Apple’s philosophy with its devices is to offer a unified experience. Software, hardware and services in perfect synchrony. This is also the case on your computers. Although in the past it was possible to install Windows or Linux natively and coexist with macOS, the arrival of M1 processors or Apple Silicon have complicated this task. However, the good performance of these new processors is such that we can use Windows and Linux virtually.
In the past we have seen that it is possible to install Windows 11 on a Mac with M1. And the performance is very good. So much so that at the time we saw how the performance of virtualized Windows 10 exceeded its native performance on Surface devices. With Linux it is also like that. We can continue using macOS and let it coexist with Windows and even install Linux on their respective virtual machines.
To create virtual machines on a Mac with M1, we currently have the Parallels commercial proposal and the UTM open source proposal. The latter, in addition to being free, is very easy to use. And if we need to do something out of the ordinary, we can go to the command line, since it is based on QEMU, a very complete virtual machine software.
Linux and ARM
The first thing we might think is that installing Linux on a Mac M1 should be something simple. First, because macOS is based on UNIX. And second, because there are many Linux distributions that already support the ARM architecture, on which Apple’s M1 chips are based. But in practice, it is more complicated.
First of all, Apple assumes that it only cares about macOS as the operating system for its Mac computers. So in order to support Linux, it should spend time and resources on it. There are Linux developers who are working on it on their own. On the part of Apple, at the moment there is nothing official.
So the reality is that to use Windows or Linux on a Mac with M1 we will need a virtual machine. The good news is that thanks to the good performance of this processor, using virtual machines should not be a problem except for specific uses such as running games.
Linux on a Mac M1 with UTM
We said that UTM is the most practical way to create virtual machines on a Mac with M1 to install Linux. The reason is that it is free and open source. It is compatible with Intel and M1 Macs. That is, you can create x86/x64 virtual machines on Intel Macs. And in the case at hand, it allows you to create virtual machines for x86/x64 operating systems but also ARM64. You just have to specify it in the virtual machine configuration, from System > Hardware > Architecture.
For running games, it’s not the best choice, as it doesn’t emulate GPUs on Windows and doesn’t accelerate 3D via OpenGL or DirectX. For this, it is better to turn to specialized solutions such as CrossOver or Parallels itself. But to run normal applications, UTM will be very useful to us.
On a technical level, UTM uses QEMU to function. But since QEMU is difficult to manage, using the command line, UTM adds graphical menus to create virtual machines and customize them. Precisely, we only have to download UTM for our Mac with M1, install it and open it. Creating a new machine to install Linux is as easy as clicking the + button to open the virtual machine wizard.
As is often the case with VirtualBox or Parallels, we must tell UTM which operating system we are going to emulate with the Virtualize > Linux option. We’ll then tell you where the installer is, usually an ISO image. When using Mac with M1, it is best to use the ARM architecture compatible ISO. Then we will indicate the amount of RAM that we will emulate, CPU and disk space. For this we must take into account the requirements of each Linux and/or the capacity of your Mac. For example, on the official UTM page, for Ubuntu 20.04 they recommend 8 GB of RAM and 10 GB of disk space. Finally, we will save that configuration.
The first time you start that virtual machine, we will perform the Linux installation. The process to install Linux on the virtual machine is the usual one. The installer will recognize the virtual machine as a real machine and allow us to install that Linux. From now on, when we start the machine, we will get the benefits of Linux as if we had installed it natively on the Mac.
The advantages of virtual machines
For the rest, UTM allows you to make adjustments to the virtual machine configuration if something is not quite right. You just have to turn it off and open the settings. Add or remove RAM or CPU, set up a shared folder, add more virtual disks, etc. And like any self-respecting virtual machine, you don’t need to turn it off. You can pause it to recover it again more quickly, clone it to make changes without affecting the original virtual machine, etc.
If you have any questions about how UTM works to install Linux or Windows, you can consult its official guide. It is also possible to obtain installation instructions and other particularities for certain Linux through its gallery of examples. For example, the installation of Ubuntu through its ARM Server installer and subsequent installation of the desktop version through the command line within the virtual machine itself.