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Update On Free Linux Driver Development 272

Posted by kdawson
from the i'll-have-one-with-sprinkles dept.
Remember the offer Greg Kroah-Hartman made earlier this year, to get Linux drivers written for free for any company that wanted them? Now an anonymous reader points us to an article up on linuxworld with an update to this program. Greg K-H, who leads the development of several kernel subsystems including USB and PCI, admits that the January offer was a bit of "marketing hype" — but says it has brought companies and developers together anyway. Twelve companies have said "yes please," one driver is already in the kernel, and five more are in the pipeline.
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Update On Free Linux Driver Development

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  • by timmarhy (659436) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @08:51PM (#19230603)
    if he did, good for him, if he didn't he just like every other lieing software house out there.
  • List? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Constantine XVI (880691) <trash...eighty+slashdot@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @08:55PM (#19230635)
    A list of the twelve companies, please?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CasperIV (1013029)
      The list of primary hardware is relatively short when you consider what is making real penetration. If the 12 that asked for drivers are any of the larger companies in the market, it could be a big deal. It would be like if Broadcom were to come to their door and ask for real drivers that work... that right there would cover most newer laptops.
    • Re:List? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Zoxed (676559) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @03:28AM (#19232995) Homepage
      > A list of the twelve companies, please?

      Maybe this is covered by the NDA mentioned in the article :-)

      (Us, no not us: we are a god fearing capitalist company: we would never deal with those commy GPL peeps !)
      • Re:List? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by rbanffy (584143) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @06:37AM (#19233935) Homepage Journal
        It's easy to imagine a Microsoft exec saying "Nice driver they made for your hardware. But it would be a shame if the device didn't work under Windows anymore, wouldn't it?"
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by ajs318 (655362)
          I've often wondered about this myself -- could Microsoft actively prevent hardware manufacturers from releasing Linux drivers, just by refusing to certify Windows drivers for any hardware which comes with a Linux driver? And for that matter, have they been doing exactly that?

          Now that Windows is moving towards a more locked-down kernel, it's certainly technically feasible. It's probably Anticompetitive Behaviour, but that doesn't seem to be illegal in the USA anymore.
          • Re:List? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by dpilot (134227) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @09:31AM (#19235175) Homepage Journal
            Let's rephrase this...

            There has been enough fuss recently over "Vista-Certified" graphics drivers that didn't really work well with Vista. So all you need is a driver certification plan that pretty much can't possibly be met in every detail. Then go ahead and be relaxed about the certification - most of the time. When you come across a recalcitrant hardware vendor who provides drivers and/or documentation to Linux, it's time to insist on dotting all I's and crossing all T's.

            I've suggested a similar possibility in the old 55MpH days on the New York State Thruway. The official speed limit was 55MpH, but the average speed on the road was somewhere above 65MpH. Nearly everyone on the road was a lawbreaker. So at that point, you can use whatever other criteria you wish, and know that whoever you choose to pull over is breaking at least the speed limit. I have no suspicion or evidence that this "selective law enforcement" was actually happening, but never liked the mere possibility.
  • by BluSteel (910709) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @08:55PM (#19230639)
    Marketing hype or not, I'm always happy to see more hardware supported by free drivers. Thanks, Greg.
  • patents, usability (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bcrowell (177657) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @09:05PM (#19230727) Homepage

    To me, the issue isn't so much drivers as patents and usability.

    My daughter's mp3 player didn't need any special drivers, because it's simply a standard keychain drive that happens to be able to play mp3's. However, she totally couldn't figure out how to use it on her ubuntu box. There was one problem after another. Ubuntu tried to do the right thing by popping up a gui app when she connected it, but then we couldn't get the gui app to do what we wanted to do. Part of the problem was that getting the mp3 codec to work was a pain, and that springs directly from the fact that mp3 is patented.

    My Brother HL-1440 laser printer is 100% supported in Linux. Brother hired the CUPS developers to write GPL-licensed drivers for all their printers. Joy! Unfortunately, I've run into one usability problem after another, all of which are basically problems with the usability of CUPS. I know I'm not the only person in the world who thinks CUPS is a pain, because I've seen other people criticize it for problems that are the same ones I'm experiencing. For instance, CUPS remembers too much of its state, and when it freaks out (e.g., printer spewing page after page of garbage), it's difficult to get CUPS back into a known-good state.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by QuantumG (50515)
      Perhaps you could fund an effort to get the patent invalidated.. or to buy a blanket license for linux.. or to get the patent owner to publically waive their right to sue anyone who distributes the codec or something..

