Developers criticize Nvidia, other holdouts for hindering Linux desktop

Linux kernel developers are getting tougher on Nvidia and a few other holdouts that have refused to release open source drivers.More than 100 Linux kernel developers – including top developer Andrew Morton – issued a letter today condemning closed source modules or drivers for Linux to be “harmful and undesirable.

Linux kernel developers are getting tougher on Nvidia and a few other holdouts that have refused to release open source drivers. More than 100 Linux kernel developers – including top developer Andrew Morton – issued a letter today condemning closed source modules or drivers for Linux to be “harmful and undesirable. " The group cites filesystems and security add ons as modules but clearly it's the driver vendors driving them mad. “We have repeatedly found them to be detrimental to Linux users, businesses and the greater Linux ecosystem,” the letter stated. “Such modules negate the openness, stability, flexibility and maintainability of the Linux development model and shut their users off from the expertise of the Linux community.” The letter is a not so veiled swipe at Nvidia, manufacturer of the world’s best selling graphics cards.  To date, two of the three leading graphics card suppliers – Intel and ATI – have produced open source drivers, while Nvidia has not. It is no doubt obvious that Linux – and indeed any modern operating system – must support a high end, seamless graphical experience on the desktop to survive and thrive.In a recent essay, dubbed Linux Graphics: A Tale of Three Drivers, Linux Foundation Technical Advisory Board Chair James Bottomley pointed the finger at NVidia for sticking with its binary driver model. He maintains that Nvidia’s holdout is a big problem for the Linux desktop because its harder to get fixes for binary drivers and so when new and inexperienced Linux users run into problems, they often ascribe the problem to Linux—not the binary driver.  NVidia was not available for e-mail comment as of this writing. Intel has been producing one source drivers for its graphics cards and chipsets for many years. In 2007, after its acquisition by AMD,  No. 3 card supplier ATI acquiesced and contracted with Novell to produce the open source driver, known as radeonhd.  X.org also produced a rival driver and earlier this year ATI hired one of the X.org developers to oversee its open source effort. That’s all well and good, but ATI only has about one fifth share of the graphics card market. Intel and Nvidia equally own 75 percent of the market – and NVidia is not budging.   “Nvidia, at the time of this writing, is still firmly in the Binary Only camp,” James Bottomley wrote, suggesting this is one factor hindering adoption of the Linux desktop. “Since most experienced Linux users know either to pick Intel [or another card], most of the reported [problems] are coming from less experienced  or even novice users. These users aren’t likely to continue their experiment with Linux; nor will they recommend it to their friends. In fact, they’ve probably turned off Linux for a considerable period of time, if not for life.” He added that binary drivers have a drag effect on the overall ecosystem . “Fedora was under enormous pressure not to release Fedora 9 until there was a solution that allowed it to run with the Nvidia binary driver. “ Bottomley acknowledged that there is a project underway called Nouveau to reverse engineer an open source driver for Nvidia cards but he urged Nvidia to consider the upside of doing open source drivers. “The most commonly touted feature of the new generation of mobile devices is graphics and multimedia, so anyone with a graphics device strategy that supports Linux seamlessly… is nicely positioned to capitalize on an emerging market.”  The Linux Foundation maintains the vast majority of vendors have released one source drivers and only a few holdouts remain.

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