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Here's a big shout-out to "ISO Master" and Andrew Smith.

I had an old Mac Mini that simply absolutely would not install any of the newer Linux distributions, because they now support that abomination called EFI - and while EFI tries to be a "better BIOS", it's actually worse in just about all respects.

(Honesty in advertising: EFI does have one improvement in the form of support for GPT. But it would have been so infinitely much better if it had just done so with the old odd - but tested - BIOS interfaces rather than making up its own complicated interfaces that nobody seems to get right).

In particular, it's worse because it's totally untested - and thus generally doesn't work. Apple has been using it the longest, and has the oddest bugs as a result. So try to insert an EFI-enabled CD into old Apple machines, and it will just confuse the machine and not work.

However, the BIOS emulation in bootcamp still does work, and doesn't have the infinite bugs that EFI implementations tends to have.

Solution: use ISO Master to open up the ISO image, remove the "EFI" directory, write a new ISO file, and boot that instead. I'm sure I could have done it by hand, but ISO Master really made it incredibly pain free. Thanks.

Anyway, I'm sure that in another decade or so, EFI will be well tested. It's just sad how people always try to "improve" on old standard interfaces by then over-designing the improvements to the point where the new interface is just overwhelmed by complexity.

Of course, some of the blame goes to Apple, who obviously likes "Thinking Different". Even when "different" means "worse".
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157 comments
 
Very interesting Linus. Was actually never aware of this issue until you mentioned it. Thanks for sharing!
 
Now it is going to have that "secure boot" thing...
 
With Apple at least, you gotta consider where they were coming from. They had Open Firmware with PowerPC, which is much more akin to EFI than BIOS. If they wanted to keep all their pre-boot bells and whistles, EFI was the way to go for x86.
 
thanks for this dude. I was unfamiliar with the area. I knew some bios wouldn't take it but wasn't sure why.
 
Apple's official stance is probably something like "It's not worse, you're just using it for something other than its intended purpose. What are you, some kind of hacker?" ;)
 
Eh, whatever. BIOS is something that has been antiquated and a stopgap for the last 20 years. EFI is far from perfect, but I will take it any day over BIOS.. Especially when you factor in how much easier it is to flash an EFI.

Seriously, the only way the you could argue BIOS is superior is in GPL compatibility, but that's not something I give a crap about at the BIOS level.
 
+Ross Whiting does that mean Apple takes over the title from Unix? "It's user friendly... It's just picky about its friends"
 
+Gabriel Pettier: Oh, I suspect +Matthew Garrett could have helped, but he would have died just a little bit more inside as he did so.

He did make sure that Fedora 17 works on the Macbook Air, but that's a much more recent Apple EFI version. The old Mac Mini I have is many years old, is not sold any more, and I can't even update the firmware on it (because that's some OSX-only stuff, and the machine hasn't had OSX on it since it was bought).

It was much easier to just sidestep EFI entirely.
 
Good to know. Think I'll hold off on a new EFI motherboard, which I admit I was looking at just because it's the shiny new thing. What are the real-world problems with BIOS that it attempts to solve, anyway? Other than the clunky but well-known UI, and GPT?
ken lu
 
As Andrew,Fish told me, the concept of EFI is created for business target. In past 6 year, as developer for EFI core, I like it especially for edk2 codebase, because it almost adopt OO concept in BIOS development. But recently, I found it is really hard to be accepted by legacy BIOS developer.
+Kings Lee I personal think "secure boot" is created for Microsoft, it is another problem for Linux community....
 
+Steven Rostedt I don't think UNIX ever claimed to be all that user-friendly. It was always more about the ability to do whatever you can think of. It's not going to hold your hand, though.
 
Well, it seems that Apple has achieved what they seeked all along: that you would be forced to run their OS X on their hardware :)
Jason T
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I reckon it was nearly 20 years ago some guy Sweden or Latvia or Finland or something tried to "improve" that old classic minix and look where that got us. ;-)
 
it "works" for their extremely limited, narrow focus. if you start to use something like this outside of any prescribed, vaguely supported (which is often obtuse and/or not documented anywhere), you can almost forget about it.
 
it works great for mac os x with their Apple hardware
 
I think this post was the geek equivalent of 50 Shades of Grey. I read it, feel dirty because I understood it, and want to reed more.
 
