xFFEE, it'll emulate the BBC's OSWRCH call and print the letter 'A' on the screen.

      1. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Re: I *wanted* an Acorn Archimedes when I was at school...

        I think the same is true for all Acorn's pre-Archimedes BBC machines, including those with 16 and 32-bit second processors.

        Absolutely. While the Acorn machines had very little compatability with other 6502 devices, the fact was that in the multiple generations of machines Acorn produced, so-called "legal" programs were usually portable. Legality meant using the OS calls rather than ?-ing (PEEK & POKE to non-Acorn types) memory directly. To put it in slightly different terms, Acorn defined an API and very strongly encouraged people to use it.

        The Archimedes was slightly more difficult in that it didn't natively take 6502 code (though Acorn bundled an emulator from the outset) but BBC BASIC V was 100% compatible with previous versions, as were the system calls. This did lead to some slightly odd behaviour, such as the ENVELOPE command that produced all sorts of useful effects on 6502 hardware being essentially useless on Archimedes due to the completely different sound system. Someone once said, "ENVELOPE takes fourteen parameters and does absolutely nothing."

        But Acorn's efforts couldn't match the combined might of Intel and Microsoft, and in some ways it might be a good thing that they didn't as it enabled ARM (once it was spun-off) to do the clever things they have done with licencing and low-power and suchlike. If Acorn had been successful on the desktop, perhaps that wouldn't have happened?

        M.

        1. boltar Silver badge

          Re: I *wanted* an Acorn Archimedes when I was at school...

          "If Acorn had been successful on the desktop, perhaps that wouldn't have happened?"

          If ARM hadn't been spun off as a seperate company Acorn could have used some of its profits to develop and showcase a proper rival to the PC. They might only have ended up with a single digit percentage of the market but thats all Apple ever attained and look at it now.

          1. Wilseus

            Re: I *wanted* an Acorn Archimedes when I was at school...

            "If ARM hadn't been spun off as a seperate company Acorn could have used some of its profits to develop and showcase a proper rival to the PC. They might only have ended up with a single digit percentage of the market but thats all Apple ever attained and look at it now."

            Yes I concur completely. The whole rise and fall of Acorn is a very sad story really, and one that to this day still tugs on my heartstrings a little, but for better or worse, we are where we are and we have to make the best of it.

  10. Andy E

    My view (which is probably wrong)

    I generaly think of ARM as dedicated systems for a specific purpose and in the case of mobiles a relativatly short operational life. Once the ARM device has been built and shipped there is very little reason or incentive to upgrade the software. It has (hopefully) all the features it needs to do its job.

    Linux on the other hand as a general purpose platform is constantly evolving to add new features or to re-engineer for security or optimisation. I would have thought it would be easier to do that with a large eco system that promotes compatability.

    Just my view...

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: My view (which is probably wrong)

      When ARM or any other processor is used to build "Things of Internet", morally the software of each Thing needs to be maintained to limit the ways in which it can be hacked and eaten from inside. Of course this doesn't actually happen and anyway it begins to look embarrassing when your lightbulbs need successive security patches, but it's the principle of the thing. I wonder if they could build a universal brain for each device on an SD card or something so you could just upgrade those by popping in new ones...

      If the network and device has adequate encryption and authentication and no unnecessary open ports then it won't need a lot of upgrades, but apparently that's too hard even for a coffee machine.

  11. Tinslave_the_Barelegged Silver badge

    The man is a giant...

    ...so it is hard to argue with his views, but, as has been pointed out above, the QL was amazing for its day and its price point, and was intended more for business than general purpose use. We forget the old RISC/CISC wars these days, too.

    And while Linus and his mates must see the most astonishing varied set of hardware, it's hard to agree with him about the Pi being a toy. It's being used in that general purpose way, which is really the "open-ness" he talks about with the x86. Having recently moved a home/small-office server from an atom-based system to a Pi3, from a user/sysadmin perspective there is little to choose between them, and performance is by no means at toy levels. You have to get over learned assumptions when doing this, such as USB-hung disks, but the fact is it works and works well enough.