      As for CUPS, maybe you could narrow down the exact problem and submit a bug report.. or put together an effort to fund someone to work on it.

      It's community software.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by timmarhy (659436)
        who wants to fuck around doing all that just to play some mp3's or print a letter? thats why windows wins.
        • by cduffy (652) <charles+slashdot@dyfis.net> on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @09:46PM (#19231031)
          who wants to fuck around doing all that just to play some mp3's or print a letter?

          Someone does. If I'm bored, I do. And only one person has to fuck around, come up with a fix, submit it upstream and get it merged for everyone else to have their problem solved.

          It's very liberating to be able to fix your own problems instead of being at the mercy of a vendor who doesn't care.
          • by enos (627034) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:41AM (#19232173)
            The thing is, things don't stay fixed. The same old problems constantly get revisited when someone looks at something semi-widely accepted and decides the code is too ugly and makes a rewrite that doesn't add anything from the user's point of view but forces them to relearn another system.

            It's one thing to go through several days of Googling and HOWTOs when setting up a new OS for the first time. It's another to do that every single time there's a new version out because they decided to change/rewrite so many things for just some trivial improvements.

            • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

              by Hal_Porter (817932)
              The thing is, things don't stay fixed. The same old problems constantly get revisited when someone looks at something semi-widely accepted and decides the code is too ugly and makes a rewrite that doesn't add anything from the user's point of view but forces them to relearn another system.

              Hmm, that reminds me of a sad story.

              http://www.smcc.demon.nl/webcam/ [demon.nl]
            • "It's one thing to go through several days of Googling and HOWTOs when setting up a new OS for the first time."

              That was true a while ago, but Linux has made enormous progress since then. Ubuntu is super easy to set up, as easy as windows is most of the time. My wife wrote her doctoral thesis with virtually no assistance from me on her laptop, which runs Ubuntu.
    • by arodland (127775) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @09:58PM (#19231145)
      Maybe I'm a bit simple but I don't see where CUPS even has "usability" to complain about. You install it (if, oddly, it isn't already), you tell it what and where your printer are (preferably using the KDE print config thing because it's amazingly simple, but the CUPS web jigger isn't bad either), and then from then on you print, and you forget that CUPS exists. Where's the hangup?
      • by QuantumG (50515)
        I think he's refering to gnome-cups-manager.. which is pretty weak in some parts at the moment. I believe there are some improvements in the GNOME CVS tree that have yet to filter down.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        CUPS was written long before USB was a twinkle in Intel's eye and behaves like it. I had a Linux box that I used as a print server via CUPS. One printer was LPT, one was USB. The LPT, man, I could turn it off, turn it on, unplug it, send it into the next timezone and bring it back, no problems. If my server went to sleep, still no problems. The USB printer? I had to write a fucking hotplug script for it that removed it from CUPS every time it was disconnected (either unplugged or turned off) and then
        • by jrumney (197329)
          Why did you write a script to remove it? The print jobs will be queued until it is next available.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bcrowell (177657)
        Maybe I'm a bit simple but I don't see where CUPS even has "usability" to complain about.[...] Where's the hangup?
        Problems I've had:
        1. the problem I described in my original post
        2. Upgrading ubuntu to a new version made cups stop working.
        3. The web interface says administrative functions are disabled. Because of that, I tried editing the config file to accomplish what I wanted. I also downloaded drivers directly from Brother, because that was what people on the ubuntu wiki suggested, but that actually didn'
    • Usability: I used to use Mandrake at home and Windows at work. Every time I had a problem with Mandrake and though "maybe Windows would be better" I would soon have a worse problem with Windows.

      Codecs: There are instructions on how to install the extra codecs. Its the first thing most people do after installing Ubuntu: its very much a one off.

      CUPS: I agree, but GUI tools for managing it are getting better.
      • by repvik (96666)

        Codecs: There are instructions on how to install the extra codecs. Its the first thing most people do after installing Ubuntu: its very much a one off.