+Edward Treu in my opinion, that's why you always build your own.

..Except for laptops, of course.
 
Is this only a mac issue. I only use PC's because they work with pretty much any linux distro and boot device out of the box. (and I'm cheap)
 
That old saying: dont cut the root of your own tree..
 
well if all of the distros maintain support for EFI and old standards all they have to do is improve EFI a bit right? I mean who wants to move back to the old way of doing things.
 
Ugh, EFI has such great potential, but in it's current form, it's a steaming turd. I run a Hackintosh system, and as such, I require a GPT drive, and an EFI-emulating bootloader. Just yesterday I decided to dual boot with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview; I was about ready to throw my computer out the window, between Windows complaining about not having an EFI motherboard but a GPT drive, or having every OS forget how to boot, the hidden EFI partition moving at random, and let's not forget the existence of the Hybrid MBR. All in all though, I'm rather satisfied with myself for getting it working.
 
+Matthew Murphy I really dont like the idea of dual or triple booting, one OS is all one needs. ( unless you have a stupid annoying school that requires programs that only work on mac and pc like me)
 
Heh, I was doing exactly the same install last Thursday. I opted for Ubuntu's "alternative" installer, which also did the job. These old Minis won't boot off external USB either, which is a real pain.
 
I spent DAYS trying to get uEFI to network boot a diskless blade and could never get it to work. I had to set the blade to use the legacy BIOS/PXE network boot, which worked flawlessly and was very easy to understand and configure.

Gotta love progress!!
 
Since the first Mac onward Apple is known 4 awsum industrial and graphics designers and terrible engineers. Honestly, the only good engineers Apple had (yes, past tense) were Burrell Smith And the Woz.
 
I'll buy those computers using EFI. And I'll return them if unable to install Linux. It's much better than not buying them at all, because with the returned hardware they'll realise that they have a problem.
The solution is to buy, and then to return for a refund.
 
I agree "Think Different" doesn't necessary mean it will be better...
 
On GPT: I've never quite understood what advantages it has over MBR besides the increased number of partitions possible (and none of the extended partition junk I think?). And on that note, why even care about it in contexts of Linux instead of just using LVM?
 
+Mike Swanson: the size limits of the MBR partitions are starting to come up. 32-bit sector numbers means that a MBR can only cover the first 2TB of a disk. And people do want to have bigger disks.

Btw, there is nothing that says that a BIOS couldn't support GPT (and multiple bootable partitions). So you don't need EFI for that. In fact, you could use EFI with the BIOS interfaces - but Apple originally got rid of the BIOS compatibility layer that was part of EFI, and then later wrote their own (buggier) version of it, so they have two layers of bugs in there..
 
+Stefan Andersson: I care about small and quiet. It used to be that the Mac Mini was one of the better alternatives for that, so that's what my kids and wife used to use - and that's why I have an old Mac Mini laying around.

That said, these days there are better alternatives, with both HP and Dell having reasonable entries in the ultra-small form factor.

On the laptop front, the Macbook Air is also finally starting to have reasonable alternatives, and Ivy Bridge looks like a really good CPU in that market. Sadly, many of the ultrabooks have ridiculously bad panels. I think 1366x768 is reasonable in a 11" thing, but vendors that have it on their 13+" machines should be ashamed of themselves.

I'm fairly hardware-agnostic. It's all going to run Linux anyway, so why should I care? And some of the difficulties with Apple hardware have actually been good, and have found bugs in Linux or bootloaders (ie we used Apple hardware to notice that Linux bootloaders have problems when there is no legacy keyboard controller configured, for example).

That said, we fixed our bugs. They didn't fix theirs ;(
 
another piece of software to have made the same mistakes is Grub2. Grub1 was so simple, but Grub2 decided they needed spaghetti code.
 
Hmm...so would Android and Open Hardware be the way to go for fixing these EFI issues? I'm not opposed to new, exciting, or off the wall, as long as there's a way to yank it off the wall and make a couple changes...

Think about it, an EFI based Android, based on an Open Hardware core, all thoroughly tested, setting the market standards (and putting Apple to shame ;) )...day-dreaming
 
"It's just sad how people always try to 'improve' on old standard interfaces by then over-designing the improvements to the point where the new interface is just overwhelmed by complexity."

