Nvidia starts coughing up documention for Linux

Nvidia starts coughing up documention for Linux

Summary: After years of secrecy, the graphics giant has finally released documentation to help the nouveau open-source driver for Nvidia graphics cards.


Nvidia, the company once branded as the "the single worst company we've ever dealt with" by Linus Torvalds, has released the specifications for its VBIOS Device Control Block.

The company sees this release as a first step, and intends to provide further documentation in the future, as well as guidance to the developers of nouveau.

Using an Nvidia graphics card on a Linux system involves making a choice between a unified, proprietary kernel driver supported by Nvidia itself, or the open-source nouveau driver for users of legacy cards or those wishing to have a pure, untainted open-source operating system and kernel.

"Nvidia is releasing public documentation on certain aspects of our GPUs, with the intent to address areas that impact the out-of-the-box usability of Nvidia GPUs with Nouveau," wrote Nvidia's Andy Ritger on the nouveau mailing list.

"I suspect much of the information in that document is not news for the Nouveau community, but hopefully it will be helpful to confirm your understanding or flesh out the implementation of a few unhandled cases."

Ritger said that a few of the developers who are responsible for Nvidia's driver would be paying attention to the nouveau mailing list.

"If there are specific areas of documentation that would most help you, that feedback would help Nvidia prioritize our documentation efforts," he said.

"I can't promise we'll be able to answer everything, but we'll provide best-effort in areas where we are able."

The hype cycle behind Linux as a force on the desktop has returned in recent weeks.

Earlier this week, gaming studio Valve backed up its claims that Linux was the future of the gaming industry when it announced its own Linux distribution called SteamOS.

Although details of SteamOS are few, Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin hailed it.

"With all due respect to the others, which I love, this could be the best Linux distribution yet," he said.

At LinuxCon last week, Intel chief Linux and open-source technologist Dirk Hohndel revived the perennial prophecy of Linux and the seemingly never-arriving "Year of the Linux desktop" when he said that Intel sees Linux as the leading end-user operating system thanks to its use in Android and Chromebooks.

Topic: Linux


Chris started his journalistic adventure in 2006 as the Editor of Builder AU after originally joining CBS as a programmer. After a Canadian sojourn, he returned in 2011 as the Editor of TechRepublic Australia, and is now the Australian Editor of ZDNet.

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  • steamos is not headed to the desktop.

    That they even had to make their own distro 20 years in shows just how much a joke Linux desktop is.
    Johnny Vegas
    • The fact that they COULD make their own distribution

      shows just how much a joke the Windows desktop is.

      Since they wouldn't be allowed to do one even if they wanted to.
      • Huh?

        One more Linux distro makes Windows 8 a joke? How?
        Michael Alan Goff
    • "how much a joke Linux desktop is"

      MS Windows 7 desktop is no joke, it's a pain in the butt. Everything is so lame, slow and incompetent. I refrained to work on the friends computer when helping her with some LaTeX. Although I helped installing it along with LyX editor which overfilled the drive C:\, since the obese Windows system never seems to stop eating and constantly grows in size, eventually leaving no space for the apps... Working in this environment is a stress. It gets pretty slow at times (go wonder why, dirty registry again?, is it time to defrag the filesystem?). It's pretty stupid since it asks you all sorts of dumb questions, cannot find apps in the start menu. You constantly get annoyed by the AV popping up here and there, what a pos desktop?
      No, I'd rather not be working there, I rebooted into the Debian Mint live system, where I get Emacs, latex et al. My friend was very surprised at how fast and how much a user can accomplish it in that environment.
      • edit button

        s/refrained to work/refrained from working/
    • You DO know what PR/Brand mean?

      Yeah. Right You really, really, really know..
  • Linus is a genius

    This happened just a few months after he flicked Nvidia for their sh#^ty attitude towards GNU/Linux and open source. Did they finally realize (or only start to) that it's their own benefit that the hardware they sell would not under-perform because of the their bad software, as a consequence of some stupid, incompetent decisions. Are they about change it? Perhaps it's too late... hopefully not.
  • Intent BIG THING Docs small thing.

    Released doscs aint that help full (though they may help improve support for yet-to-be-releases GPU's which aint available for Nouveau devs for reverse-engineering).

    Sole fact of Nvidia changing their mind (from NOT harming but NOT helping) is great.

    To be sure Nouveau DO GREAT JOB. Given time Nouveau devs where able to provide good support (sometimes exceeding Nvidia blob). However recent iteration of Nvidia GPU's include complex reclocking and power management electronics. And Nouveau team is unwilling to introduce partial support for it (as that could case even complete overheating of GPU..).

    Sadly those parts needed most are least likely to be released. (As GPU vendors treat PM as trade secrets.. It took years for AMD to finaly release their PM code, which mainly relay on binary firmware to do the heavy stuff).

    On SoC (mobile) front Nvidia was more relaxed, and Nvidia workers actively advised devs who reverse engineered Tegra support.

    If Nvidia will match it behavior regarding Geforces up to Tegra. Then we can assume that support will be meaningfull, but limited to basic operations of GPU (performance and some extra features wont be documented..)

    As to why Nvidia is making such move? Its not Valve/SteamOS or rather docs wont help Nouveau enough for it to be contender for inclusion in SteamOS any time soon. Performance (main characteristic for gamers) ain't there.

    What Nvidia may wish to achieve may be twofold:
    1) Good will, now that (non-mobile) Linux got more spotlights, Nvidia may need to reconsider its stance toward community, since its active community, and this community will give advice for those who will ask "Which GPU should I buy for my SteamOS powered setup?"...

    2) Out-of-the-box experience for newer GPU's. VESA driver (very limited, and very slow) is not an option. And people need to use something in order to download Nvidia drivers. Nouveau sometimes have troubles to power up properly (no big deal, as one can disable it on startup but that require know-how). Making sure that Nouveau power up, and works at least for the desktop + browser, would help those people who would download Nvidia driver...

    3) As usual. OpenSource community is good way to attract potential future employees. They will work for you without any pay. They will get familiar with your hardware. They may accept work offer. (That is much better than hiring people with no background. Always.)
  • Adapt or die!

    Nokia is going to choose the next hardware for Microsoft, and they're going to do it on their own. Bye-bye Nvidia!
    Tony Burzio
  • Nvidia starts coughing up documention for Linux

    I doubt any of the 5 users of linux will read the documents. Instead they will develop their own drivers and claim how its better and duplicating the work. Such is the way of linux users.
    • Sigh

      Unnecessary LD. I normally enjoy reading your opinions but this is pure trolling.