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Lone Programmer Writes 352 Webcam Drivers For Linux 450

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the twelve-cases-of-ballz-later dept.
mrneutron2004 writes "A French physician and ardent Linux supporter is the one man you can all thank for adding support for 352 webcams in Linux. The Open Source OS world may still be a bit of a mess when competing with the ease of Windows, but efforts like this make you wonder. One man with drive, tenacity, and no funding does what no one else can do. And none of the major Linux distributions back this guy's efforts, even the big players dipping into the corporate world's coffers."
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Lone Programmer Writes 352 Webcam Drivers For Linux

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 30, 2007 @04:25PM (#18933357)
    What kind of a geek misspells Bawls? And an editor at Slashdot no less. For SHAME!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Chris Burke (6130)
      Maybe he wasn't referring to the tasty energy drink... /. editors are pretty weird.
      • He should have also given the project's page :
        Here is the link [mxhaard.free.fr]

        This is specially important because the most logical place people would try first, the official SF project [slashdot.org], is lagging behind and not up to day.

        Thank you, Michel Xhaard, for your wonderful work. Thanks to you my own Logitech webcam, as webcams of other geeks around the world, have worked wonderfully for the last few years on Linux.
    • Spelling (Score:3, Funny)

      by Ed Avis (5917)
      I'm more interested in the name of the developer. How could he not be an elite hacker, with a name like Doctor Xhaard?
  • WOW!!!! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by axia777 (1060818) on Monday April 30, 2007 @04:25PM (#18933363)
    I am stunned. That is a lot of code to write. That guy is a machine. Props to him 100%.
    • Re:WOW!!!! (Score:5, Funny)

      by errxn (108621) on Monday April 30, 2007 @04:57PM (#18933797) Homepage Journal
      Anybody else glad that they are not one of this guy's patients?
      • Re:WOW!!!! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by El Cabri (13930) on Monday April 30, 2007 @11:07PM (#18937011) Journal
        It's not very clear to me whether he's a physician or a physicist. It is a common mistake from French speakers to call a physicist, a "physician" since physicist translates as "physicien" in French. And the guy says he was working with doppler and ultrasound systems, which could be the case of either.
    • Re:WOW!!!! (Score:5, Informative)

      by doti (966971) on Monday April 30, 2007 @05:24PM (#18934141) Homepage
      While I still value his work, it's worth noticing that the /. title is a lot misleading. He didn't made 253 different drivers, but one driver that works on 253 different webcams that have a lot in common.
      From TFA:

      FC: So how did the ice ball grow to reach today's 253+ webcams supported with several different chipsets?
      MX: Starting with the Sunplus chipset support, I realised that most code in the core driver could be "shareable" to support several webcam chipset(s). That is why the "GSPCA" drivers now support over 250 webcams from different chipset vendors.
      • Re:WOW!!!! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by pclminion (145572) on Monday April 30, 2007 @07:47PM (#18935577)

        He didn't made 253 different drivers, but one driver that works on 253 different webcams that have a lot in common.

        Writing a solid core that easily integrates with over 253 device-specific modules is something to be DAMNED impressed by. I always love it when I'm given some new requirement at work, and it just fits right in to my existing infrastructure almost effortlessly. It means I designed the thing properly in the first place. This guy has done that, 253 times.
    • by Palmyst (1065142) on Monday April 30, 2007 @05:26PM (#18934161)
      What we need, obviously, is a Beowulf cluster of French Physicists.
    • In full agreement, a big serious thank-you from my household, he's awesome.
    • Re:WOW!!!! (Score:5, Funny)

      by StikyPad (445176) on Monday April 30, 2007 @11:32PM (#18937155) Homepage
      Lonely Programmer Writes 352 Webcam Drivers For Linux

      There. Fixed that.
  • Amazing (Score:5, Funny)

    by SirJorgelOfBorgel (897488) * on Monday April 30, 2007 @04:25PM (#18933367)
    An amazing feat, this man should be recognized. Linux will never be on the desktop if your teenage daughter cant videochat with predators 2000 miles away! I for one welcome this new voyeur overlord.
  • by jeffy210 (214759) on Monday April 30, 2007 @04:26PM (#18933371)
    And even the summary title wants to short him for 99 cameras to his credit!
  • Dear Michel Xhaard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 30, 2007 @04:26PM (#18933375)
    Thank you
  • by biocute (936687)
    Seriously, I'm more interested in the following incident:

    The Win2K drivers for the "DigiGR8" 301P had apparently a memory leak under Win2k, forcing me to reboot the win2k box on a daily basis. Basically it just stopped working after a dozen hours of continuous use, and rebooting was the only solution.