        Really? How do you know that "most people" do this? And which instructions are you talking about?
  • by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @09:07PM (#19230743) Homepage Journal
    This post brought to you by these two patches, against 2.6.22-rc2:
    http://thread.gmane.org/gmane.linux.kernel.wireles s.general/2368 [gmane.org]
    http://thread.gmane.org/gmane.linux.kernel.wireles s.general/2369 [gmane.org]
    The little WG11v2 [netgear.com] is a happy interface. Figure I'll need to stockpile a couple them critters.
    Now, how is it that I'm off the hook for managing any of that bad, bad firmware with this wee beastie?
    Ivo or Michael, though I'm nowhere near as cool as you dudes, I'll buy you a beverage if I see you in Ottawa next month.
    Dunno if GKH's driver program actually helped in this matter, but the general trend in hardware is positive, and I feel Realtek and Netgear deserve a free shill.
    Best,
    Chris
  • Fishing for Drivers (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196)
    How about a driver for this ATI All-In-Wonder 3D Rage II +DVD PCI card I can't find drivers for?
    • doc you may want pipe the output of lspci to a file and see what chips it has (your driver may be included in X.org 6.9/7.0) for example
      01:00.0 VGA compatible controller: ATI Technologies Inc Radeon RV200 QW [Radeon 7500]
      is my card and i think that there is a couple rage drivers in the gatos project
    • Apparently people don't read the rules of Linux hardware:
      1. No ATI
      2. Check the hardware compatibility list
      3. "Partially supported" means "barely functional if you can get it to install."
      4. No ATI
      5. No, really, don't use ATI.
      6. Really, I don't care if you're a fanboy, don't use ATI!!!
  • vaporware is hype (Score:2, Interesting)

    by phrostie (121428)
    this is productive
  • by tyler_larson (558763) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @09:29PM (#19230885) Homepage
    FTA:

    While one developer of a competing open source operating system has criticized the NDA approach...
    While no mention was made of the identity of the criticizing developer, 10:1 says that the "competing" operating system has the letters *BS* right there in the name.
    • by robbak (775424)
      It is only linux that considers NDAs acceptable for open source. They say they espouse Openess of information, but actively seek NDAs that prevent it. That makes no sense.
      A NDA would be acceptable if it allows you to release fully commented code, i.e. sufficient for anyone to rewrite the driver for any OS or in any language.
      All products should have their specs as html on public servers.

      BURN all NDAs. Now.

      (I wonder who has burnallndas.com? No-one? Wow. Makes me want to take a trip to my nearest registrar!)
      • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @10:39PM (#19231455) Homepage Journal
        The purpose of the OEM getting the driver developer to sign an NDA is so they can just give the developer all their documentation, including stuff they would prefer their competitors never see. If they don't do this, they have to get someone to sit there and go through everything that is being released and censor it. You can't just expect a company to hand over their product secrets so you can write a driver without any assurance that you're not going to immediately sell their documentation to their competitors.

        A[n] NDA would be acceptable if it allows you to release fully commented code, i.e. sufficient for anyone to rewrite the driver for any OS or in any language.
        And that's exactly what the Software Freedom Law Centre will be requiring from OEMs.. poorly commented code doesn't live long in the kernel tree.

  • Can't copy GPL code? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Skapare (16644) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @09:32PM (#19230925) Homepage

    From TFA:

    While one developer of a competing open source operating system has criticized the NDA approach, developers are free under the GPL to use the Linux driver as the documentation for a new one as long as they don't copy the actual code. "The drivers are generally better written than the specs," Kroah-Hartman says.

    What? If the driver code is GPL, why can't I copy it?

    I suspect he means "copy" as in "make a derived work" that would have chunks of code taken from the original. But still, this is what GPL is about ... being able to take an existing source and make a derived work from it (that presumably would be better), and redistribute that derived work also under GPL (so someone else can derive from that later on ... and on ... and on).

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Wonko the Sane (25252) *

      What? If the driver code is GPL, why can't I copy it?
      Presumably, the people he is talking about want to release code in under a GPL-incompatible license. So they can't just copy the code.
    • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @09:49PM (#19231061) Homepage Journal
      Yes, you are absolutely right. This statement:

      While one developer of a competing open source operating system has criticized the NDA approach, developers are free under the GPL to use the Linux driver as the documentation for a new one as long as they don't copy the actual code.
      in attempt to be diplomatic has just added confusion. Allow me to clarify:

            one developer = Theo de Raadt.
            competing open source operating system = OpenBSD
            criticized = profanity

      So to rewrite the sentence so it actually make sense:

      While Theo de Raadt, has slung profanities at the NDA approach, he is free to write a driver for OpenBSD if he wants by using the Linux driver as documentation, but he best not copy any of the code from the Linux driver if he wants to avoid having to GPL it (which he almost certainly does).