...hmmm...such as Web pages are close to 100% the only place where actions happen and the display changes merely for moving one's pointer over something, instead of, oh, I don't know, the tried and true interface of clicking on something such as a menu for it to drop down, and clicking anywhere BUT the menu makes the dropdown menu disappear. Or the extraordinarily complex (and thoroughly unnecessary) reimplementation of select/option lists with divs and dynamic DOM events and images and such (I'm looking at you, Google Advanced Search and Samsung, among others).
 
EFI is still a mystery to me,traditional BIOS is the best
 
Thats interesting, we use PPC Mac Minis and G4s to build an embedded Linux app. I can't change anything for fear the machines wont boot, but this trick might give me some leeway. Thanks.
 
Been there, done that... True.. Yet... We have to try something different or we will just stay still... In all and all apple is marketing.. Hehe
 
+Caleb La Grange Usually, I'd agree. However, I've recently had quite the urge to play Postal 2, which, despite having a native Mac OS X client, refuses to output sound on this particular machine. Which is rather funny, as it outputs sound fine on my Hackintoshed EeePC, which uses hacked sound drivers (this uses stock sound drivers).
 
The last paragraph may have just become my favorite quote.
 
Drag-and-drool interfaces. ;)
 
am I having problems with the connection or no one has an opinion about this!? generally your posts have a billion comments, this one is a waste....
I have no MAC but is good to know that ISO master can help me when EFI attacks
 
are you talking about uefi or efi? and do most of your gripes on efi extend to uefi ?
 
thanks for the tip, it always helps to tackle these so called 'improvements' forewarned and well-prepared... )
 
I've been waiting since 2006 for this!
 
The next thing you know, people will go about making kernels and even whole operating systems that don't run well on a lot of existing hardware and are otherwise full of problems. Man, THAT would be crazy!
 
EFI urgh yeah i watched some interesting talks on that
 
+1ing myself for '1st time ever doing something Linus Torvalds couldn't do'. But yes, EFI on Mac Mini is brutal and on my machine takes a policy of booting about 60% of the time, but only after 'thinking about it' for 5 minutes. The other 40%, it just hangs.
 
At first, when I read "ISO Master", I thought you meant +Matthew Garrett, then I realized it was some kind of software. BTW, kudos to Matthew on the F17 ISO achievement.
 
+Roland Tanner I think "decided not to deal with and make people more aware of" is a more accurate depiction : ) but good input.
 
Hello Linus, I hope to read this!, I'm from Ecuador and I'm asking if you will stay on Helsinki on August (between 10 and 24), because I will going to Finland this summer and I like to know you and talk with you. I hope to see you. Thank you!...
 
+Stefan Andersson yes, they're great (little form factor) desktops which should be easily reusable as a linux box. and arguably quiet and pretty reliable hardware that don't consume too much power. it's always nice to reuse/repurpose a good product anytime I can!! rather than just donating it for a small tax writeoff to science err... charity : [ now if I can figure out what to do with my old Android smartphone, which has extremely limited hardware. maybe a music player but already have better.
Liam C
 
I hate the fact that USB drives cannot be booted on Macs because of EFI. I was trying to install Linux on my PowerBook, but I was out of DVD-Rs, so I used unetbootin to put the distro on my flash. No boot. 
 
It's just sad how people always try to "improve" on old standard interfaces by then over-designing the improvements to the point where the new interface is just overwhelmed by complexity.

QFT!

Unfortunately that's a driving force among some parts of the Linux community as well. ARG!
 
Reading this I could only say "Ouch" and feel bad for someone at Apple. To have been so accurately eviscerated by Linus Torvalds is bad. On the converse...good job ISO Master and Andrew Smith for earning such acclaim.
 
This old vs new interface talk reminds me of Gnome 3 and it's "beautiful" NetworkManager :-/
 
EFI, KDE4, GNOME3, Unity, upstart - endless list of shit making things worse instead of better.
Liam C
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I absolutely HATE Unity. (no offence to the developers). I installed gnome-shell as soon as I could!
 
