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Announcements Software Linux

Linux Kernel Devs Offer Free Driver Development 348

schwaang writes "Linux Kernel hacker Greg Kroah-Hartman, author of Linux Kernel in a Nutshell has posted an epic announcement on his blog. This could portend increased device compatibility for Linux users, higher-quality drivers, and fewer non-free binary blobs." From the announcement: "[T]he Linux kernel community is offering all companies free Linux driver development... All that is needed is some kind of specification that describes how your device works, or the email address of an engineer that is willing to answer questions every once in a while. If your company is worried about NDA issues surrounding your device's specifications, we have arranged a program... in order to properly assure that all needed NDA requirements are fulfilled. Now your developers will have more time to work on drivers for all of the other operating systems out there, and you can add 'supported on Linux' to your product's marketing material."
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Linux Kernel Devs Offer Free Driver Development

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  • How many (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Magada ( 741361 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @08:45AM (#17812220) Journal
    I wonder how many companies will be imprudent/progressive enough to take up this offer.
  • by battery111 ( 620778 ) <{battery111} {at} {gmail.com}> on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @08:46AM (#17812226)
    Seems like a good idea, but it also seems like it would give the device manufacturers an out. "I'm sorry, but we don't officially support the linux operating system". This way they get drivers written for them for free, and don't need to provide any tech support for the device to those users who purchase it for linux. Anyone else see this happening?
  • Hardware ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rastignac ( 1014569 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @08:47AM (#17812234)
    "All that is needed is some kind of specification that describes how your device works". They also need some real hardware to test the brand new written drivers. Specifications are not enough. Who will test the real hardware with the fresh drivers in a real-world operation ?
  • Dedicated (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pzs ( 857406 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @08:49AM (#17812250)
    Whatever you might say about the Linux community - that it is elitist or sanctimonious or whatever - it is impossible to ignore their commitment to what they believe in. That somebody would be willing to write device drivers for nothing, apparently just to forward the cause of a free operating system, is pretty impressive. Microsoft and Apple can match this devotion only in the ferocity with which they defend their control over their customers, in anti-trust trials and by imposing DRM.

  • This is needed (Score:5, Insightful)

    by camcorder ( 759720 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @08:50AM (#17812264)
    I think this kind of action, and offer for help is needed by companies. I hope it will be touted enough. What I know is that, companies having really hard times finding skilled coders for developing Linux drivers. Most of them does not care about the specifications, as they have already patents pending for their works, but they can't actually find people to code for Linux and/or they don't willing to pay more than Windows developers for Linux developers for a smaller market.
  • by ricebowl ( 999467 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @08:55AM (#17812298)

    It might give the device manufacturers an out but, more importantly, won't it equally give the Linux family an 'in'?

    The point isn't, so far as I can see, to make any profit from the scheme other than to spread the word of Linux and increase the potential compatibilities/reduce the incompatibilities.

    Plus, as a bonus for the device driver writers, it's an impressive CV when you consider the varieties of hardware that are supported by the various Linux distros and the work, and potential elegance, that goes into solving the various demands.

    It seems win-win for everyone, really. And a good, and generous, idea.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @08:58AM (#17812340)
    Is this any different from what Theo De Raadt (from OpenBSD) and others were implying? The only exception being that they believe in 'True, Open Source Software & Documentation' without license or other restrictions, and no accepting ridiculous NDA's for just 'documentation' - hence the BSD license and OpenBSD's goal(s). In the end, Linux will be half OSS half NOT, with NDA's up the wazzo and a huge mess. I used both for now, but personally, I'll stick with OSS as it was originally meant to be. Even Linus Torvalds is losing control of his original ideology too.
  • Re:Wonderful (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nasarius ( 593729 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @09:02AM (#17812360)

    (hardware compatibility that could rival Windows and/or Mac OSX)
    Hmmm? Linux already supports more hardware out of the box than Windows does. I'm not talking ancient SCSI cards either; I mean components like an onboard Intel PRO 10/100 NIC from a few years ago that requires an extra driver on XP SP2, but works automagically with e100 on Linux. The only segment where Linux falls down is on very new hardware.
  • Re:Wonderful (Score:4, Insightful)

    by keean ( 824435 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @09:10AM (#17812426)
    Except Linux has supported _more_ devices than any version of Microsoft-windows for some time now. Okay so most of those drivers are for older hardware that is no longer supported by new versions of Microsoft-windows... but that doesn't change the facts. You need to qualify your statement, and say what you mean. I guess something like "Microsoft Windows gets support for some new devices more quickly than Linux"... thats about it. I am not even sure there is any truth to OSX supporting more of anything than Linux, Apple-mac hardware is all the same after all.

