Don’t fear ACPI on ARM

Before everyone freaks out about Matthew Garrett’s post regarding ACPI on ARM, here are a few things to keep in mind:

First, when we’re talking about Linux and ACPI on ARM, we’re talking about general purpose servers. In the general purpose server market, Linux is already the dominant OS, regardless of the CPU architecture. Servers are designed, built and sold to run Linux. It is already the situation that x86 server vendors build their ACPI tables to work with Linux. Supporting Linux on ARM servers is merely an extension of what vendors are already doing to support Linux on x86. Despite Matthew’s concern, I don’t think we’re entering new territory in this regard.

Second, many of us have bad memories of getting ACPI to work with Linux. However, it is worth remembering that most of our problems have been with machines where the vendor really doesn’t care about Linux – usually desktop or laptop PCs. It’s not surprising that we have problems with these machines since they’ve only been tested with Windows! Server vendors, on the other hand, have a vested interest in ensuring that Linux runs well on their hardware and so they regularly test with Linux. The negative lessons learned in the laptop and desktop markets don’t carry over to machines built to run Linux.

Third, the ACPI world has changed in the last 2 years. It used to be that the ACPI spec was governed in a closed process by 5 companies: HP, Intel, Microsoft, Phoenix, and Toshiba, with nary a Linux person to be seen. Last year ACPI governance was transferred to the UEFI Forum and we’ve got plenty of Linux engineers sitting at the table. In light of that, it is no longer true that ACPI only caters to the needs of Windows, and we have the ability to propose changes to the spec. In fact, if you look at the revision history in version 5.1 of the spec, you’ll find changes that were proposed by Linux engineers to make ARMv8 work.

That said, the issues raised by Matthew are important. There is a big question about how Linux should declare itself to the platform. Claiming to be compatible with “Windows 8” in the ACPI _OSI (Operating System Interface) method obviously isn’t appropriate on ARM. There is some talk about removing _OSI entirely on ARM since the way Linux uses it isn’t actually useful, and the _OSC (Operating System Capability) method has been proposed as a better way to declare what the OS supports. There is also a need to make sure vendors are testing with linux-next and mainline kernels so that we know when breakage happens and we can either do something about it, or work with vendors to fix their firmware.

Both of these are important issues and I think we need to propose solutions before merging ARM ACPI support into the kernel. Some of this work has already started: Linaro is running Canonical’s Firmware Test Suite (FWTS), the ACPI API tests, and the ACPI ASL tests on ARM, and we’re porting the Linux UEFI Verification (LUV) project which packages all the test suites into an easy to use distribution.

While I agree with Matthew that getting the interface between firmware and the OS is hard, I do not see the nightmare scenario he is describing. It certainly hasn’t played out that way on x86 servers where Linux is already the preferred OS. Besides, I really cannot agree with the premise that Linux being the dominant OS is a bad thing! We have a lot more influence than we give ourselves credit for.

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