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The Penguin Has Landed!

By Kalpesh Gala, AltiVec Technology Product Manager

Looking for an alternative to Windows, MacOS or Unix? Try Linux!

The Linux operating system (OS), created by graduate student Linus Torvalds, claims to be a better OS than current offerings from IBM, Apple Computer and Microsoft. Today, this Unix variant, whose mascot is a penguin, has achieved cult status on the Internet. Linux also has been the subject of numerous mainstream and trade press articles as the OS most likely to unseat Microsoft from its dominant position on the desktop. With an install base of greater than 14 million users worldwide and recent developments in the OS market, Linux is positioned to become a household name. 

So What's Going on with Linux and AltiVec(TM)?

Linux for PowerPC(TM) microprocessors is referred to as LinuxPPC. Testing new features (like AltiVec technology) in PowerPC microprocessors requires changes to the Linux kernel (the core of the OS). Motorola engineers have modified Linux to support AltiVec. These modifications have been delivered to the Linux community and have become integrated into the freely available OS. Motorola's Somerset Design Center uses Linux as part of the processor bring-up methodology for PowerPC microprocessors. Also, Motorola has released a public set of tools (GNU) that allows developers to build AltiVec applications, available from the web site. 

"The full native support of AltiVec technology in Linux provides true supercomputing capabilities on each desktop machine or parallel node. This is exactly what [our customers] have been asking for. The immediate interest and enthusiasm that we have received for our Black Lab and Yellow Dog Linux from both current and new customers is remarkable."

- Kai Staats, CEO of Terrasoft Solutions

Who's Using AltiVec-Enabled Linux and for What?

Large corporations and research centers are turning to LinuxPPC because of its customization, high performance and low cost. When compared to traditional operating systems (i.e., LynxOS, MacOS, VxWorks, Windows, Windows CE) for desktop or embedded use, companies like Linux because it has no recurring license fees. While most installations of LinuxPPC today are found on desktop workstations, the numbers are growing for commercial applications. 

Notable institutions using AltiVec-enabled Linux: 

  • General Dynamics Information Systems
  • High Performance Computing Center, University of New Mexico
  • Motorola
  • Northrop Grumman
  • Sandia National Labs, University of New Mexico
  • Scalable Computing Laboratory at the U.S. Department of Energy Lab, in Ames, Iowa

Developers are quickly solving problems that were not easily approachable without AltiVec technology. Cancer research, distributed computing, parallel computing, performance analysis, scientific computation, simulation farms, surveillance platforms and synthetic aperture radar are just a handful of applications for AltiVec-enabled Linux. 

How Do You Get It?

Today, LinuxPPC has more than 300,000 users. Surveys indicate that another 3,000,000 current Linux users would like to move to a RISC-based architecture like the PowerPC architecture. A Linux distribution includes the Linux kernel and hundreds of programs (for example, Netscape, X Windows and the gcc compiler). Linux for PowerPC microprocessors are available via: 

  • Blacklab Linux
  • Debian
  • LinuxPPC
  • Rock Linux
  • SuSE
  • TurboLinux
  • Yellow Dog Linux

Users' distribution choices are based on a variety of personal preferences, but most users prefer distributions that offer easy installation and bundled programs. 

To learn more about Linux for PowerPC microprocessors, visit:

For more information about Motorola's PowerPC microprocessors and AltiVec technology, visit: or

PowerPC is a trademark of Internation Business Machines Corp, used under license therefrom.
Motorola is a registered trademark and AltiVec is a trademark of Motorola, Inc.