Device support 'key' to desktop Linux

LinuxWorld: Open source users often encounter problems when installing new equipment, if hardware manufacturers haven't provided the necessary drivers

Hardware manufacturers should do more to make their devices compatible with Linux, experts agreed on Tuesday.

Making drivers available promptly and automatically would help open source users, according to attendees at a panel on the Linux desktop at the LinuxWorld conference in Boston.

"Things like wireless, customers expect to just work. We need power management to just work, to make sure our laptop batteries work for longer than 15 minutes," said John Cherry, the manager of OSDL's Desktop Linux initiative.

Guy Lunardi, a desktop architect at Novell, agreed that the automatic support of drivers is vital, and must be provided as soon as the device becomes available. "The key point is that it must be timely. The drivers will eventually get there, but the driver must be there when the device is supplied [to customers]," Lunardi said.

The OSDL is trying to help the open source community to get access to hardware specifications before a product is publicly available, by organising nondisclosure agreements between developers and hardware vendors.

It is not just down to the open source community to write drivers — hardware companies are increasingly providing drivers for Linux as well as more mainstream desktop operating systems, according to Waldo Bastian, a desktop Linux architect who works for Intel.

But, although Linux drivers are increasingly being developed in a timely manner, many drivers need to be installed separately from the main installation.

"How can we make it that drivers are included in the default install, so you don't have to do extra installs to get wireless working?" a member of the audience asked the panel.

Some drivers cannot be included in the kernel as they are proprietary, but Novell is working on a process that could automatically install drivers after the main installation has finished, according to Lunardi.