Someone tried to get Linux to run natively on original NES console hardware from the 1980s

LUnix, or 'Little Unix,' created for the Commodore 64 is the key to getting Linux to run natively on a Nintendo Entertainment System.

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The Nintendo Entertainment System or NES was arguably the system that kickstarted the videogame industry as we know it today - with many of Nintendo's iconic franchises like Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and many more making their debut on this 8-bit system. As a piece of hardware, though, the NES is pretty ancient compared to the devices we have today - with only 2KB of RAM and an additional 2KB of VRAM.

So, "Can it run Linux?" is an interesting question because the answer is no. However, that hasn't stopped the YouTube channel DeCrAzYo from trying to find a way. Relying purely on the aging Nintendo hardware without slapping a Raspberry Pi into a cartridge led him to a Linux-adjacent operating system called LUnix, or 'Little Unix,' created for the Commodore 64.

As the Commodore 64 has 64KB of RAM compared to the NES's 2KB, a lot of work was required to get it up and running natively on an NES console.

Commodore 64 versus Nintendo Entertainment System, image credit: DeCrAzYo

Commodore 64 versus Nintendo Entertainment System, image credit: DeCrAzYo

Including, writing custom drivers for how the NES's Japanese disk system functioned. In Japan, the NES was released as the Famicom or Family Computer, with the option to buy a disk drive, a keyboard, and other peripherals in addition to controllers and cartridges. The key to getting a Unix-like operating system similar to Linux running on NES hardware was adapting the operating system to run with the Disk System, which comes with an extra 32KB of RAM.

The informative and entertaining video goes through all the steps to get it working, which it does in the end. And in an impressive state. Is there a need for Linux or a Unix-like operating system for the NES? Certainly not - this is simply one of those programming exercises that's all about making it happen.

And as a nice little bonus, DeCrAzYo has put up his 'Famicom Disk System port of LUnix' on GitHub.

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Kosta is a veteran gaming journalist that cut his teeth on well-respected Aussie publications like PC PowerPlay and HYPER back when articles were printed on paper. A lifelong gamer since the 8-bit Nintendo era, it was the CD-ROM-powered 90s that cemented his love for all things games and technology. From point-and-click adventure games to RTS games with full-motion video cut-scenes and FPS titles referred to as Doom clones. Genres he still loves to this day. Kosta is also a musician, releasing dreamy electronic jams under the name Kbit.

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