    Infact Linux supports more devices that any other operating system ever... and thats one of the advantages of open-source kernel drivers... they are maintained with the Kernel, so they remain usable through kernel architecture changes with zero effort from the original contributer of the device-driver. I am sure Microsoft would love to do this with windows, but of course they cannot, as they don't have the source code to the drivers they did not write themselves.

  • by Alain Williams ( 2972 ) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @09:13AM (#17812444) Homepage
    The Kernel code will be publically visible, so how is ''confidentiality'' maintained ? The only ways that I can think that this will be done are:
    1. Uncommented Kernel code - Yuck!
    2. Spaghetti/obscured Kernel code - Yuck!
    3. Binary blobs in the Kernel - Yuck!
  • Re:How many (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Magada ( 741361 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @09:14AM (#17812452) Journal
    Widgets, yes. But video cards?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @09:14AM (#17812456)
    Not if Linux devs will be signing NDAs. They'll have the info, they'll code up something for linux which works, but everyone else who develops a Free/Open OS will have to fight the battle all over again -- if not be told "Why not use linux? we helped with drivers for THAT!"
  • by flithm ( 756019 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @09:27AM (#17812582) Homepage
    Other than the public announcement, how is this any different from the way things already work?

    Actually this really is something new, and quite an announcement. It was never the case before that any old random driver would get created by the open source community. The way OSS development generally works is there has to be a strong need, strong backing, or a high fun factor, for things to get done.

    Prior to this announcement it's not like there was a group of people dedicated to writing drivers -- just waiting for companies to release new hardware, then they'd scurry to reverse engineer it and write a driver. Nor do companies (generally) release hardware specs in the hopes that others will provide a driver for their product.

    A significant portion of initial open source driver development comes from the device manufacturers themselves, and smaller companies without the resources to spearhead these developments simply don't have the ability to have Linux support.

    Your conception that "The community already writes free drivers for vendors who provide specs and loan some hardware" isn't true in the vast majority of cases.

    This really is a big change, because now anyone can create a hardware device and actually have formal linux support, and have this printed on the box. This creates a formal avenue for companies to easily, reliably, and cheaply have Linux support for their products.
  • by Speed Pour ( 1051122 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @09:32AM (#17812614)
    Sure it'll happen, of course there are companies that will be eager to treat this as a freebie...But who cares? Even a few of the companies that "support" linux aren't all that serious about it half of the time. The burden of support falls on the linux community in the end anyway. At least with an offer like this, it might encourage companies to assign one or two people to lend a hand with keeping the devices supported with the community in creating the drivers, and the support, like normal, will still end up in forums.

    In case nobody has noticed, most companies don't do support all that well even under windows. Hey, at the end of the day, as long as the drivers are open sourced, it's better than having binaries that may never see an update.

    I say three cheers to a great and honest effort!
  • by david.given ( 6740 ) <dg@@@cowlark...com> on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @09:36AM (#17812648) Homepage Journal

    The point isn't, so far as I can see, to make any profit from the scheme other than to spread the word of Linux and increase the potential compatibilities/reduce the incompatibilities.

    In fact, this is how it's always worked --- people have been asking companies for device information for years. (I did, once; I wanted the specs for a SIM reader device so I could do a Linux driver. Did I get a response? Did I hell.) The only difference is that this announcement rephrases things in a rather more marketspeak and official manner. Instead of the companies doing us a favour, by providing hardware specs, we are now doing them a favour, by writing their drivers for them.

    It's a rather neat bit of lateral thinking.

  • Re:Wonderful (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kestasjk ( 933987 ) * on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @09:41AM (#17812674) Homepage
    No-one seems to have commented on the fact that if NDA requirements are met the drivers cannot be open source. This doesn't mean fewer binary blobs, it means more.