    Rather, I suspect, he points out that the Pi represents a step of adequacy, where the IT world in general represents "progress", defined by faster, more, bigger. He makes that point when talking about designing down to IoT. If he is right, and the IoT become more like general purpose machines, we're in for a lot of trouble.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: The man is a giant...

      "If he is right, and the IoT become more like general purpose machines, we're in for a lot of trouble."

      In terms of openness for being pwned for DDoS attacks they already are and so we are too.

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: The man is a giant...

      The Pi's origins are hobbling it a bit, its chip is actually a GPU that has an ARM processor tagged on as an auxiliary support device, it actually depends on the GPU to boot. That was what was available to the founders without developing something new, and they presumably didn't foresee their current situation (and even if they did they were working on a shoestring). If they were to depart from the mostly compatible Pi format and produce something with dedicated NIC, SATA and RAM > 1GB and they used the existing PI popularity to make that into something of a standard then you have a step toward ARM/Linux desktop.

      But I think that would require an external backer, like Broadcom maybe, to take a risk on it.

  12. HmmmYes Silver badge

    He's talking about architecture rather any any pros/cons for Arm vs. x86.

    Most (all?) x86 PCs are the same - they have a CPU, they have a BIOS, the BIOS boots such way, they have the same interrupt controller, they have a chipset that allows you to self indentify cards and the like.

    ARMs are put in a lot more diverse hardware. Some may map their firmware at xyv, some at zyx. Some ill have an interrupt controller, some might not - ARMs are put in hardware where saving $2/device can give you big $$$$$ savings over 1M devices.

    I guess if someone got together and put together an ARM hardware spec, mandating you have this firmware, interrupt controller, system device than ARM as a workstation/server platform would evolve, allowing the software to make assumptions about the platform itll run on.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      If I recall, a group was trying to do just this. But they chose two of probably the worst technologies to "standardise" on, UEFI and ACPI.

  13. Mikel

    The headline

    He didn't say it. It doesn't follow from what he said. Let's not discourage him from doing interviews by putting words in his mouth.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When anyone goes "will you be helping make the IoT a thing" in any number of words I'd suspect anybody whose paycheck didn't depend on it would go "helllll no" then scoot out of the room like they've just heard the questioner had ebola.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "I am a very happy manager and I mentally pat people on the head all the time" with a baseball bat.

    FTFY

  16. Christian Berger Silver badge

    The server business might change that

    As offering a server which can only run one operating system is kinda pointless, they really need a common platform.

  17. Joe Gurman

    Perhaps

    Mr. Torvald the megacurser refers only to ARM in a desktop. Perhaps he's right, today. If a major vendor, say from California, decided to market desktops based on ARM chips, he might be wrong. He's certainly dead wrong when it comes to mobile devices. Why do we bother listening to experts speaking on subjects outside their areas of expertise? He's a software guy.

  18. bobajob12
    Linux

    Fine people management there, Mr. T

    Funny how Torvalds can't quite wrap his head around why his rants are newsworthy. Why, he says to the interviewer, sometimes I mentally pat people on the head for doing well!

    There's your problem right there. People are social animals. If your positive responses are never shared, only thought, and your negative ones are shared, don't be surprised if people think you are a grumpy old man.

    1. Hans 1 Silver badge
      Linux

      Re: Fine people management there, Mr. T

      >Funny how Torvalds can't quite wrap his head around why his rants are newsworthy. Why, he says to the interviewer, sometimes I mentally pat people on the head for doing well!

      Sadly, as I have already commented to two or three occasions, taken out of context, his rants ARE extreme ... put into context, it is a different story ... when the arsehole thinks he's right, it is bad enough, when you tell him NOT once but twice or thrice that he is wrong and he still won't listen, he gets all he deserves.

      I "seriously" think it is the journos who do little, FAR TOO LITTLE, research and get him for it, because, one email taken out of context is click bait ...

      Better click bait would always be: "Moron doesn't understand and gets lynched by Linus" ... much better headline ...

      @El reg, still waiting for the "Don't feed the lawyers icon" and would really, really, no, REALLY, like a Bestie icon as well ... this is a tech site, after all ... ;-)

  19. Jeremy Allison

    My interview with Linus about our Sinclair QL days !

