Non-free drivers (Re: Invitation to ubuntu developers)

Tim Schmidt timschmidt at
Thu Nov 30 05:04:07 GMT 2006

On 11/29/06, Matt Zimmerman <mdz at> wrote:
> > The vast majority of kernel folks have made their opinions clear, the
> > folks have a bugzilla category for proprietary drivers, but they
> > go essentially ignored, and the preponderance of mesa folks appear to
> > like Nvidia and their 'incidentally' different GL libraries even less
> > than the kernel devs...  If that's possible.
> >
> > Does that cover upstream?
> No, not quite.  NVIDIA themselves are also one of our upstreams, to take one
> obvious example.

I understand you want everyone to have a nice experience with Ubuntu,
and part of that is getting as much hardware as possible to work as
well as possible out of the box.  I sympathize.  Seriously.  :)  Other
parts include doing as much as possible to fend off potential security
problems, finding and promoting applications people want, fixing
annoying bugs, and a whole lot of other work.  You know.  You do it
every day.

What I don't get is why you're so willing to do things upstream
projects (FLOSS projects - Nvidia's a big company with enough money to
take care of itself) don't like, and don't want done - for good
reasons.  I don't understand why the philosophy document means so
little, that a Free driver that provides enough functionality for
everyone with the affected hardware to install a functional system can
be passed up for a non-Free driver.  I don't understand why you're
willing to do a fair amount of work on behalf of a large and monied
corporation which, despite spending considerable time and money
producing a Linux driver, refuses to take the (comparatively small)
effort to release enough information (or any for that matter) to allow
the concerned projects to support the hardware in the way they prefer.
 And none of the nonsense about patents, secrets, or competition.
Others in the industry, with plenty of patents, and competitors with
plenty of patents, have released full chip specs...  The graphics chip
industry's product cycles are too long for a competitor to seriously
benefit from information released by another (typically at least 3
years from concept to product - by which time 6 new product lines have
been successively released).

If Nvidia wants their hardware to work out of the box with X and
Linux, there are established ways to do that.  Other companies in
every segment of semiconductors have followed them, and didn't
complain.  And everyone benefited.

Promoting the non-free Nvidia driver may seem to benefit some...  Lots
of 'bling'.  But no one wins in the long run.  Nvidia continues
spending more money working on their driver in secret than if it was
part of X, worked with Mesa, and respected the Linux kernel, users get
no help from upstream sources when they run into a problem, can't
learn from the code, can't make new and wonderful things from it, have
to wait for Nvidia to decide it wants to implement Feature X (think
Render, the GL extensions needed for XGL / AIGLX, 4k stacks, etc.),
and developers get a user base (which equals a QA base in our neck of
the woods) that's running a 4MB blob of impenetrable unknown code
right next to a misbehaving app.


Long term, if nvidia wants their hardware to work with Linux and X,
they should be encouraged to do it in the way linux kernel, and X
developers prefer.  Companies that do, get an automatic bonus - their
hardware works out of the box, and will for a long time, even if
(sorry; when) they loose interest.  Ubuntu of course, can do
whatever...  I'm even in favor of super-simplifying the process, so
long as people get a sentence or two explaining the situation.  But
helping Nvidia to frob the Linux kernel in ways the kernel devs (and
their lawyers) think are illegal, is insulting.  Doing so by default
for people who respect the kernel and the GPL is doubly so.

Sorry.  It's heartfelt stuff.  I'd genuinely like to know more about
your train of thought than 'we have users, lots of them seem to like
this 3D stuff'.


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