Signs show Linux moving into the driver's seat

Signs show Linux moving into the driver's seat

Summary: A steady stream of manufacturers are requesting Linux drivers for their hardware, suggesting growing adoption of Linux operating systems among enterprises.

A steady stream of manufacturers are requesting Linux drivers for their hardware, suggesting growing adoption of Linux operating systems among enterprises.

According to Greg Kroah-Hartman, Novell programmer and Linux Driver Project lead, the group of some 400 programmers at the Project receive requests to port existing closed-source drivers to open source drivers for Linux "all the time", and has been "doing a lot of work on this over the past few years".

In an e-mail exchange with ZDNet Asia, he pointed to his blog post of June this year, which said the Project receives on average, two requests a month from manufacturers to have drivers written.

The initiative works with hardware makers to code Linux drivers for their products for free, on the makers' request.

Such drivers have been written "for a wide range of different hardware devices" and been included into the main kernel tree, he said.

Back in 2007, Kroah-Hartman requested for help finding more hardware for which to write device drivers. Some reports online suggested that this was because businesses were holding back from opening their drivers up to the community.

Today, this "problem" has been "solved quite thoroughly", he said.

"All of the major hardware manufacturers told me that there is no problem that needs to be solved in relation to device support on Linux.

"Everything they ship worked just fine with Linux back then, and continues to do so today," he said.

Several hardware makers ZDNet Asia spoke to also said they were working on maintaining Linux compatibility.

Jeff Morris, director of client product management large enterprise and public for Asia-Pacific and Japan at Dell, said in an e-mail the company provides full Linux support for its enterprise servers.

He raised the examples of several Dell consumer-oriented desktops, as well as a corporate PC line which is offered without an installed OS, so that companies can install their own.

"We also worked very closely with our hardware partners and encourage them to create driver support for the Linux distributions we support," he added.

HP's Dennis Mark, vice president and general manager, desktop systems unit, personal systems group, Asia-Pacific and Japan, also pointed to several examples of the PC-maker's products which support Linux.

He said HP would continue looking into ways to provide Linux support.

Kroah-Hartman said Linux has reached mainstream status on the desktop, at least on the enterprise space. "There are very large companies that are well known users of Linux in this manner: all of the movie companies, Ford, Peugeot, all of the Wall Street companies, almost all banks [and] the stock exchanges," he said.

In spite of this, Linux has gained a bad rap within some consumer circles for being difficult to use, or to some, a new ground that consumers are not interested venturing into.

Both Red Hat and Novell last year pulled away from the consumer desktop space.

Red Hat last month reiterated its stance on the desktop space being one that does not pose a viable business option for it.

This article was originally posted on ZDNet Asia.

Topics: Operating Systems, Hardware, Linux, Open Source, Software

Victoria Ho

About Victoria Ho

Victoria Ho is a tech journalist based in Singapore, whose writing has appeared in publications such as ZDNet, TechCrunch, and The Business Times. When she's not obsessing about IT, you can find her tinkering with music and daydreaming about which guitar to buy next.

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  • Unfortunate Driver Model

    Until Linux re-architects the driver model to detach most of them from the kernel, there will be a continuing problem with perception of ease of use at the consumer level.

    I know the MS guys get annoyed that MS seems to tamper with their driver model with each version of Windows, but the longevity of drivers in Windows is far greater than in Linux.

    As well, it would also allow plug-in binary drivers something Linux has purposely killed (ironic as it eliminates choice to interface open source with propriatary hardware and drivers).

    • Driver Model

      Interesting... I'm using NVidia drivers on all my Linux machines at home, Turboprint print drivers, etc. with no problem. As far as the drivers being part of the kernel, at least Linux users don't have to search for drivers after the install, as a Windows user has to do. Linux and Windows install in about the same amount of time, but the Linux install is productive immediately. Many productive software packages are installed as part of the initial install. The Windows install has to have a multitude of drivers installed, THEN one has to buy and install any software they want to use. I'll take Linux anytime.
      • He speaks blindly... why bother.
        • I LOVE WINDOWS 7!!!

          ...and I'm totally blinded by it!
          • As are most people (nt)

      • Riiiiiight.

        So your chosen Linux distro ships with drivers for every imaginable piece of hardware that's been on the market in the last 10 years, right?

        That must be why you never have to go seek out additional drivers after you plug something into your Linux box and find that it's not recognized.
        • Its pretty rare....

          ....and becomes more rare with each release. I do know I have plugged stuff into a Linux box that didn't work on a Windows box.....even with the driver disk.
        • Packrat

    • the longevity of drivers in Windows is far greater than in Linux

      Tell us about it. We who have many computer "appliances" ten years old (or sometimes even older) that still work flawlessly with Linux, while Windows dropped support for them way back along about the Win2000 era. Things like printers and scanners, for example.

