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Newsforge: Linux Hardware Support

Sep 15, 2000, 12:50 (11 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Jeff Field)

"There are thousands of devices, in millions of combinations, available for use in a PC. Almost all of these devices are targeted primarily towards Windows, and while many are supported by Linux, a lot of them use drivers developed by third parties who do not have full access to hardware data and must therefore reverse engineer hardware in order to gain support for it. This grassroots hardware effort is similar to the development of the entirety of Linux, except that Linux didn't have to deal with so many unknowns."

"The problem is when manufacturers don't want to have open standards or don't even want to open the specifications on their hardware. Some companies go as far as to try to circumvent the Linux license, such as NVidia, who at one point released an "Open Source driver" that was not human readable, essentially defeating the purpose of Open Source. Now, while not doing that, they only have a binary driver available, making it difficult to distribute the driver with a Linux distribution, since the source code would not be available. Presumably NVidia does this to prevent competitors from reading their source code, in order to find out how their chips work. However, this also makes it more difficult for Linux users to take advantage of their hardware, since they have to use prebuilt drivers that may or may not work on their particular distribution."

"On the opposite side of the spectrum, NVidia competitor 3DFX has embraced open source, releasing both their drivers and their Glide 3D API as open source, making it extremely easy for the 3DFX drivers to be integrated into a distribution. However, 3DFX has another problem -- their latest cards, the Voodoo5s, do not have full Linux drivers available for download. There are beta drivers, but they only use one of the CPUs and do not support FSAA, essentially turning the Voodoo5 into a Voodoo3 with 32-bit texture support and more RAM. This idea of supporting Linux, but only to a minimal extent, is also not acceptable."

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