Dirk Hohndel is an outspoken critic of how the kernel community is
currently dealing with uncooperative hardware vendors; his LCE talk on this
subject was recently
. As the leader of the session on hardware support, Dirk repeated
some of his points, made some new ones, and set the stage for a major
The session started with a report from John Linville, the wireless
networking stack maintainer. The now-famous reverse-engineered ath5k
driver for Atheros chipsets is in progress, though it does not yet work
reliably for all hardware. There are, he says, going to be some
interesting developments with this software in the near future.
The only vendor who is putting any sort of development effort into free
drivers is Intel, unfortunately. There are occasional process difficulties
with Intel's developers, but as a whole, things are going reasonably well. One
remaining big issue is regulatory compliance. Until the regulatory
situation eases, a number of vendors will continue not to cooperate with
the Linux community.
David Airlie talked about video drivers. The Nouveau project continues to
work on a reverse-engineered driver for NVidia chipsets, but progress is
very slow. Some chips can run glxgears, most cannot. There is a new
memory management module which needs to get into the mainline before a
number of tasks (texturing, in particular) can be addressed. On the other
hand, 2D support is getting better than the current (free) nv driver, at
least some of the time. There are, it seems, a vast number of per-card
tweaks which must be applied, and those are still being discovered. The
Nouveau driver is probably still a full year away from being usable.
On the ATI front, the Avivo effort has achieved decent 2D support, but no
3D so far. There is also some conversations happening with Via which could
result, someday, in better support for those chipsets.
AMD manager Chris Schlaeger was then challenged to "give us some good
news." According to Chris, Linux is very important to AMD; the company
believes that the Opteron processor would not have been anywhere near as
successful without Linux support. The company's future plans lead to an
interesting problem, though. The "Fusion" product line will feature a
central processor and a graphics processor on the same die. Continuing to
support free software on the CPU while keeping the GPU closed leads to all
sorts of contradictions; it's really not an option. So, to avoid losing
Linux support altogether, AMD has made an important decision.
Starting with the R500 chipset and going forward, AMD will fully support
free drivers for all of its graphics processors. This support will
not take the form of a release of the current proprietary ATI
driver; that code is not considered to be something that anybody would
really want to look at. So there will be a clean start. AMD will release
specifications and a skeleton driver with the plan to have 2D support
working by the end of the year. The company is clearly hoping that the
community will do much of the work on the driver, but it also plans to
participate actively in the process. If AMD follows through - and there is no real
reason to believe that it will not - then driver problems for AMD/ATI
chipsets will soon be a distant memory.
Dirk then stood up to talk about the problems faced by companies which try
to work with the community; this talk repeated much of the material from his LCE presentation. What was
different was that, for this audience, Dirk asked the development community
to push back harder against recalcitrant vendors. We might not want to ban
binary-only modules altogether, but we should increase the amount of pain
associated with maintaining those modules. It is time to actively make
life hard for binary-only vendors.
A fear was expressed that such a policy might drive away vendors
altogether. Dirk responded that, in the current market, walking away from
Linux is no longer an option. Vendors have to work with Linux in one way
or another. Another developer suggested that making things harder would
mostly succeed in upsetting users. According to Dirk, that is part of
creating pain for the vendors; upset users will eventually move to hardware
which presents fewer problems.
The amount of sympathy for this idea varied; some developers would rather
work in making life easier for cooperative companies. The idea of making
it easier to integrate drivers into the mainline was raised again.
In the final moments of this session, Bdale Garbee stated that,
increasingly, HP is pushing its suppliers for components which are
supported by free software. Intel, too, is doing that. According to
Bdale, vendors need to hear one thing clearly: the days of selling closed
hardware are coming to an end, soon. Such words were well received in this
room, to say the least.
The next session covered a related topic: how the x86 architecture is to be
supported in the future. In particular, the idea of merging the i386 and x86_64
architecture trees was on the agenda. Much of the discussion followed
the lines of LWN's previous coverage of the topic, so it won't be repeated
It did take some time to cover that ground again, though, before Linus made
a pronouncement: the current 32-bit/64-bit split does not work, and he
intends to merge the patch joining the two architectures regardless of what
maintainer Andi Kleen thinks. Andi replied that this can certainly be
done, but that a new maintainer would have to be found for the combined
architecture; one hopes that he does not follow through with that statement. Almost everybody else was behind the idea, though, with the
PowerPC and S/390 developers talking about what a big win it had been for
them. So this merger would appear to be a done deal; the only open
question is whether it can be ready in time for the 2.6.24 merge window.
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