    I then concluded I had enough with Win2K and decided to install my Linux...

    So a bad driver caused him to give up on W2K, then he proceeds to spend endless hours of creating drivers for those crappy webcams?

    Wou

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by k1e0x (1040314)

      Would you buy a (oh no not again) cheap car with an oil leak, knowing that there's a free and simple way of fixing it? Or would you demand the car manufacturer to get its act together and fix the leak before its cars get out of the factory?
      Heh.. Depends on the price. ;-) is the car free?
    • by cowscows (103644) on Monday April 30, 2007 @04:33PM (#18933475) Journal
      Some people enjoy the challenge and the work involved in maintaining and/or improving things that they own, whether that's a car or a computer. This guy could've thrown his webcam away and then gotten another, but instead he installed an OS where he could freely see and tinker with all the guts, and make the hardware he had already spent money on work.

      Apparently he really enjoyed the project, because he went and did basically the same thing a few hundred times more. Good for him.
      • by Slur (61510) on Monday April 30, 2007 @06:29PM (#18934815) Homepage Journal
        (Shameless plug) I had this tablet I'd spent $500 on back when it first came out, and I was going to be damned if I didn't get support for it on my favorite OS. It took something like 3 years to get it into shape, but now I have this project with a life of its own. Most recently I was prompted to add support for TabletPC computers running Mac OS X unsupported. All along the way, I've had people interested in the results, who have helped me to add support for their tablets. The internet has made it possible to collaborate instantly with people you've only just connected with for the first time, and do in a matter of days what might have taken weeks.

        So it doesn't surprise me that this guy's driver works for so many cameras. So many of these hardware devices with different brand names use the same off-the-shelf chip-sets. And serial devices are all very similar in their protocols, so new drivers are easier to make.

        I don't think my driver for their old serial tablets has cost Wacom much in sales, and that was never the intent. Their new USB tablets are thinner and totally hassle-free, which makes them attractive for most people. There have been a few people who told me they had specifically held out on buying a new Wacom USB tablet, and who either had put the old one away or were using it with Mac OS 9. And there were a few people who had bought USB-Serial adapters only to find that no driver existed to make their tablets work. I sympathized with both situations somewhat, and this also spurred me on.

        As an open source developer I have the advantage of total loyalty to my project, and not to any other parasitic motive. So when I get a feature working in my driver or control panel, it remains available. A company may remove features to encourage upgrades, and reducing functionality for non-technical reasons is evil.

        I propose a new holiday: Driver Writers' Day. It could co-incide with the date of the first shipment of Mountain Dew.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      > So a bad driver caused him to give up on W2K, then he proceeds to
      > spend endless hours of creating drivers for those crappy webcams?

      No, that guy you quoted is the article writer not the driver writer.
    • by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Monday April 30, 2007 @04:36PM (#18933515) Homepage Journal
      What if you got the camera without realising it?
      What if its been sat in a drawer for years 'cos it worked "sometimes" and you didn't find a real use because of the stability?
      What if it was second hand?
      Some people cannot afford to waste money buying extra kit and won't look the gift horse in the mouth.

      We have become such a wasteful generation.
      If something doesn't quite work right, we throw it away.

      Cameras are technically simple and most will work in a similar manner (theres only so many ways you can send the same data across a wire). My bet is this guy has created a core driver and is using variants on the devices, this allows all those useless cameras before to now be usable. There must be millions of similar working devices around the world.

      Why bitch at him for helping?

