Dependence on non-free drivers

The effort to create a more beautiful effort is moving us quickly into a situation where the future desktop depends on hardware acceleration provided from the graphics card. The problem is that while 2D drivers are available as free software for the most part, the major graphics cards makers keep their 3D drivers closed. If you wanted good 3D acceleration under Linux the non-free NVidia and ATI drivers has been the way to go for a long time now.

So adding a ‘hard’ dependency on 3d hardware acceleration will implicitly mean we are basing our free desktop on non-free drivers feels like a step backwards. On the other side I don’t feel not going down the route of making our solution more visually appealing and hopefully also more usable is a viable option either, so I am not suggesting that these efforts gets rejected or stopped.

Hopefully the increased use of 3D will also lead to increased interest among free software developers to actually make free 3D drivers (and thus finding enough resources to overcome the difficulty of reverse engineering current cards) or that the increased use of 3d will increase the pressure from distribution makers and consumers to get ATI and NVidia to open their drivers. Anyway I hope I am wrong to be a bit worried about how this ends up and instead this leads to a big increase in contributions to things like MesaGL

11 thoughts on “Dependence on non-free drivers

  1. Not to mention that it ties gnome even harder to Linux only. The free BSDs don’t even have the proprietary drivers. But sadly, I doubt most people in the Gnome community will care about that.

  2. HE: this is optional, it doesn’t tie Gnome to anything, you can still use metacity on the BSDs (btw: FreeBSD has binary drivers too, at least for nvidia’s cards).

  3. You lost any moral authority to lecture others on Free/non-Free issues when you and your fellow hypocrites at Fluendo sold out to the DRM crowd. Kindly have the decency not to pretend otherwise.

  4. I still don’t see why ATi and nVidia don’t even open up card specs.. I can sort of vaguely see that they have an excuse for closed drivers, but specs.. :-/

  5. Christian,

    One of our X guys wanted me to tell you that Mesa can not be called MesaGL due to the fact that it often does not pass the GL conformance tests and the OpenGL working group has been a stickler on what you can call GL.


    Just because one is pragmatic does not mean they do not think the world should be using open source. It just means they know they are not going to get the world to use open source by being dogmatic. I bet Fluendo has done more for the proliferation of open formats than you will have done in a lifetime.

  6. njs: You thinks we have it hard with Nvidia and Ati, at least they produce reasonable drivers. Try getting 3D support (or hardware specs) out of Sis, blood from a stone seems easy by comparison.

    Actually, that’s something an OS Company could do for us (Novell, Red Hat, I mean you), go ban on hardware manufacturer’s doors, and get some spec sheets out, starting with Sis (yes I have an Mirage chipset, and yes I’m bitter at not having OpenGL, so what?).


    P.S: I’m already writing a driver for the trident cyberblade (first driver, it’s true, but I got my hands on a spec sheet and figured what the heck, give it a go…), so yes, I would be willing to scratch my itch my self if given the docs…

  7. Just because one is pragmatic does not mean they do not think the world should be using open source.

    You call it pragmatic. I call it hypocrisy… especially in the light of his previous articles on the use of the term “open source”.

    I bet Fluendo has done more for the proliferation of open formats than you will have done in a lifetime.

    They’ve certainly done more to promote the spread of DRM by building it into the previously *Free* GStreamer. Though I’m not surprised to find you disagreeing, since Red Hat is busy whoring itself out to IBM to build a code-signed Linux system based on TCPA hardware (just the kind of DRM system that gives Christian Schaller wet dreams… see his previous blog post about “kernel work” to support his DRM dreams)… Just what is Red Hat’s corporate position on the use of the GPL v3 for the Linux kernel?

  8. I don’t see any hard deps on non-free drivers here. I’m running accelerated 3d on my ATI 9250 just fine with the free driver, and I hear that acceleration for newer (r300) ATI boards is in the pipeline. I’ve not seen any features required for any of these nice new technologies that my 9250 won’t handle.

    Maybe the proprietary drivers offer better performance, but it’s not worth it to me. I’ve tried to install proprietary drivers on Linux a couple times, and never gotten them to work very well. Why bother, for an imperceptible gain, or a possibly significant gain for 3d games I don’t play?

    So, sure, you *can* run these nifty new programs with proprietary drivers, but that’s been true for ages. Remember when RedHat used to ship MetroX?

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