      Which makes this comment:

      "The drivers are generally better written than the specs," Kroah-Hartman says.
      make a lot more sense. But what the hell, I'll translate that too:

      Theo, stop moaning about specs.. these companies are not going to give us blueprints to the damn hardware.. and whatever they do give us is going to be confidential. That's the reality. Deal with it. If you refuse to enter into a non-disclosure agreement with these companies then don't complain when the only documentation you have is a Linux kernel driver. The specs aint that great anyway.

      Or, at least, that's what I read.

      • by Skapare (16644)

        Thanks for updating the facts on this. I didn't know Theo was the party involved. Now that makes sense. And of course he doesn't want OpenBSD to end up being GPL. Microsoft might have the same issue if they didn't already have their own means to get the technical details :-)

        • by Darby (84953) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:30AM (#19232125)
          didn't know Theo was the party involved.

          Heck, the OP might not "know" that (maybe he does) but I barely even noticed that I read the summary more or less how he translated it ;-)

          That's very relevant to why, while I use Linux for my web, file and database servers, when it comes to my firewalls it's OpenBSD. *Every* *fucking* *time*.

          Yes, Theo can be abrasive. Yes, he's an absolutist on a lot of topics. Absolutely yes, that's the type of person I'll trust for the security of my network and my business. I'll install a binary blob driver for my desktop so I can run games, but security is not a game.

          Given that the primary focus of his distribution is security, he's 100% absolutely *right* to refuse to allow binaries which he and his team can not audit to the extent that they do every other part of their releases.

          So, they might be behind on support for some hardware, but when it's done, your confidence in its security is rightfully higher.

          So, it's not just that he doesn't want it GPL. He doesn't trust people whose goal isn't security to write his code for him. He sure as shit isn't going to put his reputation and the security of the people who trust his OS in large part because of that reputation in the hands of some third party. So, maybe a lot of people think he has a reputation as a dick, but let's see them go up against him purely in a security context. They've had issues, but vulnerability for vulnerability he wins against damn near anything else. In the context of anything a normal person could get ahold of, I don't think anything else is even in the same league as OpenBSD. Not Linux, sure as hell not Windows.

          Security and useability are in an inverse relationship. Some people are willing to adjust their balance on that scale and that's fine. A lot of good things can come out of that. It is absolutely a great thing that there is somebody out there who refuses to shift it away from security too.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by huiac (912723)
            So, from what you say:

            You're fine with firmware that's soldered onto the board as a non-FRU mask-programmed ROM, but if it's loaded as a vendor-supplied blob that can (at least in principle) be updated as issues are identified, that's bad?

            Interesting tradeoff...

            John.
            • by Darby (84953)

              You're fine with firmware that's soldered onto the board as a non-FRU mask-programmed ROM, but if it's loaded as a vendor-supplied blob that can (at least in principle) be updated as issues are identified, that's bad?


              Actually, I never said I was "fine" with anything.

              Given the same piece of hardware, it's better to have drivers written by people who care about security than by those who don't. If issues are found, I want the people fixing it to be those whose incentive is securing my infrastructure as oppose
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jZnat (793348)
        Only the American companies who confuse being hardware manufacturers with being software developers force these NDAs which result in drivers which are basically decompiled blobs. Projects like OpenBSD (and Linux even) have had better experience with Asian companies for example on getting documentation regarding hardware. Blueprints to the hardware are not needed to write a driver; just the op codes and messages you can send to the hardware to control it. For example, CPU architectures are quite documente
        • by dbIII (701233)

          Now if GNU had actually written a kernel themselves rather than adopted Linux back in the early 90's

          Hang on. Gnu has the hurd - and until the late 1990's RMS was joyfully saying "linux, never heard of it. ha ha" in repeated interviews. I suppose it was funny to some at the time and nobody really thought he had never heard of it paticularly since it kept coming up in interviews. The LiGnuX renaming suggestion afterwards that later turned into the gnu/linux renaming suggestion could never be taken as a jo

          • by QuantumG (50515)
            Shame about the HURD.. that's what happens when you try to do something experimental when you're playing catch up. They should have just focused on a monolithic kernel from day one.
            • by dbIII (701233)
              I think it came down to not many people working on it. It still exists but is not the popular choice for development. Linux always seemed to be a more inclusive project but I can't really quantify why I got that impression. Would Donald Becker have been welcomed with open arms by hurd or would they have been upset that he was writing ethernet drivers for commercial reasons? It was drivers like that that ultimately made linux very useful.
              • by QuantumG (50515)

                Linux always seemed to be a more inclusive project but I can't really quantify why I got that impression.
                Linus, that's why.

