Linux Foundation points finger at Nvidia

The Linux Foundation has issued a statement, directed at Nvidia, calling for open drivers.

The Linux Foundation is trying to push Nvidia to make its graphics drivers more accessible. The Foundation's beef: closed drivers make Linux look unstable to end users.

Though a statement issued Monday does not cite Nvidia by name, Linux Foundation Technical Advisory Board Chair James Bottomley cited Nvidia in a phone interview. "My intent is to point out the problems Nvidia has been causing themselves with their binary-only (drivers)," he said. "They are certainly one of the few companies sticking to a binary-only strategy." Binary-only means the drivers are essentially closed.

"We...consider any closed-source Linux kernel module or driver to be harmful and undesirable," the official statement begins. "Vendors that provide closed-source kernel modules force their customers to give up key Linux advantages or choose new vendors."

But Bottomley gets much more specific than this. "Their (Nvidia's) binary module is one of the top causes of kernel crashes, which makes Linux look bad," he said.

"Nvidia does a reasonable job of Q-and-A-ing (quality assurance) of a certain number of configurations but the problem is that their configurations (are) a lot less than what's actually out there on the market," Bottomley said.

In the past, Intel had been the target of open-source advocates, but the chipmaker is now a leading open-source code provider. And graphics-chip supplier ATI Technologies, acquired in 2006 by Advanced Micro Devices, is open source too, Bottomley said. He did, however, cite some outstanding problems with an ATI "FireGL" driver.

"It's basically a reflection of the fact that graphics is one of the most complex and most difficult areas of technology that sits in a computer nowadays," he added.

Nvidia says it provides a high-quality Linux driver. "Nvidia supports Linux, as well as the Linux community and has long been praised for the quality of the Nvidia Linux driver," Nvidia said in a response to an e-mail query.

But the graphics chip maker defends its binary-only policy. "Nvidia's fully featured Linux graphics driver is provided as binary-only because it contains intellectual property Nvidia wishes to protect, both in hardware and in software," according to Nvidia.

"We try to make things open source whenever it makes sense," Nvidia said. The company cited examples here and here.

"To assume that customers won't have access to open-source updates from Linux kernel.org if they use closed source modules is not correct," Nvidia said. "Nvidia's Linux graphics driver kernel module is structured so that all the code that is Linux-specific is provided in source code as a 'kernel interface layer.' When customers upgrade their kernel to get the latest from kernel.org, they have everything they need to rebuild (and even patch, if necessary) the Nvidia's driver's kernel interface layer."

See: Linux developers petition for open Linux kernel drivers and ZDNet report here.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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