Software is never finished; it's forgotten. There is always one more enhancement to be made or one little quirk to work out. Sometimes there are even big problems. It happens from time to time. It's expected, and it's expected that the problems will be fixed. After spending quite a bit of time recently working with Linux on the Alpha platform, I've come to realize we face some very serious problems. And unfortunately, these may not ever be fixed, putting in jeopardy the future (hah!) of Alpha/Linux. I decided to articulate these problems in an email to the Linux on Alpha Processors mailing list in order to inform and ultimately find solutions and breathe a bit of life back into Alpha/Linux. I'd like to think that Alpha/Linux isn't a piece of forgotten software, not yet.
As time goes on, alternative architectures like Alpha and PA-RISC slowly lose their userbase. Experienced developers move on to things that interest them more. Emphasis isn't put on fixing bugs for these aging platforms, and the level of support slowly erodes. Eventually a small hardcore userbase is all that is left. The Gentoo Bugzilla showed this effect on the Alpha platform. All nontrivial bugs were left to rot. What's worse, many bugs were so old that the software containing them wasn't even in Portage anymore, yet no one closed the bug report or asked if it was fixed. One, a two-and-a-half-year-old bug about a failing cipher algorithm in libmcrypt caught my eye. I decided I'd give fixing it a shot.
As mentioned yesterday, X.Org 7.4 (xserver-1.5 and newer) cannot operate on Alpha due to way it accesses PCI resources such as ROM information and video memory. Kernel Bug 10893 was filed 6 months ago, but nothing has been fixed. A work-around is to implement a fallback in libpciaccess that would access /dev/mem directly, as previous Xservers do. Unfortunately, no one appears to care enough about X support on Alpha to implement it.
Happy Birthday to this website! It's been running in one form or another for the last three years. A lot has changed since then. Originally it was just a convenient place for me to put SkyOS programming guides. Now, it's a site about Programming, Alternative Architectures, and Open Source (and still a convenient place for me to put things I don't want to lose.) It's evolved quite a bit in the last three years. I've got it, along with many other interesting things, on my TODO list for Christmas break.
As previously reported, it was possible that Compaq's long dead suite of compilers and libraries optimized for the Alpha processor may be released to the Linux community. With hand written and highly optimized code in hand, Alpha developers could improve integral software such as gcc and glibc. Unfortunately, it does not appear that the release of this code will be possible due to licensing issues.