                He has great humility.

            • They should have just focused on a monolithic kernel from day one.

              But then they couldn't have named it Hurd!

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Kjella (173770)
        I guess it boils down to "How complete can a driver be documented and still comply with an NDA?". I mean, if the code is full of setting magic memory addresses to magic values then it's not really open source because you can't make a clue of it without NDA'd docs. On the other hand, if the bit registers and opcodes are all clearly laid out and documented in the source, isn't that exactly what's covered by the NDA? Software developers don't need any circuit layouts in the first place, they just need the inte
        • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @01:06AM (#19232305) Homepage Journal
          The point of the NDA is so that the OEM can just hand over all their documentation without having to sit down and censor it all so they're not handing over anything that might give their competitors an advantage. They clear the developer to disclose as much information as needed to make a device driver that is well documented and works. They don't clear the developer to turn over the secret algorithms that might be used in the hardware or the production methods that may be of interest to the OEM's competitors.. but they might give that stuff to the developer because it was in the same filing cabinet.

          If the driver isn't well written, commented and documented, it will not be accepted into the tree. The NDAs are being drafted by the Software Freedom Law Centre.. you don't think they're going to get the best possible deal?

          Otherwise, what would you prefer? Would you prefer the OEM hired a developer to make a binary-only driver? Which they'll stop supporting as soon as it is economically justifiable? Would you prefer they just don't release any drivers for Linux? Don't say you would prefer if they just sat down and wrote perfect developer documentation cause there's no such thing.

          Software developers don't need any circuit layouts in the first place, they just need the interface.
          Sometimes you do.. sometimes "the interface" just isn't defined and you need to sit there with an osciloscope to figure out what the hell this piece of hardware is doing.. and knowing what line is what kinda helps.
      • by evilviper (135110)

        While Theo de Raadt, has slung profanities at the NDA approach, he is free to write a driver for OpenBSD if he wants by using the Linux driver as documentation, but he best not copy any of the code from the Linux driver if he wants to avoid having to GPL it (which he almost certainly does).

        That's really a rather baseless attempt to confuse the issue. Theo deRaadt has attempted to use GPL'd code as hardware documentation many times, and he knows full well the limitations of it.

        There's ample, in-depth explan

        • by QuantumG (50515)
          There's three ways to get an open source driver written:

          1. Get the company to release docs so that independant programmers can write drivers. This is the approach Theo advocates.
          2. Reverse engineer the hardware and write the driver independantly. This is the approach taken by a number of people, including the OpenBSD developers at times.
          3. Get a company employee or contractor, under NDA, to write the driver. Often the result of this is not an open source driver.. it's a binary driver, and that's what Gre
  • Driver Groups (Score:2, Insightful)

    by NaNO2x (856759)
    I wonder if support could get out to little groups who are trying hard. I personally have a webcam with no driver and the group trying to develop one just doesn't seem to be there enough. If someone is offering this support then it would be nice if he found a group like this and helped out. It would be nice to have a website that brings together all drivers that are being worked on and make them easy to find for someone who really wants to help. Here is the driver I was talking about by the way: http:// [actiongames.co.uk]
    • by QuantumG (50515)
      Is your webcam in this list [mxhaard.free.fr].. if not, maybe you could contact that guy.

  • Not NVIDIA (Score:3, Informative)

    by elronxenu (117773) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @04:51AM (#19233397) Homepage
    Unfortunately the openness doesn't extend to NVIDIA, who refuse to release specifications or other assistance to developers working on the ULi M920x chipset, which is used for receiving Digital Television.

    NVIDIA bought ULi and then cancelled development of the M920x, but you can (still) buy DVB receivers which use this chipset.

    Requests for assistance or interface specifications have been refused by NVIDIA.

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