Various discussions on the problems associated with binary-only kernel
modules have turned, sooner or later, to the same idea: the world needs a
database of hardware which "just works" with Linux. With this database,
consumers (that's us) could look up potential hardware purchases and know,
immediately, whether it would function with our Linux systems or not.
Vendors would eventually see the value of being listed in this database
and, as a result, have a greater motivation to ensure that their hardware
It's a nice idea, but not a particularly new one. Your editor has seen a
fair number of these databases come and go over the last ten years.
Starting a "just works" database is easy, but keeping it current and
relevant is hard, for a number of reasons:
- The variety of hardware out there is huge. Simply testing and
creating entries for a meaningful subset of the available gadgets is a
- Vendors feel free to change the internal makeup of their gadgets
without telling anybody - or changing the model number. The changes
in the LinkSys WRT54G router are a recent example. This behavior
complicates the database (which must now have information on telling
working hardware from paperweights) - and its maintenance.
- Nobody can actually have all that hardware around, so information must
come from a wide community. Most of us only buy hardware
sporadically, so we tend to have little motivation to help with the
ongoing maintenance of a hardware database. Some of the information
which is contributed may also be of dubious reliability.
- Companies which might help with the maintenance of such a database
have their own incentives to deal with. Red Hat maintains a hardware
list, for example, but it (1) is small, and (2) talks
about RHEL, not about Linux in general. The company once known as
Linuxcare had the proper motivation to maintain a good list, but,
well, Linuxcare didn't weather the dotcom bust very well.
- Weird factors come into play. The BlueZ project used to have a very
nice list of working hardware, but that list
was pulled down as a result of objections from the "Bluetooth
Any future attempt to build a Linux hardware compatibility database will
have to find a way to overcome the problems listed above. The task is not
impossible, but it may well beyond what a volunteer project can sustain.
It looks, instead, like the kind of work which can be helped by the
addition of a stream of money. Perhaps an industry group (OSDL, say) would
like to serve the community by taking this task on.
Meanwhile, your editor notes with dismay an increase in the number of
Linux-installed hardware vendors who are shipping systems with proprietary
drivers. Once upon a time, the purchase of a system with Linux
pre-installed was worth the extra cost just because the running Linux
instance was a positive proof that the hardware was, indeed, supported.
When these vendors ship non-free "Linux" systems, they violate that
guarantee - and destroy much of the value of their product. Unfortunately,
"buyer beware" remains necessary advice for those buying hardware to work
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