    And what about Vista's new requirement that all hardware mustn't be compromised by hackers or else the drivers will be remotely disabled? Might a company which produced hardware which is part of the DRM stack risk being more likely to be seen as compromised if it has collaborated with the OSS community?
  • by MooUK ( 905450 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @09:48AM (#17812728)
    There are huge advantages to going the driver route rather than wrappers for windows drivers. For a start, the community can update any open drivers, whereas they cannot touch closed windows drivers. There are many to whom open drivers over closed ones is a big deal.
  • by zootm ( 850416 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @09:52AM (#17812764)

    Another way of looking at it would be as formalising the rule that "if you give us specifications, the driver will get written". A lot of the problems with free software drivers is lack of information on how a device works; if this makes it better known that all they have to do is provide some specification, it might encourage companies to submit more of them, and encourage customers to ask people to submit more of them.

  • Re:How many (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BecomingLumberg ( 949374 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @10:00AM (#17812862)
    True enough. I think desktop hardware is going to be key - if Linux is going to become a viable alternative for the girlfriend, then the hardware has to 'just work'. Offering free driver dev is a big step in the right direction. Once we have a 'just works' solution that is free (as in beer), I think we will see a larger pool of converts. Also, if this program takes off, companies seeing the benefits of including the Linux community may initiate projects for to be release products, allowing Linux to stay more up to date with cutting edge software - another big win.
  • by Lazerf4rt ( 969888 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @10:09AM (#17812950)

    how close are we to being able to specify a standard driver model, with compatibility across operating systems?

    Sorry if I sound pedantic, but we are already "able" to specify a standard driver model. I can specify one right now: the Linux driver model. It's pretty well-documented; just check out "Linux Kernel In a Nutshell" or "Linux Device Drivers" or the Linux kernel source.

    Specifying one is not a problem. It's getting OS developers to adopt it that's a problem. Microsoft obviously isn't going to adopt Linux' driver model since they have so much invested in their own. Linux can't adopt Microsoft's because it's proprietary. Most of the reasons are political.

    But there are also technical reasons. With a common driver model, you would force every OS to adopt a layer of abstraction or API which they might not want to have. Every layer of API inserted into a system adds overhead and degrades performance. No other OS would have a chance of kicking the ass of any other OS, performance-wise. In fact the performance advantage would go to the OS which the standard was most closely based on. Therefore, no OS wants to adopt any other OS' native model - they would only do a worse job of it by comparison.

  • Re:Dedicated (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @10:32AM (#17813218)

    putting words into peoples mouths and basically calling anyone that doesn't use linux a "dumb slave"(while maybe not in those words, the insinuation is there)

    Oh the irony. He didn't 'call' you anything. He said that the only commitment that Apple and Microsoft can match against the effort put in by Linux coders is the time they spend trying to control their customers and limit their choices. A pointed argument that strikes right to the heart of the current DRM situation that mainstream computing in heading for (Apple and Microsoft being both enthusiastic proponents of Trusted Computing DRM), but this is certainly open to discussion. You, though, invented an entire subtext... and imagined him saying vast tracts of stuff about how you, personally, are a slave.

    He didn't say anything of the sort. I, on the other hand, have no problem at all in calling you a fucking moron who can't read.

  • Re:How many (Score:5, Insightful)

    by frisket ( 149522 ) <peter@[ ]maril.ie ['sil' in gap]> on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @10:44AM (#17813354) Homepage
    That misses the point. A very large number of Linux users are in the position where they are consulted by others about what devices to buy. The availability of devices which will work with Linux increases a company's exposure to all kinds of user, not just Linux users.

    Companies worried about IP issues should ask themselves if they are in the hardware business or the software business. If their objective is to sell more gizzmos, then opening the API to developers is an excellent way to sell more product.

    If a company is concerned about the number of questions they'll be asked by the developers, then (a) they don't know the software business, and (b) they should take a long, hard look at the quality of their documentation.

    The biggest problem is that many companies are already making so much from selling their gizzmos to Windows users not to need to sell them to Mac or Linux users as well, even though it takes no significant effort to do so. The extra profit, even at virtually 100% per unit) simply isn't attractive.

  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @11:08AM (#17813672) Journal
    Not really. No one actually uses OpenFirmware drivers much past boot time if they can avoid it. A better example would be I2O [wikipedia.org], which proposed a split driver model. Half of the driver would be hardware-specific, and half would be OS-specific. For a graphics card, for example, the OS would load a hardware driver that would translate something like OpenGL into device commands, and an OS-specific driver that would translate whatever the native graphics API was into generic graphics API calls.

