Timing a Release
Whether you know it or not, ATI Technologies had made the strategic decision to make the Linux driver part of their unified release cycle, but what does this mean? Well, these slides we are sharing with you today is the simplified version of what this unified development cycle means along with some other information to share with the public for the first time.
AMD provides updated display Catalyst drivers on a monthly basis for both their Windows and Linux customers, but these monthly drivers actually take about 11 weeks, or close to three months, to put together. Each release consists of pure development time for roughly one month, creating a branch for that specific release, and then carrying out quality assurance. After development has ended there is three weeks of validation, three weeks of beta testing, and then one week to bake. Any and all new features or fixes that AMD engineers would like in the release must be completed during the development stage. Granted, however, there are exceptions to that development rule for fixing any serious regressions as well as for the inclusion of distribution-specific packaging scripts. Community members with AMD's internal beta testing program maintain these packaging scripts and thus the scripts for each release are generally all updated during the beta testing stage. The bake stage in the development of the Catalyst driver is merely a buffer of time to ensure that the Windows and Linux drivers are completed and launched on the same day.
This schedule does also explain why new kernel and X.Org support isn't generally added the same month as its release. If a new kernel at the start of the month breaks fglrx support, that month's driver is already far into the validation and beta stages, which prevents engineers from appending support to the branched driver. Adding support for newer versions of the Linux kernel and X.Org in some cases require extensive modifications, more so than end-users may sometimes realize. However, with the distribution-specific packaging scripts not having set deadlines, and in some cases being updated a few days prior to the driver's public release, often times they will include non-official patches.
It is also important to keep in mind that while the AMD release notes in every driver may not be as long as an end-user would like, the developers are actually working on things all of the time. Like we had saw last year with the Dynamic Display Management Options and other features, there are times during the year when the official change-log may be short for a period of releases but that is when they are actually working on tackling some of the long-term objectives. Right now we seem to be going through a similar period with the Linux driver.