AMD to help with open-source ATI Linux graphics

Company will release an open-source driver to improve Linux support for its ATI graphics cards and will help open-source programmers improve it.

Advanced Micro Devices will release open-source driver software to improve Linux support for its ATI graphics chips and is contributing help and funding to outside programmers who are improving the driver, according to a Linux graphics expert.

AMD is sharing specifications, releasing source code of one software component, and funding programmer work on the project, said Michael Larabel of the Phoronix site, which measures Linux performance. AMD is working with Novell's Suse Linux programmers on the project, he said.

An AMD representative told CNET that the company plans to release details later Thursday about its open-source driver strategy.

An open-source driver, though not as full-featured as the proprietary software the company already releases for Linux users, is a dramatic change for ATI and AMD. Historically, ATI has been cool at best on the idea of an open-source Linux driver. But proprietary drivers aren't just unpalatable to open-source purists; they also pose practical problems for software updates and other support issues.

In contrast, Intel began work on open-source graphics drivers for Linux in 2006. However, Nvidia, which like ATI chiefly sells standalone or "discrete" graphics chips, is still firmly in the proprietary camp.

Linux has reasonable support for 2D graphics, but 3D graphics are another story. That issue has come to a head with work to advance fancy desktop graphics on Linux.