    At Sao Paulo Zoo:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05pgVwzAZ6k

    It's rare I get a chance to bring this interview (from 2010) up, but this seems the perfect article :-).

  20. That_Guy

    Maybe we need another Compaq to rescue the day. While the analogy isn't a perfect fit as C, didn't build a CPU clone, they did wrestle the PC from the cold dead clutches of IBM. The PC would have been a relic of history without the reverse engineering effort and our History of PC clones.

    Relating to the current end-of-life issues with Qualcon's 80x chipset, which is absolutely a financial decision passed off as a circular wild goose chase.

    Should a company have the balls to build a CPU that is restriction free, politics free (i.e. not bound to us domestic intelligence law: snapdragon vs china's mediatek, or samsung specific exynos), and usable by device manufacturers today, has comparable efficiency and processing power, isn't tied to a specific handset manufacturer and more importantly says fu to Microsoft and the ideology behind locking hardware down we might be have a mini revolution. Otherwise we're diving deeper into the current cesspool of idiocy that leads to a 2 year old device being obsolete on an irrelevant technicality, while being more powerful than some devices being sold as new.

    As an appetizer: How about this google.... for hardware to be certified for use with the google apps, all of the drivers must be open source.

    1. Christian Berger Silver badge

      "As an appetizer: How about this google.... for hardware to be certified for use with the google apps, all of the drivers must be open source."

      That's essentially a business decision. Google has little interest in hardware and software being open to competitors. Every device that gets rooted and runs non-Google software means less revenue to Google. In the past, they simply may not have cared, but they will more and more.

      Also Google is a platform provider here, and their actual customers want DRM and they want it to be impossible to copy their crappy Apps.

      There's a third point and that is that SoC manufacturers like vendor lock-ins. They want to make it as hard was possible to change hardware. This is why SoC hardware typically is as obscure as possible.

  21. MNDaveW

    The single largest liability associated with Linux is the unimaginable crap that will gush from Linus Torvald's mouth. Other than that, Linux is a pretty solid investment.

  22. W. Anderson

    What about Powr architecture

    It would have been very interesting and informative to hear Linus Torvald's opinion about the IBM Powr CPU based architecture, especially because IBM has invested tens of hundreds of millions $$dollars in optimizing Linux for that architecture, which has been "openly" license to any organization/corporations and or governments - now dozens - without previous licensing/royalty restrictions.

    Maybe Torvalds has very little direct hands-on experience with the Linux/Powr architecture, and therefore feels left out.

    1. Christian Berger Silver badge

      There is virtually no affordable hardware out there

      There is virtually no affordable PPC hardware. It kinda moved to the high-end sector with IBM workstations and servers.

      Of course you could take the specifications made for PPC and just apply them to ARM. After all there were full specifications for PPC-PCs. They even included bizarre things like the boot sector having to contain some x86 code to display an error message when you run it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: There is virtually no affordable hardware out there

        "take the specifications made for PPC and just apply them to ARM. After all there were full specifications for PPC-PCs"

        Assuming you mean the Advanced RISC Computing/Advanced Computing Environment [1] folks and the associated specs, it included not only PPC but also Alpha (from DEC and others), MIPS, and even some x86 (from SGI):

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_RISC_Computing

        But the primary target OS seemed to be Windows NT. In addition, Linux was supported via Milo, which Dave Rusling may well remember [2], so when NT reverted to x86-only, ACE (and ARC) kind of disappeared too, in due course.

        An ARM variant might be an interesting idea (or might have been, at one time).

        [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Computing_Environment

        [2] http://www.linaro.org/blog/community-blog/its-all-maddogs-fault-proclaims-david-rusling-linaro-cto/

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Herman, please use your time-machine to go back and send Linus his Archimedes."

  24. YY

    OpenPOWER

    If Linus really cared about open, he would've chosen OpenPOWER as his favorite platform, not Intel.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenPOWER_Foundation

  25. Andus McCoatover
    Windows

    HUH????

    ...his early experiences writing 6502 machine code gave him appreciation of the way ARM handles instruction pipelines....

    Instruction pipeline? 6502? Head, meet wall?

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