The latest Apple MacBook Air with macOS Monterey and the company’s M2 silicon launched in July 2022. Apple has made the switch from Intel to its own ARM-based processors in recent years and fears abound that this meant it was no longer possible to run Linux on Mac. We’re here to tell you the good and bad news.
Apple MacBook Air M2
As with the previous M1-powered MacBook Air, the latest generation cannot currently run Linux on bare metal. This means you cannot install Linux on the MacBook Air like you would a desktop PC as the only operating system or one installed alongside macOS as a dual-boot configuration.
There are, however, 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 added some performance enhancements to 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 an ARM-friendly Linux distribution (or “distro”), so that could rule out your favorite. But some of the biggest names are available for ARM, including Ubuntu and Debian. Alternatively, using the Virtualization Framework are more consumer-friendly tools from the likes of Parallels, UTM, and VMWare.
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 really 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 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 one of the very best Macs for developers on the move.
Apple MacBook Air (2022)
The MacBook Air is an incredibly thin laptop, and with the Apple M2 chip, it’s both fast and efficient for handling any kind of work.