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

Toby Smithe toby.smithe at
Thu Nov 30 17:29:33 GMT 2006

Hear hear. I agree to the utmost extent I could ever agree to anything.
I am also on the verge of being pushed into running gNewSense. However,
I will not do that (I love this place) unless non-free software, not
firmware, is installed by default.

On Thu, 2006-11-30 at 00:04 -0500, Tim Schmidt wrote:
> 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.
> Fun.
> 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'.
> --tim
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