Can the MacBook Air (2022) run Linux?
Apple’s newest MacBook Air made its debut at WWDC 2022 ahead of July 2022 availability. But even before it gets into anyone’s hands, there is a lot that we already know about it. For one, the spec sheet is pretty complete, and the headline act is the Apple M2 chip powering the show.
Apple’s move to its own ARM-based silicon is heading into its second generation. Paired with macOS Ventura, also revealed at WWDC, there are a number of great features for consumers, professionals, and developers alike. It should be pointed out, though, that the MacBook Air (2022) will ship with macOS Monterey.
For the latter, one key consideration may well be whether or not the new MacBook Air can successfully run Linux. For many developers being able to successfully boot into Linux is a key part of their workflow. On that front, there is good and bad news to consider.
MacBook Air (2022) bare metal support for Linux
As with the previous M1-powered MacBook Air, the latest generation cannot currently run Linux on bare metal. That is, either instead of macOS or alongside it as a dual-boot. At least, not in a form you would want to use as a daily driver.
There are multiple projects working on porting Linux to Apple Silicon, right down to building support into the Linux kernel itself. One such project is Asahi Linux, which is currently available in alpha for some of the M1-powered Macs.
Essentially, and especially in the early life of the MacBook Air (2022), bare metal support for Linux should be considered a non-starter. So from there, we have to turn to virtualization.
Virtualized Linux is the way to go on the MacBook Air (2022)
Fortunately, virtual machines are very much a thing on Apple Silicon machines and there’s more than one way to do it. At WWDC, Apple outlined using the Virtualization Framework built into macOS to boot into a Linux VM.
This requires a little bit of work with Swift coding, but, it’s free to use and most likely the best overall performer. Apple has added some performance enhancements into macOS Ventura for Linux virtualization, including virtio. Additionally, Rosetta 2 will allow Linux to call on x86_64 binaries and will translate them to ARM. Just the same as it would do for macOS.
The caveat remains that you have to use a Linux distro with an ARM build, so that could rule out your favorite. But some of the biggest names are available for ARM, including Ubuntu and Debian. Alternatively to using the Virtualization Framework are more consumer-friendly tools from the likes of Parallels, UTM, and VMWare.
VMware Fusion is currently available as a technical preview for Apple Silicon, but it does allow you to run Linux VMs. The latest version of the preview build can be downloaded for free from the VMware website.
Alternatively, you can go for Parallels, but this one will cost you, and it isn’t cheap. You’re looking at $100 for a perpetual license, but it works, it works well and it’s easy to use. Again, you’ll be requiring Linux distros with ARM builds, but Parallels makes it super simple to download and install them. The icing on the cake is the Coherence mode, allowing you to run Linux apps outside of the main Parallels window, almost as if they were native Apple Silicon Mac apps.
UTM is another virtualization tool worth looking at, and it offers something the others currently do not. Under its skin is QEMU, a very old but still very good tool. UTM is free and open-source, but the paid version in the Mac App Store provides automatic updates and helps support development. Otherwise, it’s the same wherever you get it from.
UTM’s advantage also comes in its ability to emulate x86_64 on ARM, albeit with performance penalties. Running ARM-based Linux distros, UTM makes use of the Apple Virtualization Framework for near-native speeds.
So, you can definitely run Linux on the newest MacBook Air, but it’s still limited to virtualization. This will surely improve in the future, but for developers who need to be able to boot into Linux or even those who just like to have both, there is at least a fairly straightforward solution. The MacBook Air (2022) is likely to become one of the very best Macs for developers as soon as it lands.