      While this is anecdotal, I'm sure if little ole amount-to-nothing me has this experience, many real experts will have had the same. The fact that they are not here to testify to their experiences in no wise detracts from the authenticity of such.

      To claim otherwise is blowing in the wind.
      Ole Man
      • count me in

        Under Linux, I can use a webcam, a flatbed scanner and a printer that I got for free; under Windows, only the printer works - and even then, only because HP makes base printer features compatible from one printer to the other.
        Mitch 74
    • Sounds awfully like a government rosey report on economy

      "Green shoot. Green shoot."

      "Recovery is on the way!"

      "Prosperity is around the corner!"

      "Our economy is strong!"
  • Just Works!

    Yes, it is a very good situation to have Linux moving "into the driver's seat".

    I install my preferred distros on my boxes, notebooks and netbooks and everything just works.

    Very nice indeed.
    Tim Patterson
  • Totally wrong

    You can't completely detach drivers from the kernel, not on windows, not on Linux. Its why developing drivers is "special" compared to developing applications.

    On both systems USB can use a generic kernel driver to load "firmware" on device insertion to run the device.

    I've a fair collection of hardware that worked on previous versions of windows that do not have drivers for newer versions.

    On Linux it if ever worked on an earlier version, its still working on the newest.

    Ubuntu integrates binary drivers pretty painlessly. I'm using the Nvidia binary drivers, I tried the open source ones first but performance was not quite good enough, the closed source drivers, while not my first choice politically, deliver performance Linux pragmatically accepts.

    Linux discourages binary drivers as bugs in the drivers usually get blamed on the kernel. But since the kernel developers don't have source for the binary drivers, they can't help fix them, so its a real annoyance.
    • Good point. Drivers are one of Window's biggest thorns

      When the driver doesn't work, Windows BSOD's. This happened plenty in the early days of Vista and it still happens with some devices from time to time. Also bad drivers could create security risks.

      The Linux solution of open source drivers is a great idea. Since the code is there, the kernel developers can spot the bugs and fix them. That way it's not just the manufacturer maintaining the drivers.

      Maybe MS could learn something here...
      • I agree completely

        In Linux, if a driver buffs-up or doesn't work, there's always an open-source alternative to act as a, "failsafe". The device is always usable. If in doubt, you've always got a LiveCD so you can boot into a completely fresh operating system no problems.

        On the other hand, no such drivers exist for Windows, nor does a LiveCD solution. If your drivers go bonkers, you either have to deal with it, not use that computer at all or do a complete re-install at the risk of losing all your documents.
      • Not, Microsoft, the manufacturers

        [i]The Linux solution of open source drivers is a great idea. Since the code is there, the kernel developers can spot the bugs and fix them. That way it's not just the manufacturer maintaining the drivers[/i]

        Then maybe the [i]manufacturers[/i] should open source their Windows drivers?
      • MS resists learning

        How do you think they've managed to lag behind in an industry they should dominate?

        I noticed the driver issue in Linux all but disappeared...about 2 years ago? Around then anyway. Since then I've had one device, a Kodak printer, that I can't find a driver for.

        Then there's the Vista box at the fire station that still can't scan on our HP printer because the driver crashes every time you try.
    • which hardware

      "I've a fair collection of hardware that worked on previous versions of windows that do not have drivers for newer versions."

      Caught my attention, as my experience is quite the opposite. What are some of the pieces that don't have new drivers or old drivers don't work?

      "The views expressed here are mine and do not reflect the official opinion of my employer or the organization through which the Internet was accessed."
      • I had two pieces of equipment ...

        ... that lack drivers for updated versions of Windows:

        1) Visoneeer USB flatbed scanner only had drivers for Win 98 available since the company went out of business. The drivers don't work properly in XP so I ended up junking the machine. It was only 4-5 years old and hardly used.

        2) MSI TV@anywhere card that is not recognized in Windows Media Center, but used the analog capture card in Mythbuntu up until I made the switch to digital last year.
      • Here's some that burned me

        I got a bunch of ATI XPert PCI video cards for Win98 as second monitors while waiting for Windows 2000. Guess what, no W2K drivers ever appeared for these cards so I had to buy additional cards to add second monitors to W2K!

        Any number of scanners, printers and "win modems" have become useless on the next windows version. Also, many video capture boards and MPEG encoder/decoders died with the next windows version as well, I was burned by the Matrox Millenium MJPEG capture board which was rather expensive and died with Windows 98. I've an Orange Micro Ethernet/Firewire combo card that never got past W2K. That's all I can remember off hand, but the list represents serious coin out of my pocket!

        These have ended up in the trash as they never worked on Linux.

        I learned my lesson, and try to avoid things that don't work on Linux, even when I only plan to use them on windows unless they are "throw-away" priced.