Someday I'd like to grow up and understand what you just said. I use Ubuntu but...
Liam C
 
Gnome-shell is gnome 3, not unity. Unity, I believe is a version of gnome specific to ubuntu (someone please correct that if I'm wrong). You can check out gnome 3 on the website. 
 
Xfce or xubuntu is great for people coming off of Macs. Intuitiveish, and simple. it's my personal favorite and I havent had a problem with it.
Liam C
 
Yea, I'm attempting to install Xubunty on my PowerBook, but I'm out of DVDs!
Liam C
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I meant Xubuntu. 
 
Mac? Smash it with a hammer. Problem solved.
 
Hi, Linus! I'm new on here. one might say that I'm slowly stepping out of the 80's.. LOL
 
Linus I,m still waiting to get a mini Linux PC I read so much about within past couple few months
 
I thought the only point of buying a Mac was for the OS, otherwise why not buy (or better yet build) a pc with far better and less expensive hardware to run a Linux distro on?
 
I've not used anything with EFI yet, but damn this is a well written rant. =}
 
+Aaron LaBarre the "point of buying a mac" varies among buyers; some people love the hardware, some people love the software.

[Lots of manufacturers can deliver devices of similar computing power, but almost nobody seems capable of matching Apple's level of hardware polish and craftsmanship (though they often try to fake it, they almost always seem to fail) when it comes to putting all the pieces together.....]
 
"Thinking different" doesn't mean worse. The idea behind Apple is to build both the hardware and the software to give the user the best possible experience. That is why they make their OS work with their hardware and their own specifications, if it doesn't work with other OS, they don't care, because they don't even test those cases. In the last years, they payed attention to windows, so their hardware could work with that OS also, but GNU/Linux has never been a priority to Apple.

But anyway, thank you for the information. It is really helpful for people trying to install their favorite GNU/Linux distribution on their Mac.
 
Dustin-You are with a beautiful women, against a beautiful backdrop-try to look more handsome!
C
 
+Javier Perez I personally prefer Grub2. I like the loopback features and EFI support (Great for booting Apple machines with a flash drive)
 
Nice! I've been trying to install Ubuntu on my Macbook Pro without success. I wonder if this is the reason. Only bad news: ISO Master isn't available for OS X. Plenty of solutions for that though. Thanks!
 
+Linus Torvalds my experience with my iMacs efi has been mixed. I've found that, with Gentoo, I had to emerge grub2 with efi-64 and gpt-part support. I then use the Mac side and.install rEFIt which overrides the built in boot manager and allows for booting from an ext2 boot partition.

Pain in the butt, though, and the situation seems to change depending on the distro. Fedora requires a. BIOS-boot partition, Ubuntu works out of the box, and other distros just didn't like efi at all.
 
The bug only appears when using images with multiple El-Torito images, and it's not actually limited to Macs - it's just worse there because Apple's implementation fails to load a working keyboard driver before giving you a prompt. The two ways around this are (1) Remaster the CD without the extra El Torito, or (2) do a native EFI boot. This is made more difficult by most of the Macs with this bug having 32-bit firmware, and most people not shipping support for 32-bit EFI systems.
 
I had to do it the hard way to get win7 to install on my macbook pro. And booting off anything but a CD, forget about it. From what I can tell, the main problem is that apple chose to use an outdated version of EFI, instead of what everyone else uses, which means any OS other OS X has the wrong EFI, and it becomes more of a pain than BIOS could dream of.
Henri T
 
I have uefi bios and mint 12 went in just fine. Tho I was little excited what if...
 
I so want EFI to work, it's not the worst idea in the world, there's a server at work where it's possible to EFI boot RHEL, so I'm like, my netbook has EFI, let's try this. And then I'm like, OMG Lenovo, you simply didn't test this at all...
 
+Linus Torvalds These lame implementations of EFI on both apples and PCs have got me frustrated though, after working five years with HP servers (Itanium based) with proper (and the original EFI) which even has a console, a TCP\IP stack and scripting possibilities I just end up pulling my own hair out when these "LOL NOW YOU CAN USE YOUR MOUSE IN THE "BIOS""-EFI implementations and the apple "press fourteen keys on the keyboard at once to change boot options" impementations.
 