      People now won't have to suffer with crap 'cos they can be made to work well (apparently).
      props to him.
    • by KingSkippus (799657) * on Monday April 30, 2007 @04:37PM (#18933517) Homepage Journal

      No, you misunderstand. The person who gave up on W2K is the reporter, not the guy who created the drivers. The guy who wrote the drivers did it because he bought webcams for his daughters and they didn't have drivers.

      As for you comment, it's not the camera that has the problem; it's the drivers, and that's what he fixed for Linux. In your analogy, it's more like buying a used car with a heavy discount because it has a dirty air filter. If you know that the car is perfectly fine with a new air filter, why not buy it? A famous man once said, "A dirty air filter does not a bad car make." (Okay, I admit it, it was me, just then, and I guess I'm not that famous.)

    • by DaleGlass (1068434) on Monday April 30, 2007 @04:46PM (#18933659) Homepage
      So how does the market know?

      In Linux, this is possible. You actually have chances of getting somebody knowledgeable to tell you that the hardware itself sucks (there used to be comments about how much realtek hardware sucks somewhere in the kernel source), or that the driver isn't properly written. Linux also makes it easy to make it possible for people to tell you so: somebody can tell you to run "lspci -v" and "dmesg" and paste it into your mail, which is easy even if you have no clue what all that stuff is.

      Windows on the other hand, gets more and more obscure with each passing day. Starting from XP it reboots instead of letting you see the BSOD, so without considerable effort you can't even find what went wrong. You go to make tea, come back, and the box mysteriosly rebooted meanwhile. Windows installations are also often infested with spyware, which makes it a lot harder to figure out what exactly is going wrong, as something going wrong in bizarre ways is depressingly common.

      There's also that consumers are simply not informed. Most people don't spend time googling around to try to find out whether the webcam they're about to buy is any good. If they find reviews, often they will be by somebody who tried it for 15 minutes, which will miss any longer term issues. About the only way of a bad one getting abandoned by consumers is that it's such incredible crap that even people with no experience at all see it's horrible and return it.

      • Object oriented? (Score:3, Interesting)

        I wonder whether he used an object oriented approach? Many cameras share common functionality, whether it be chipset or processing method, so much of that functionality could be inherited and tweaked according to the camera at hand. Doing so makes the task of targeting so many cameras that much easier. This is not to take anything away from the work this guy did, just an observation from the side lines.
        • Re:Object oriented? (Score:5, Informative)

          by DaleGlass (1068434) on Monday April 30, 2007 @05:02PM (#18933867) Homepage
          See my other post, it's the same thing as with sound cards for instance. Linux doesn't have a driver specifically for the "Creative SB Live Value", it has a driver for the EMU10K1 chip the card is based on. This driver works for several models of the SB Live series, and perhaps even for non-Creative cards if some other company builds cards using the EMU10K1 chip.
  • 253 or 352? (Score:2, Informative)

    by DogDude (805747)
    Either way it's a lot, but the Slashdot editors really suck.
    • by Frequency Domain (601421) on Monday April 30, 2007 @04:31PM (#18933451)
      You know how Europeans always write their dates the reverse of the USA? This is like that, only different.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by asninn (1071320)
        At least the "European" (and I'm using that word solely because you did - in reality, it's used all over the world) way makes sense - year, month and day are presented in a natural order (little-endian), whereas in the "US-American" notation is just, well, weird. I understand it translates easily from natural language (so "May 1st 2007" becomes "05/01/2007"), but the same can be said about the "European" format ("1st of May 2007" becomes "01/05/2007"), so that's not really an advantage.

        Personally, I prefer
  • Congratulations to mxhaard! Good job bringing that project up, online, and keeping it alive for so many years. The drivers, spcaview, and spcatools have been excellent quality since I began using them in '99/'00.
  • Ballz? (Score:4, Funny)

    by 6Yankee (597075) on Monday April 30, 2007 @04:28PM (#18933419)
    from the twelve-cases-of-ballz-later department

    Just don't ask how a physician gets twelve cases of balls... *crosses legs*
  • Mad props (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 30, 2007 @04:28PM (#18933421)
    Mad props 733t d00d, or insert your favorite way to say, great job, thank you, and keep up the good work.
  • by UbuntuDupe (970646) * on Monday April 30, 2007 @04:28PM (#18933423) Journal
    important enough for his name to get into a Slashdot summary. Oh well, at least he wasn't referred to as "the French Linux driver guy", like how Ramanujan was "the Indian math guy".
  • Wow that must be a lot of copy-pastes. His left arm little, middle and index fingers must be pretty fatigued by now.
  • One man with drive, tenacity, and no funding does what no one else can do.

    Should read:

    One man with drive, tenacity, no funding, earning his livelihood elsewhere, and with no one to question whether he earned a dime doing this and with no shareholder expecting you to maximize your profits does what no one else can do. A corporation will start off asking "How many people will use webcams on linux and how much $$ can we make if we write drivers for them".
  • I hate this.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by .Chndru (720709) on Monday April 30, 2007 @04:31PM (#18933453)
    The man wrote 350+ drivers. How about some link love for him, slashdot? http://mxhaard.free.fr/spca5xx.html [mxhaard.free.fr]
  • 352 webcams, 253 webcams - which is correct? Impossible to find out with this article, since the referenced article refers to BOTH numbers, just as the summary article and headline on slashdot do! Sheesh.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 30, 2007 @04:37PM (#18933527)
    If you read his CV on his website, you'll notice that he is a physicist, not a physician.

    The confusion stems from the interview, where he calls himself a physician:
    physicist is called "physicien" (pronounced "physician) in French !

    Stephane
  • by rminsk (831757) on Monday April 30, 2007 @04:41PM (#18933583)
    The programmer did not write 352 seperate drivers for web cams, he wrote drivers for 8 different camera bridge chips and different versions of those chipss.
  • by Demona (7994) on Monday April 30, 2007 @04:45PM (#18933631) Homepage
    So where is the heroic bureaucrat who can get this hellhole running so efficiently, that all the labour can be done by a single Australian man?
  • by mpapet (761907) on Monday April 30, 2007 @04:53PM (#18933741) Homepage
    step children in the computer world. Especially web cams.

    Add to that the misery of attempting to hack to every proprietary firmware variation on every camera and hunting down someone who knows something about the camera firmware/driver and the misery is tripled. I know I owe this guy for my webcam working like magic.

    In theory with SIP (VOIP) video conferencing is ready for the masses, but I still don't see web cams taking off as a kind of must-have accessory. You still don't see brands like HP jumping in and flushing logitech out of the business.

    Anyone have any insight as to why that is?

    The best one I ever saw was a USB product that was sold under the Kodak brand. I was shocked at how bad the integrated web cam in the mac laptop is.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      Anyone have any insight as to why that is?

      Because while they were creating standard driver profiles for mass storage and ethernet they forgot to make a standard for webcams.

      Really quite stupid, too. But then, USB is shit.

      Note that there is a standard for video on firewire, but it's a crap one as it mandates a fixed resolution.

      • It's called UVC (Score:3, Informative)

        by Ayanami Rei (621112) *
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USB_video_device_cla s s [wikipedia.org]

        But since the cameras are essentially fixed-focus NTSC CCDs with framegrabbers, USB bridge chips of the week and ad-hoc Atmel microcontrollers with random firmware tying it all together... it's no wonder the Chinese OEMs just roll their own protocol and driver.

        Implement a published spec! That'd take testing beyond plugging it into the engineer's laptop to see if it works.
  • by PixieDust (971386) on Monday April 30, 2007 @05:28PM (#18934177)
    Now, that said, I have to say this makes Linux far more attractive to me. That is an absurd amount of work for one person to do, and given that the hard work is done, I'm (hoping) sure that others will pick it up, and keep it going, tweaking, adding functionality. That is the beauty of Open Source.

    I've long said usability is what has kept Linux from becoming a mainstream desktop (read: PC) OS. People like me (and I'm actually a Server Admin, mostly Windows servers, though I'm responsible for helping to maintain some Unix servers as well) who aren't n00bs by any means, but still find Linux to be fairly daunting in some respects (though it has made impressive strides over the last few years, Ubuntu, Slackware, and Suse spring immediately to mind, though my own preferred flavor is Gentoo). Why spend an enormous amount of time, and effort, and still have problems, when I could just install Windows, and go? This is a giant (imho) leap forward for Linux. Little things like this that seem arbitrary, or perhaps even superfulous, are EXACTLY the kind of efforts that the world of Linux needs.

    Coming from a "die-hard" MS fan, I hope this stands out to someone. I've nothing against *nix, in fact I love my Unix servers, but as an everyday use OS, it leaves much to be desired. Now, it leaves one less thing. Die hard webcam driver making guru, I salute you.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      aren't n00bs by any means, but still find Linux to be fairly daunting in some respects.....my own preferred flavor is Gentoo

      If you find it daunting, it's not Linux, it's Gentoo. I loved Gentoo for a long time, but I got sick of fixing obscure compile-time errors, and am now happy on a customized Kubuntu. I always have the option of compiling from scratch, but it's no longer required, which eliminates a good 80% of my Linux problems right there.

      And by the way, this is not new. This driver, maybe -- and I d

  • by thib_gc (730259) on Monday April 30, 2007 @05:43PM (#18934337)
    The article and the summary say that this guy is a physician, but he isn't. He's a physicist. The French word for physicist is physicien. Apparently someone got their words mixed up (but that's okay because they also appear to have their digits mixed up anyway).
  • by the Hewster (734122) on Monday April 30, 2007 @06:46PM (#18935001)
    I have to applaud this person for the huge work he has done to support all these webcams under Linux. However, from what I could tell from a quick google search, he seems to be one of these developpers who write GPL drivers for Linux (also GPL) but then refuse to have them included in the mainline kernel for some mystical reason.
    This situation really makes me sad because thousands, perhaps millions of people could have their webcam "just work" out of the box, but instead, they have to do all sorts of voodoo magic (look on google, find the package, compile it, patch source etc.). Statistically, a percentage of these people will spend a lot of time getting it to work, some people will fail to make it work and some won't even bother. What a waste.
    The worst part of it is that the driver, being GPL, could be included legally without the autor's consent however, this would risk alienating this valuable developper. Imagine if the people developping drivers for motherboard chipsets had the same attitude and what that would do to the usability of Linux.
    So please, Michel Xhaard, do a huge favor to the whole Free software comunity at little or no cost to yourself and get that driver in mainline.
    • [...]instead, they have to do all sorts of voodoo magic[...]

      Man, tell me about it. I'm still exhausted from typing "emerge gspcav1 [gentoo.org]"...Glad I'm not using Ubuntu, or I'd have to do about twice as much work! ("gspcav1" being much shorter to type than "gspca-source [ubuntu.com]"...)

      Okay, in fairness, it actually was kind of a pain finding this package in the first place, but other than that, the three different types of webcams I have floating around all DO seem to "just work" with it. And don't let the "2.6.19" thing o

    • 'he seems to be one of these developpers who write GPL drivers for Linux (also GPL) but then refuse to have them included in the mainline kernel for some mystical reason'

      Well I emailed him and got this reply:

      'It is not "mystical reason", but a physical one: The mainline kernel did not allow video decompression. Gspca decompress the video in the kernel'
  • by Qbertino (265505) on Monday April 30, 2007 @06:46PM (#18935003)
    This is a business model waiting to bring in the big bucks. Get some VC, some quality hardware people and have this guy join the team. Make good, true x-plattform cams. Profit.

    A man with an asset like the knowlege he has is a gold mine when treated the right way.
  • by dogwelder99 (896835) on Monday April 30, 2007 @07:39PM (#18935493)
    Anyone else start to hear the movie trailer guy's voice reading the summary?

    In a world of drivers gone mad... one man with drive, tenacity, and no funding does what no one else can do...
  • by SoopahMan (706062) on Monday April 30, 2007 @08:20PM (#18935837)
    In other news: French physician sets record with 352 online girlfriends. "I just really like a good web strip tease," said the Frenchman.

    Seriously though, bravo to the guy for improving driver support in Linux, it's more or less the one big lacking Linux needs to overcome.

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