Friday, January 28, 2011

Processor Architecture, Linux, and the Future

Twice in the past week I have gotten into discussions with friends about the topic of processor architecture. One of these discussions was about the cell processor. The cell processor is a Power-PC based, micro-processor that was designed to bridge the gap between traditional 64bit processors and GPUs. The second discussion was about another type of processor architecture most of us use everyday - the ARM processor (as of 2007 an approximated 98% of mobile phones use an ARM chip).

The topics of the discussions were fairly similar - why is it with all these other architectures have to offer x86/64bit processors still dominate our desktop computers? Cell processors are incredibly powerful and ARM chips use an extremely low amount of energy for the processing power they provide. Simple:

Cross Compatibility

The only reason we have even begun making the transition from x86 to 64bit is because 64bit is backwards compatible with x86 code.

ARM and PowerPC architectures require a recompile (and sometimes minor editing) of code before it will run. Those of us that use FOSS know that this recompile is normally only a minor inconvenience. This flexibility is something I love about open source software. It is one of the main reasons Linux is dominating the countless mobile handhelds and tablet computers we have seen released in the last couple years (and why you can easily install Linux on your PS3).

Most companies that write closed source software cannot be bothered to even cross-compile their software to different operating systems. In other words, I don't think we will see Adobe's photoshop or Mircosoft's office running on an ARM chip anytime soon. This lack of foresight on these companies parts will eventually be their downfall.

The computing world is rapidly evolving around us, ever changing and progressing. Just like in nature, it is only the adaptive that survive. I believe FOSS will be the one to come out on top some years from now - but then, only time will tell!

~Jeff Hoogland


  1. I only have two comments, straight 64bit isn't
    backward compatible (see Itanium) however
    x86-64 is.

    The other comment is that if microsoft is
    serious about ARM, it will make software
    available, they've done it in the past with
    alpha and x86 / itanium / x86-64 are all
    seperate architectures for which office is
    available, not to mention that you can
    buy it in PPC / x86 versions for mac.

    I wouldn't say that they have the flexibility
    of linux (which runs on more architectures
    than i can remember at the moment), but
    they're no stranger to porting code.

  2. Unfortunately IBM's priorities did not include desktop priced PowerPC chips but ARM has given all indications that it is serious about a more diversified future that includes designs that include desktop/laptop/netbook chips so I would like to rewrite my article
    as "Perfect Pair - ARM and Linux"

    Henry Keultjes
    Microdyne Company
    Mansfield Ohio USA

  3. I used to be a huge microsoft fanboy, but honestly felt restricted all the time. Then I decided to dual boot with Ubuntu, but really give it a try with all my heart. I got some starting linux books and everything. Now when I boot windows I feel disgusted almost. My terrabyte drive got corupted in windows but workes in linux, I get forty different pop-ups every two seconds etc... I wish linux was more known because it is technically a superior product at its roots but it lacks support from a few places to really make it perfect. otherwise its great, Im drunk on wine right now and all sympathetic for my penguin based platform. Final word is if you're a windows guy bashing linux at least try it out before your assumptions are posted to the internet, secondly i dunno im to crunked to think. peace out -Danny Dowshenko

  4. Hah, I love Danny's post above. :)

    I also love the pro-MS trolls you get almost automatically for all your articles.

    Anyway, I'm also really excited about ARM and anxious to see what this architecture does in the next couple years. I could definitely get behind having all my systems be ARM based in the not too distant future.

    Cheers all!

  5. Microsoft is talking about supporting windows 8 on arm. I can make a solid guess they will port office and other microsoft software on arm.

    Adobe... well thats up in the air.

  6. Closed-source apps like Adobe Flash have lots of x86 assembly code in them. That's a main reason while you'll either (a) never see them or (b) they'll perform cruddily on ARM.