    Xen implements something like this for block and network devices, and the USB and Bluetooth specifications do something similar for a few categories of device. The problem comes with things like GPUs where each new generation provides some extra functionality that the last one didn't; you'd need to constantly update your driver model to work with the new functionality. It's not impossible, but it does require a standards body that can quickly specify interfaces to the new functionality, which is quite improbably.

  • Re:Wonderful (Score:3, Insightful)

    by scotch ( 102596 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @11:09AM (#17813688) Homepage
    I'm confused, is it Ubuntu that is writing wireless NIC drivers, or is it projects like Madwifi?
  • Re:How many (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Minwee ( 522556 ) <dcr@neverwhen.org> on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @11:22AM (#17813894) Homepage

    On the other hand, working with a competitor to Microsoft may not be a wise strategic decision.

    "Hi, good to see you again. I heard about how you were working with those Linux guys on giving away free drivers for your new card. That's a great move. But that has nothing to do with what I wanted to tell you, which was that there was an accident in the Vista certification lab and we lost the drivers you sent us. Until we can get a fix pushed out for this that means that everybody who buys your product from now on will be told that it has absolutely no support and that even if they download something directly from you it will be flagged as foreign code and won't run. The guys in the lab are really broken up about it and can't figure out how that kind of mistake could happen. Don't worry though, we'll get everything straightened out in the next big service pack. Honest."

  • Re:How many (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @11:36AM (#17814128) Homepage
    Nope. I would still rather have those cycles for computing
    things I want done rather than supporting some lame hardware
    vendor's attempt to save 5 cents on some bit of hardware.

    Intellegence in peripherals should be expanding outwards
    rather than shrinking. The former aids parallelism and the
    latter sabotages it.
  • Re:How many (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @11:45AM (#17814278) Homepage
    That 5% share number is quite misleading.

    That just tells you how Linux users compare
    to the vast wasteland of lumps that may not
    necessarily buy anything ever again once
    they've gotten their low priced Dell bundle.

    For many classes of hardware, 3D cards even,
    diluting the Mac or Linux market share numbers
    by adding Joe Sixpack gives you a rather
    misleading impression.

    The "upgrade" market is certainly going to be
    incorrectly skewed by this effect.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @12:42PM (#17815112)
    Directly from the blog:

    ...we have arranged a program with OSDL/TLF's Tech Board to provide the legal framework where a company can interact with a member of the kernel community in order to properly assure that all needed NDA requirements are fulfilled.
    If that's a joke, it's pretty dry. It's exactly the guarantee that some companies might need in order for "how it's always worked" to work for them.

    Hopefully we'll see a corresponding announcement by TLF to clear up any doubt.
  • Re:How many (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Doug Lim ( 74538 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @03:27PM (#17817868)
    Except the sorts of things that rely on the host PC for all/most of their processing (Winprinters/Winmodems), aren't limited by the host PC's CPU. If you've got a Winmodem, doubling the host PCs CPU speed doesn't double performance. If you've got a Winprinter that does 8 PPM, getting a faster host PC CPU doesn't mean that you'll start getting 10 PPM as printer performance is limited by how fast you can physically feed paper or how fast you can get the print head to traverse the page.

    If a peripheral is taxing the host CPU enough that upgrading the CPU will increase the performance on that peripheral, it's already taking up too much of the host CPUs time.
  • Re:Extortion (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @03:56PM (#17818260)
    Like that wasn't one of the most to-the-point comments in this whole thread, and what happens...


    No wonder the DOJ gets laughed off...
  • People who fall into the trap of installing and using proprietary video card drivers then later discover that their video card (which still works fine) is no longer "supported" by the latest driver update would disagree with you that "Video cards are already well-supported by their manufacturers.".

    I believe this kind of thing happens [digitalcitizen.info] more than others know, particularly as GNU/Linux distributors that distribute proprietary software make it easier for users to acquire proprietary software (as I understand Ubuntu is working on). Users shouldn't be left without their software freedom, nor should they have to choose between updating their system kernel and using their video card.

    Making users helpless and keeping them separate is no way to live. Users need software freedom now.
  • Re:How many (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Schraegstrichpunkt ( 931443 ) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @03:28AM (#17824976) Homepage

    Video cards are already well-supported by their manufacturers.

    Be serious.

To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire