Linux

Linux kernel developers protest proprietary drivers

It seems like there's a lot of movin' and shakin' going on in open source this week. People may continue to debate the usability of Linux on corporate desktops for awhile yet, but there's clearly a lot of exciting things going on in all corners of the Linux world.

On June 23, 2008, the kernel development community issued a statement on closed source drivers and modules. The official statement can be found at the Linux Foundation. According to heise online:

The group includes such well known names in the Linux world as Greg Kroah-Hartman, Alan Cox, Andrew Morton, James Bottomley, Adrian Bunk, Arjan van de Ven and Ingo Molnar, all of whom feel that closed source drivers that the kernel loads at run time are undesired and detrimental....

In addition to the security problems caused by inaccessible source code, the developers mainly emphasise the open source principle. They feel that closed source drivers take away the freedom and benefits that Linux offers users as open source.

Just from my own limited experience trying to install and work with Linux, trying to get working drivers for sound and video was the thing that just made me want to chuck it out the window. Do you think this concerted effort of developers will spark any changes?

Meanwhile, ZDNet blogger Paula Rooney wonders what effect the departure of Bill Gates will have on Microsoft's attitude toward open source. She quotes one executive of the Linux Foundation:

"That depends on Ballmer and Ozzie and the results of what I imagine are some interesting debates internally. There is no doubt that Microsoft has no choice but to acknowledge that the closed development model for building software doesn't work any more," said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation. "The future of cloud computing and Web 2.0 application development will be built on Linux and open source."

And finally, in the Financial Times of London, contributor Richard Waters writes that the "linux revolution's" big loser is Sun Microsystems:

By the time Sun gave up and converted Solaris to an open-source model, a large share of the server market had already switched to Linux.

Waters also thinks that Google's backing for Linux in the mobile arena will make it a serious competitor. It seems to me, that even without Google, Linux has been making big strides in mobile and UMPC markets. Micro-Star International just announced that it will be pre-loading SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop on its low-cost mini-notebooks -- the Wind Notebook -- with Intel's Atom processors.

 

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Selena has been at TechRepublic since 2002. She is currently a Senior Editor with a background in technical writing, editing, and research. She edits Data Center, Linux and Open Source, Apple in the Enterprise, The Enterprise Cloud, Web Designer, and...

5 comments
nwoodson
nwoodson

If companies want us to use their devices why not publish drivers? Yes, it's more trouble to produce multiple versions, but look at the animosity the current situation creates. Personally, I'd like everyone to be like HP (and I don't even like HP). They update their Linux drivers frequently so you can use current equipment. I know it costs development dollars, but it keeps the market quiet and happy. I even moved to HP printers for just that reason so it could be a good market move for others to follow suit...an expanded customer base is supposed to be a good thing I thought.

Jaqui
Jaqui

that Linus Torvalds isn't among the group moaning about proprietary drivers. This issue came up in the furor before the release of the GNU-GPL V3. Linus explicitly stated that as long as they are making drivers for linux he will use then, if there is no open source driver available. The kernel itself will never adopt V3 of the GNU-GPL, in part because it would prohibit including proprietary drivers. I tend to agree with Linus, if there isn't an open source driver, then I'll use a proprietary driver. Fortunately, none of my systems requires a proprietary driver. [ NVidia's open source driver works just about as well as their proprietary one, only a few features not implemented in the kernel nv module. which doesn't bother me, since I don't really need the features it does implement. ]

jlwallen
jlwallen

here's how i feel: if proprietary drivers means more support for more cards - i'm all for it. but if those proprietary drivers cause kernel crashes (like i've seen many times) or those proprietary drivers are less-than-acceptable, then i'm all against it. i have had installations where the closed drivers were the only thing that worked. and on different installations i have had those same drivers crash the machine left and right. so, in a nutshell, if a company can come up with GOOD closed drivers than fine. if not - then open them up and let the linux community have at the specs so they can create good drivers.

alexpaton1969
alexpaton1969

I agree that it can be a major problem, particularly with generic graphics cards. I am never inclined to pay double to get a 'genuine' nvidia card and of course this means i can suffer very bizarre problems when I use their drivers, even though the card is essentially the same and has one of their chips on it. Maybe we should all contact the major manufacturers and ask for open source drivers. I wouldn't care if they continued to develop fuller featured drivers that were closed source.

seanferd
seanferd

but I don't feel it is a personal requirement for the drivers to be open. Sure, there would be benefits to having them open, security being just one. If the vendors of proprietary drivers would publish enough info so that someone could more easily develop their own open version, that would be fine also, as far as getting drivers that work. Interestingly, when I was using older desktop machines, I had fewer trouble with drivers when installing Linux than when installing Windows. Seems like, once the open source community nails a driver down, they are able to write very good drivers. Of course, most people want new drivers for their brand new hardware right now, so this doesn't help many users, but I do think it shows that the community can do very well with little information. A bit more info, and open drivers could be available very shortly after a bit of hardware is released.