Ubuntu Kylin, China's official fork of Ubuntu, which is named after a mythical part-dragon, part-horse (maybe part-giraffe?) beast, is now targeting a second RISC-V platform following its release for the five-core HiFive Unmatched (opens in new tab) Mini ITX board earlier this year. According to The Register (opens in new tab), the new port for an unnamed StarFive development board will be part of a Summer of Open source in the highly populated country.
China is keen on the open-source RISC-V architecture as it attempts to scrap foreign PCs within two years (opens in new tab). We first reported on the team-up between Canonical and the Middle Kingdom back in 2013 (opens in new tab), when Android was the target that needed to be shut out as phones and tablets became more popular, with its first release being 13.04 in the same year. Now, China’s focus appears to be changing to removing X86 from its computer systems, and Ubuntu Kylin has reached 22.04 LTS, the same version as the mainstream product (opens in new tab).
The board being targeted by this new development drive could be the dual-core VisionFive V1 (pictured above). The V1 is modestly powerful — approximately equivalent to Arm's Cortex-A55 designs. While it's not threatening the i7s of this world, it makes a good starting point to build out from — though we don’t expect it to be rivaling Intel and AMD within China’s two-year deadline. The release contains a browser and productivity suite developed in-house to get around the current lack of software support for RISC-V.
Ubuntu Kylin should not be confused with Kylin, a Linux-based OS with a proprietary license developed by China’s National University of Defense Technology since 2001. It began life as a FreeBSD fork, moving to Linux with version 3, and in 2010 spawned an offshoot named NeoKylin which has become the standard operating system for entire cities. In September 2015, Dell reported (opens in new tab) that 42% of PCs it sold in China ran NeoKylin, and China’s Tianhe supercomputers also run on Kylin.
The push for a locally controlled computing architecture in both hardware and software will be a boon for local manufacturers such as Lenovo, which already offers Linux as an option on many of its PCs. The open source nature of RISC-V also means it wouldn’t be affected by any future sanctions or boycotts in the same way Russia currently is (opens in new tab) following its invasion of Ukraine.
If you want to try Ubuntu Kylin, you can download both X86 and RISC-V versions of 22.04 here (opens in new tab), with installation instructions available as a PDF (opens in new tab). Developed in partnership with Chinese authorities, including the military, it remains open-source.