Things become even more absurd when you try to install Linux to an external USB or Firewire disk. I'll spare you the details, but unless you go the elilo (LILO for EFI) route, the Mac won't boot, because the Apple firmware only considers grub on the internal drive.

Wasted like three hours of my life, see http://www.crystalorb.net/mikem/linux_mbp_external.html for a solution.
 
Here is serving a maximum Systems Development "a simple program obviously has no errors, a complex program has no obvious errors"
 
The one very thing that disturb me about Apple philosophy is that they pretend you to not use your brain so, at this point there are two mutually exlusive alternatives, implying you OR them to be an idiot: guess what alternative I've decided to follow? Obviously I must mark the last line of this post as:
>>>>>>> BEGINNING OF A RELIGIOUS WAR >>>>>>>
 
I am successfully dual booting on an old mac mini with EFI. It may be different with dual booting, but there's a useful utility called refit: http://refit.sourceforge.net/ Added my crunchbang linux install to the boot list.

edit: bleh, beat to the punch.
 
Midnight Commander can open ISO images transparently, without extracting them, and can do the same thing for zip files and tarballs.
 
A key design objective of EFI was to switch from closed source assembly to open source C (the only thing you can do when the authors of some complex piece of assembly code retire is throw everything away and start from scratch). This could be the only EFI success.
 
Getting a new mother board EFI or ??
 
I think the discussion about BIOS vs EFI is kind-of like the devil you know vs the devil you don't know.

After a few decades, we found out how to live with BIOS, besides its problems. But now, with EFI, we have something new, which nobody understands and comes with its own new set of problems.

I am not saying EFI is better, or worse then BIOS. But with people who did not know how to write a proper BIOS now trying to write a proper EFI.

Hopes are slim that it will ever work well.
 
Linus, I'm somewhat curious: if you are running into this much trouble with EFI, why are you trying to use it? If EFI vendor implementations are specifically trying to make their usage broken as in the case with Apple, then why feed your torment by continuing to use Apple hardware?

Continuing to use Apple hardware is only accepting EFI when it seems the proper answer would be to reject it outright. Unless you're trying to fix it, then that's cool, but from what you're saying their EFI implementation changes over the years in undocumented ways and beyond your control (in the hardware).
 
OFD: (Old Fart Disease)

Symptoms include thinking new things are dumb because they don't work the way you expect them to based on your experience with old things they replace.
 
Design By Committee right?
 
Im just curious ... What phone do u use??
 
That explains why I can't install the latest Ubuntu on my old lamp-post iMac. I thought the drive was dead and not reading the disk. I'll have to try an older version to make sure.
 
In theory EFI sounds great, but I have yet to own a system that has EFI. I think the problem is that it isn't really standardized so everyone wants to create their own version of it. EFI has only been in use outside of Apple for about two years so obviously there's going to be problems with it. BIOS is 20+ years old so obviously it's going to work a lot better than something that's barely used by the majority of computer systems that are in use.
 
"It's just sad how people always try to "improve" on old standard interfaces by then over-designing the improvements to the point where the new interface is just overwhelmed by complexity."

Like GRUB 2 and GNOME 3. :P
 
Its works but not "better" i think
 
cuando piensas sacar una consola de video juegos para linux
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Hi Linus, I agree with you about the EFI, in my opinion the old SUN sparc OK is better than BIOS or EFI and much closer to the UNIX paradigm of the INIT runtime levels, in any case, we have to move on as the new technologies push their way into the consumer market and adapt ourselves to this challenges.
 
This is just the start. I think Microsoft mentioned that no other OS (except Windows) should be allowed to load on ARM architecture. I am SURE MS will force manufacturers on other platforms also to adopt the same stance. I am more worried as to what will happen then. Have the linux devs/foundation planned for that day when this situation will arise (and I think it will sooner or later)? Would we still be able to run linux distros on our PCs/Laptops?
 
Stop buying hardware built for non-Linux OSes. There's no shortage of good Linux hardware companies.
 
I would not panic about the hardware, there are always softmods and nvram flashings for the sake of computing, besides, to the eyes of the big corporations we are just a bunch of rednecks, so hacking a few boxes won't be important to them.
 
