Absurd: Cool News

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There's a new fab company! Sam Zeloof is a rather amazing guy. At 17, he built a small fab in his parents’ garage. This resulted in the first (that anyone is aware of) homemade lithographically fabricated microchip, the Z1, in 2018. A follow up chip, the Z2, was made in 2021.

Jim Keller is an industry veteran. He worked on the VAX 8800, the Alpha chips, and then went on to create the modern computing hardware landscape. He was the force behind AMD K7, K8, K12, and Zen. He was the guy working to make Apple silicon competitive with A4 and A5 (A5 is where Apple’s ARM designs became competitive with desktop CPUs). He was the co-author of AMD64 more generally. He’s currently the CTO of Tenstorrent which is doing some amazing stuff with both RISC-V and AI chips.

atomicsemi tweet screenshot

On the 22nd of February in 2023 (two days ago), Sam Zeloof and Jim Keller formed a new company, Atomic Semi. This is a chip fabrication startup.

*Atomic Semi is building a small, fast semiconductor fab. It’s the first of many projects that will upend traditional thinking on how we make chips.

It’s already possible to build this with today’s technology and some simplification. We’ll build the tools ourselves then quickly push them to more advanced geometries.

We’re building a small team of exceptional, hands-on engineers to make this happen. Mechanical, electrical, hardware, computer, and process. We’ll own the stack from atoms to architecture. Our team is optimistic about the future and we want to continue pushing the limits of technology.

Smaller is better. Faster is better. Building it ourselves is better.

We believe our team and lab can build anything. We’ve set up 3D printers, a wide array of microscopes, e-beam writers, general fabrication equipment - and whatever is missing, we’ll just invent along the way.*

That e-beam mention there is a rather critical piece of this. Current lithography uses EUV. Getting below 10nm with EUV requires a lot of patterning, and a lot of time as the wavelength of EUV is roughly 13.5nm. Electron beam lithography is far more precise and can pattern stuff well below 10nm. The company has been valued at $100 million, and some funding has been provided by OpenAI. I will be watching this closely. It has been quite some time since we’ve seen a new player in the fab business; normally, we see the opposite.

On a different topic entirely...

Yesterday, Canonical (maker of Ubuntu Linux) announced that all official Ubuntu flavors (derivatives/respins) must not include Flatpak out-of-the-box. For those who aren’t too into Linux, flatpak is a vendor neutral software packaging system. As Linux has many different vendors, there’s no one way to package software for distribution. Flatpak aims to solve that problem. Canonical has a rival system that it prefers for its Ubuntu Linux, and that is called snap.

The statement reads:

Going forward, the Flatpak package as well as the packages to integrate Flatpak into the respective software center will no longer be installed by default in the next release due in April 2023, Lunar Lobster. Users who have used Flatpak will not be affected on upgrade, as flavors are including a special migration that takes this into account. Those who haven’t interacted with Flatpak will be presented with software from the Ubuntu repositories and the Snap Store.

Earlier this year, KDE e.V. and the GNOME Foundation outlined their vision for Flathub which was made quite public by a git commit from the Plaintext Group. Flathub is the default Flatpak software source in the Linux world. This includes making Flathub a proper software store, creating a company that handles its development and maintenance, and what the governing of this would look like. Much of this store can already be seen on the flathub beta site.

The importance of this development is currently unknown. Canonical’s Ubuntu has included a software store for quite a while, and it hasn’t exactly succeeded in encouraging native Linux software development. A combined effort by GNOME and KDE might be able to pull it off, but with Canonical going their own way this isn’t certain. Ubuntu is still the largest Linux distribution as far as anyone can tell, and Canonical works somewhat closely with Microsoft as regards Azure. That’s some serious momentum. On the side of Flatpak, we see a lot of Red Hat. Red Hat’s moves, historically, have moved the entire Linux ecosystem. When Red Hat adopted Pulse, everyone fell in line. When Red Hat adopted systemd, everyone fell in line. When Red Hat began including Wayland, everyone fell in line. Now, there’s Flatpak. Canonical is resisting. Will this be similar to systemd, where Canonical holds out for a bit and then folds? If they do fold, will commercial software development actually take off within the Linux ecosystem via Flatpak and Flathub?

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