Hardware Advocacy or Making it easy to do the right thing.

Michael T. Richter ttmrichter at gmail.com
Tue Feb 27 04:01:55 GMT 2007

On Mon, 2007-26-02 at 09:04 -0600, Tommy Trussell wrote:

> Surely more manufacturers and vendors will start advertising linux
> compatibility... as this thread points out it will be a real draw in
> some circles. A few vendors such as newegg.com already include linux
> in their keywords, and their customer reviews often include comments
> about compatibility. So there's hope!

They will not.  The problem is one which is fundamentally at
cross-purposes to the F/OSS movement's philosophy -- particularly the
"software wants to be free" segment of it.

Hardware is a strongly-competitive industry full of trade secrets.  (One
of the trade secrets most jealously protected is just how bad most
hardware is under the covers....)  The algorithms used, for example, in
video cards, audio cards and printers tend to be extremely secretive,
especially the algorithms used to give astonishingly low-quality, dumb
hardware enough smarts to do fancy things.  (I'm looking at most inkjet
printers here.)  You will not convince people who make hardware that's
already on a very tight margin to release what trade secrets and
competitive advantages they have just to collect a few extra whiny
users.  No amount of screaming or stomping of feet is going to change
what hardware manufacturers do and the Linux world is simply not a
lucrative nor large enough market to force anything.

That leaves out open source drivers.

Closed source drivers, too, are problematical, but this time the problem
is on our end.  The Linux kernel doesn't have a stable ABI and even a
minor version change can result in existing drivers simply failing to
work.  I know that when I worked for these guys that we got lots of
requests to support Linux.  I, as the driver guy at the time, looked
into it each time and laughed because there was no way in Hell we would
be playing the game of matching this card, that kernel version under
this other distro just to get one or two customers.  (It looks like they
support Linux now -- after a fashion -- by doing the "we'll support
these specific versions of these two distros" routine.)  Some
manufacturers have worked around this -- to the eternal whinging of
F/OSS advocates everywhere -- by embedding a proprietary blob in a free
wrapper.  This is not a good solution in the long run either because a)
the whining of militant F/OSS types gets very annoying and likely causes
some potential Linux supporters to not bother and b) it's a lot of extra
work for a fringe market again.

So what kinds of solutions would there be?

Well, first, we can keep Linux as a hobbyist fringe.  (This is a
solution that many of the more militant wings of the F/OSS movement seem
to approve of most.)  Second, we can lighten up a little and stop
hassling the people taking the blob approach -- use persuasion to move
the blob out into the open instead of whining and threats.  Third, we
can make a stable ABI to Linux and stick to it, thus allowing people who
maybe aren't quite ready to open their source the chance to expand our
market for us.  Then, again, we can use gentle persuasion to move them
from pure-proprietary to blob-proprietary to openness.  Unfortunately
the latter two approaches require patience and tolerance, something the
militant wings -- the Stallmanists, if you will -- are not noted for

Michael T. Richter <ttmrichter at gmail.com>
Disclaimer: Any people who think that opinions expressed from my private
email account in any way, shape or form are those of my employer have
more lawyers at their beck and call than they do brain cells.
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