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This Is What Started AMD's Open-Source Strategy

Michael Larabel

Published on 17 September 2011
Written by Michael Larabel
Page 1 of 6 - 57 Comments

While AMD's open-source strategy was announced on Phoronix on 7 September 2007, it was on 17 September of the same year that the Novell/SUSE developers did their first public release of their xf86-video-radeonhd driver. This was the X.Org driver created by the Novell Linux engineers in months prior for R500 and R600 GPUs. Here is some special reading -- a letter that was volleyed from Novell to AMD that kicked off this entire process -- to celebrate what would have been the fourth birthday of this open-source Linux driver.

The xf86-video-radeonhd project was the first X.Org driver to provide open-source R600 (Radeon HD 2000) series support, and for the R500 (Radeon X1000) series too, aside from the short-lived xf86-video-avivo driver that was created the summer prior via reverse-engineering but only supported a limited selection of R500 ASICs. This initial RadeonHD driver was written using documentation that AMD supplied to Novell and ended up releasing publicly that September.

This code was not greeted by any R500/R600 series open-source 3D support, but that all built up in later months. Good progress was made early on with the RadeonHD driver when AMD kept the Novell engineers supplied with fresh documentation -- much of which was released publicly -- and allowed them to hard-code the driver with banging the hardware directly rather than relying upon the AtomBIOS abstraction layer. Eventually the RadeonHD driver began to fade away as the R500/R600+ support landed in the xf86-video-ati driver via the AtomBIOS approach and there were other disagreements between Novell and AMD.

The RadeonHD driver was ultimately killed with xf86-video-ati and the Radeon DRM/KMS driver picking up support for all newer Radeon graphics hardware. Novell/SUSE also ended up losing two of the original RadeonHD developers: Luc Verhaegen and then most recently was Matthias Hopf. Still with SUSE and one of the original RadeonHD developers is Egbert Eich.

In celebration of what would have been the RadeonHD driver's fourth birthday today, here's the letter in full that was sent to Advanced Micro Devices in early 2007 when the SUSE engineers had proposed this open-source strategy and creating a new driver. I have had a copy of this letter for years, but do not believe it has ever been fully been made available to the public. It doesn't contain anything sensitive, especially as AMD's open-source strategy is now different since the RadeonHD days and they are no longer close partners with Novell/SUSE, but this is what shaped AMD's initial open-source strategy. It's an interesting read to see what the original desires of the open-source developers, their commitment to open-source and public documentation, and how they fundamentally shaped AMD's open-source graphics efforts. And today's the start of Oktoberfest 2011, so it's all the more reason to celebrate the RadeonHD birthday.

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