Linux and device driver support

Michael B. Trausch mike at trausch.us
Mon Jan 28 07:50:22 GMT 2008


http://blog.vlad1.com/2008/01/22/i-lost-another-hour-to-linux-today/

First off, apologies for the longish post.

I had read this link a little earlier today, and in thinking about it, I
have run into similar situations with end-users and even some people
that are technically proficient in the Windows world.  While the source
of the issue in this particular person's post is readily identifiable,
it would seem that with the popularity that Linux systems are acquiring
it is time to start trying to figure out ways to get hardware vendors to
do more than just open their specs.

Granted, I have seen hardware vendors who are now willing to provide
drivers under the GPL, and I think that this is great.  However, there
are simply not enough of them.  Graphics vendors (notwithstanding SiS,
who can go off to some random corner of the planet and wither away),
chipset manufacturers, makers of specialty devices, and so forth all
still are providing little to nothing in the way of open device drivers
for their hardware.

Quite some time ago, I read about the Uniform Driver Interface[1], which
RMS disagreed with pretty strongly.[2]  However, I am starting to think
that something like this would not be that terrible an idea; after all,
if various operating systems can meet vendors half-way by providing an
open method of developing drivers with relative ease that work on all
operating systems at the source level, it's also in their favor to
provide the source code for the drivers so that those drivers are useful
for systems that haven't been written yet (or that have been written but
did not use UDI yet).

However, UDI seems to have been dead for nearly 7 years now, and while
the specifications are online, it doesn't seem that anything really
happened there.  It would be pointless to deny the fact that Linux
systems of today are far more usable than the ones of ten years
ago---even better, with the right hardware, such systems outperform and
outshine Windows systems by quite a lot.  But the world of Intel
machines is both blessed and cursed with a wide variety of hardware to
choose from, and very little in the way of standards for driving most
types of hardware.

There would seem to be some real benefit to trying to persuade
businesses to standardize more in this area.  Whether that
standardization is in the APIs that drivers use to communicate with
operating system kernels or in the hardware interfaces to the software
world (e.g., in a way similar to USB where "all devices of class X can
use generic driver Y"), it would make life easier for developers, for
us, for end-users, and for everyone in between.

Does anyone know if there are currently any lobbying efforts towards
hardware manufacturers that is continuing to push such ideas to
companies?  It would seem that all of those efforts are long since out
of time.  Choosing hardware is not something that most people give a
thought to; they run to Wal*Mart and they pick up a PC, or something
similar.  Or, in the interest of saving money (and not requiring
veritable schloads of über-fast processing power) go to the local small
parts store and pick up an older, used laptop or thrown out desktop
machine.  In many cases, either due to ignorance, or financial
constraints, or other reasons, hardware has little to do with choice.
And it should probably be this way, anyway.  After all, it would be a
bit crazy to have an SATA hard drive that required its own driver and
could not be used because while the operating system supported the bus,
it couldn't communicate with the drive.  But that is precisely the
situation that we have with graphics boards and things like acceleration
(for 3D and even in some cases 2D), WiFi cards, and other devices.

Anyway, just a bit of a rant, but it's something that I keep thinking
about every now and again, and am just really wondering if there are
still people trying to solve this problem or if the solution is simply
to try and garner support for hardware as quickly as possible.

	--- Mike

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uniform_Driver_Interface
[2] http://www.linuxtoday.com/developer/1998100500205OP

-- 
Michael B. Trausch                                   mike at trausch.us
home: 404-592-5746, 1                                 www.trausch.us
cell: 678-522-7934                       im: mike at trausch.us, jabber
Ubuntu Unofficial Backports Project:    http://backports.trausch.us/
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