Great Linux Innovations Of 2008
Graphics Execution Manager:
At the start of this year, most X.Org developers would have thought Tungsten's TTM memory manager would have entered the mainline Linux kernel and become the de facto standard for GPU memory management within the kernel, but Intel's Graphics Execution Manager shook everything up. As developers voiced concerns over TTM and its complicated API, the Intel team led by Keith Packard had announced GEM, or the Graphics Execution Manager.
Since its May introduction, it has rattled the X.Org scene and was released with the mainline Linux 2.6.28 kernel earlier this month. While the Graphics Execution Manager can be looked at as being superior to the Translation Table Maps, its timing wasn't ideal since it caused DRI2 to be stripped out from X.Org 7.4 / X Server 1.5 and when it was first proposed to enter the mainline kernel it was referred to as untested crap.
GEM by itself isn't something for end-users to get excited over, but it will allow for faster performance once the code has been optimized, kernel memory management is a prerequisite for kernel mode-setting, and also caused the introduction of a new but faster acceleration API.
The Intel driver fully utilizes the Graphics Execution Manager while the open-source ATI and NVIDIA drivers will be using a mix of TTM and GEM. The drivers will implement the GEM API but internally will be using a form of TTM (A GEM-ified TTM manager).
Open-Source Hardware Drivers:
Late last year AMD made the major announcement of their open-source initiative to provide fully open-source 2D/3D ATI drivers for all of their hardware on Linux while continuing to produce their performance-oriented Catalyst Linux driver. AMD has continued pushing out new code and documentation this year, but many other hardware companies have joined the open-source bandwagon too.
Creative Labs had been released buggy X-Fi Linux drivers for over a year after their original binary driver was years late and riddled with different shortcomings, but last month they had conceded and open-sourced their X-Fi driver. Earlier in 2008 they also had provided X-Fi hardware specifications to 4Front Technologies so that there could be an open-source X-Fi driver in the Open Sound System. However, to date there still is no Creative X-Fi driver within the Advanced Linux Sound Architecture.
After several failed attempts in the past at being open-source friendly, this year VIA Technologies announced a new open-source strategy. Because of VIA's bad attempts in the past, many called their open-source efforts a bluff and it took them a while to evaluate their open-source role, but what VIA has released to date includes 2D/3D register documentation, a partnership with the OpenChrome driver team, Chrome 9 Series DRM support, a new X.Org driver, republished old programming guides, an open-source liaison, and a kernel frame-buffer driver.
Atheros is another company that was once notorious with Linux users, but this year they had turned around after they hired two MadWiFi developers and then proceeded to release an open-source 802.11n Linux driver (named ath9k) and then in September released the Atheros 802.11a/b/g HAL under a BSD-derived free software license.
Just yesterday AMD had released open-source R600/700 3D code and they're on their way with new documentation as well.
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