The Best Kept Secret in Open Source?

Here’s a little test for you–quick, name the hardware vendor about which the following was said:

[their] commitment to providing high-quality drivers that meet the needs of the mobile Linux community is second to none.
–Matthew Garrett, Ubuntu Mobile Linux Engineer

I tend to suggest that… you buy [a machine] with [company’s] graphics and wireless. That takes care of the 2 biggest annoyances right there.
–Linus Torvalds

(See source at the end of this post)

If you said “AMD” then you’ve been reading too many press releases. While it’s nice that AMD appears to be making moves in the right direction with their ATI drivers, the fact remains that the only major vendor to release and fully support open source graphics and wireless drivers on Linux is… Intel. After speaking with Dirk Hohndel, Intel’s Chief Linux and Open Source Technologist, it begins to dawn on me that we enjoy the fruits of Intel’s labors, often without realizing it. While other vendors release binary blobs for their drivers, Intel has taken the total Open Source approach, with real working drivers available right now.

Perhaps lots of other people are well aware of Intel’s contributions and I’m the only one without a clue, but somehow I doubt it. For a quick rundown of Intel’s open source contributions, see this list, which I found at Matt Asay’s The Open Road blog:

  • EFI
  • moblin.org
  • Harmony
  • Linux kernel
  • Xen, KVM, UML
  • LinuxPowerTop.org
  • acpi.sourceforge.net
  • openWSMan.org
  • OpenAMT.org
  • LinuxUWB.org
  • LinuxFirmwareKit.org
  • IntelLinuxWireless.org
  • IntelLinuxGraphics.org
  • Mesa
  • X.org
  • LSB

We are also participating in many other communities like MySQL, Apache, Firefox, and gcc, to name just a few. There are many more. Our goal is to ensure that people using open-source software have a good experience when running it on Intel hardware, so we are touching many different projects.

That’s quite a list. I asked Dirk about making more noise about Intel’s Open Source efforts. He mentioned the fantastic relationships that they have with so many Open Source projects, and that it’s not in Intel’s interest to screw them up–and the last thing they want to do is make the developers feel that they’re doing Intel’s bidding.

While I can understand this, I can’t help but think that Intel is missing out a bit. Look at the goodwill that AMD has engendered with their recent announcements. While you could look at that as marketing fluff, I tend to think that the follow-up will be real. As I mentioned to Dirk, as long as you add real value to Open Source projects, no one can accuse you of marketing fluff. Thus, making a big deal out of Intel’s contributions is simply making sure that the facts are reported to a wider audience.

While I am forced to admit that there’s something refreshing about Intel’s understated approach, I tend to think that the correct balance could lean a bit more to the loudspeaker side–without going over the top or hyping vaporware. But what really struck me about this difference in opinion is how much our PR sensibilities are a manifestation of the size of company we work for–Dirk is at Intel, a major multi-zillion dollar corporation that spans the globe. In that context, making hay over something as piddling as moblin.org or some modules in the Linux kernel source repository would appear odd and out of place. In my case, I work at Hyperic, a systems management startup fighting for PR space in a growing market with a lot of action. In my world, you let no PR stone go unturned. So when I hear about the gobs of code churned out by Intel and the fact that Dirk’s group lets me run FlightGear at a good clip on my laptop, I’m naturally impressed and cannot understand why there isn’t more noise about it.

So, I’ll do my little part and hopefully more people will know about Intel’s Open Source graphics and wireless drivers. In the meantime, applaud AMD for moving in the right direction and hope they one day reach the point of matching Intel’s contributions.

* Source for quotes: Intel Developer Forum, 9/19/2007

For more of John Mark, visit his blog, There Is No Open Source Community.