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Newsforge: Linux Hardware Support

“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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