Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Drivers Wanted

I recently got a really good email with a very good question that I wanted to share with all my readers. I hope you all enjoy.


first of all I want to say I like your blog about eye candy. Really nice to know there is someone who really gives useful tips and is there to represent eye-candy.

While reading you're blog I noticed that you really believe opensource drivers for cards from nVidia and ATI are needed. I never knew that was needed and trusted on the company's, I thought the closed source drivers did their work good enough. Apparantly they don't do enough to get the maximum out of their hardware.

But why wouldn't these company's make their drivers open source? The money is after all made with selling the hardware. Is it because they have to release specs of the cards they don't want to be know by the competition? Or is there a whole other reason? And if big studios are starting to use blender and the linux desktop, can't there be some pressure coming from those studios towards the card manufacturers? Maybe there should be an action group for this that makes clear to the manufacturers how much better it would be to open source their drivers. With constructive criticism and reasons for opensourcing their drivers...

Just wanted to know you're thaught about this

Kindley regards

Meulemeester Jan Dante

btw: keep up the great work!"

This is my response:

Thanks for the compliments. You are very kind.

There are many reasons why Nvidia and ATI refuse to open source all of their drivers (or even give away the specs so drivers can be made without reverse engineering). I will list a few:

- Some suspect that both Nvidia and ATI currently use technology in their closed drivers that is owned by another company. Basically they don't have full legal right to their drivers, so they can't free them. This alone does not explain why they do not work with open driver creators more though.

-Linux/Open Source is not a big enough market yet. A high end market (blender), but not a large one (Desktop use). When that changes, attitudes might change.

-It takes a lot of work to make good drivers….and labor is limited. It seems like they don't want to do the work of maintaining a "community," even if that is minimal... Also I think they do not trust such a situation (open drivers) with high end customers (blender) so I don't think they see that as a benefit (as they should).

-Some (I think Nvidia at least) seem to believe they can do a better job. And sometimes its hard to argue. The Nvidia closed source driver is the best driver (performance and featurewise) in the entire Linux landscape. Nvidia made a kind of EXA a year before open source driver makes did. Desktop *nix is a niche so there are not THAT many Xorg hackers….so Nvidia (and ATI if they would use them) seems to have more resources to make a better driver. Plus they make the hardware to make a better driver. So they continue to call the shots.

-They don't "get it." They don't know why open sourcing the drivers is such a big deal. ATI is better with this, as I hear they kinda help with reverse engineering the high end cards. The ATI 9250 is the best open source card because ATI released the specs for it. But overall they don't get it.

It's an interesting situation. Because of the state of things I have a Nvidia card. It what allows for the best eye candy. But one day soon I will buy a 9250 to play with. Yet….the Nvidia drivers do SO much that many of the open drivers can't do (which is kinda bad because Nvidia uses specific Xorg.conf extensions that no other driver uses…so a GUI to configure the Xorg.conf is almost impossible to make). Its give and take.

One good thing is that Intel "gets it." They open source their video drivers, and they are the largest seller of graphics cards. All on the low end….but hey, it's the best hope of the open source world. Intel mostly "gets it." Really. I think part of it is that they have a huge problem with MS recently.

Why? Because MS stopped releasing Operating Systems every two years (that often times required a computer upgrade) like in the good old days and because MS (well…the market really…but MS nailed the coffin shut) picked AMD's 64bit extensions over the Itanium in the long term. Plus if computer customers spend on software then they might spend more on hardware. For these reasons and more Intel is a great ally of open source for now….

Of course, I could be wrong about the entire thing...

I hope I answered your question well enough, and I hope you have a nice day.



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