You're preaching to the choir. EFI booting has been the bane of my existence. I actually had to switch distros because of it
 
+John Smith thank to people who don't like Plug'n Play (respectively Point'n Click) since you (and others) still can use Plug'n Play through their geekness.
 
+Linus Torvalds I would like to know your opinion on unite or "call" Linux distros programmers and that everyone work on a SINGLE Linux distro, given that the time is right... it could boost Linux as a operative system to the masses and all that, I say again, because the time seems right. On a time of 18 months or so make everyone work on a distro that could work on smartphones and pcs (or both, check this link Ubuntu for Android - Two Kinds of Linux On Your Phone )
 
Hola, me llamo alessandro, tengo 13 años y soy de Posadas, Misiones, Argentina. Admiro linux. es el mejor sistema que hay.
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To me EFI sounds like a huge waste of time... a useless make-work project for hardware manufacturers to slap a new logo on their goods. If it isn't broke why fix it? Mad propts to your boy Andrew Smith for getting your mac to boot the good stuff without EFI
 
i had a hell of a time installing Linux on my 2007 MacBook GPT/EFI. having a broken superdrive, had to dd the install ISO to a partition and boot that, use gParted to fix tables on the hd from another computer, install rEFIt, manage hybrid MBR tables, all sorts of crazy shit. Apple not supporting boot from non-Apple USB drive formats is bad enough. when I look back it's a wonder I got Debian and GRUB installed.
 
Apple knows what's best for you :D
Mitch C
 
I wholeheartedly agree, and would add that while "moving towards better technologies" is a good thing, the newer distros dropping support (archives) are leaving some people without the resources to purchase new hardware out in the cold as to installation of Linux itself as the OS of choice.
 
Well, you wrote:
"Hello everybody out there using minix I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones. This has been brewing since april, and is starting to get ready. I'd like any feedback on things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons) among other things).I've currently ported bash(1.08) and gcc(1.40), and things seem to work. This implies that I'll get something practical within a few months, and I'd like to know what features most people would want. Any suggestions are welcome, but I won't promise I'll implement them :)Linus (torvalds [at] kruuna.helsinki.fi)PS. Yes – it's free of any minix code, and it has a multi-threaded fs. It is NOT portable (uses 386 task switching etc), and it probably never will support anything other than AT-harddisks, as that's all I have :-(."

So You didn't have an Apple back then? That's cool, because otherwise LINUX wouldn't boot on anything except a Mac, while for the time being the opposite is true.

Great work! As of the time of this writing I only own one single computing device that doesn't run LINUX. That's due to the fact that I use some cameras for astronomy which are, and probably will never be supported in LINUX. No problem, this is exotic hardware, used by a few astronomy geeks. ... Well, would still be great (or bigger) if that would be possible. Dreaming is also great (at times), but I know the difference between dreams and reality. (at least I think so)

:-)
Or so ...
 
Copy and pasting the original announcement Linus made somehow scramble the layout, sorry for that.
 
oh brilliant, i had been having the same problem with an old mac mini i wanted to give to my mother.
 
There is another troll like SCO being kicked on your SCAss.
 
totally agree on worst for efi, it sucks
 
Ubuntu installs easily in UEFI and it gets added as a boot item in the BIOS
 
sweet, solved the problem with my mac mini!
 
Linus Torvald, When the BIOS failure disconnects the battery from the computer and the BIOS is restored again, there is a chance to do the same with UEFI to get past the ridiculous restriction from Microsoft?
 
I really need to start actually checking my G+. Ran into a similar issue trying to get Ubuntu to play nice with Windows 7 on my new EFI-equipped laptop. After MUCH trial and error, I came to the same conclusion - banish the EFI directory and live happily ever after. That said, it would've been helpful if I'd read this post beforehand. I was this close to kicking the damn thing out the motherfucking window.
 
Open Firmware was nice, having a prompt before boot: priceless
 
Thanks so much!
 I can confirm that this is still an issue on Fedora Core 18 with some older Mac hardware and that removing the EFI folder from the ISO with ISO Master still works!
 
having a graphics card bios +bios +os cold boot in 27 seconds ( in my fedora 20) was not common before uefi. 
and the idea of secure boot is nice.
though hardware can always be hacked.
Progress has its costs.  
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