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A Call To "Kill All Proprietary Drivers For Good"

Michael Larabel

Published on 29 March 2012
Written by Michael Larabel
Page 2 of 2 - Comment On This Article

As far as their interest in unifying the BSD distributions, they say "Not the place to ask -- but we are asking" and would like to begin with 802.11 unification ideas.

On the matter of intellectual property concerns by hardware vendors with open-source drivers, they first of all acknowledge that in terms of patent trolling "this issue sucks" but as engineers they can do more to simplify the issue. Their points include localize GPL, new drivers be permissively licensed, prioritizing on simple and clean kernel APIs, early architectural review to address IP concerns, punt any IP to user-space (otherwise provide a patent grant), and for user-space they have the "WebM VP8 lesson" of a FOSS license with a separate patent grant.

Business justifications include streamline / lead operating system ecosystems, bring benefits of collaborative development to non-Linux platforms, the community can be used for motivation / innovation / geographical spread / talent scouting, and that many in the community can be accounted for in a variety of ways.

Now as far as what Qualcomm Atheros intends to do... Unfortunately, no landmark announcement is expected to happen next week from the summit. They're starting off simple with an Ethernet driver under this aforementioned approach. They tried with the Linux alx Ethernet driver, but that was rejected on "good technical grounds" and that permissive license considerations are still being reviewed and issues came up with their driver unification plans. In the end, the developers acknowledge that driver unification may be a pipe-dream, but it should be possible to at least unify drivers on Linux and BSD.

Here's their ending slide:

Unfortunately their calls to push all IP to user-space isn't always a fix. With the DRM sub-system, for example, if all of the exposed kernel interfaces aren't utilized by an open-source client in user-space, they will be quickly rejected. It's already happened on multiple occasions with basically just being partial open-source drivers. On the graphics side, there's already several ARM vendors with open-source kernel graphics drivers and closed-up user-spaces and they're not looking at changing their game-plan by pushing for an open-source user-space and/or mainlining any portion.

Many hardware vendors remain too tight over IP concerns. Even the open-source friendly AMD with their Radeon graphics driver this week found out after months of technical/legal review that they couldn't even open up some of their HDMI/DisplayPort audio code, etc. Not to mention, open-source video decoding looks like an impossible feat at this point.

Hopefully Qualcomm will end up attempting to lead by example and push out more open-source drivers (with mainline ambitions) across all platforms, call for their partners and other companies to join the Open Invention Network, and take other measures to make more open-source drivers a reality.

Those wanting to check out the slides for next week's "Let's Kill All Proprietary Drivers For Good" presentation can find the PDF slide-deck here. (Unknown if it was a mistake or not, last night I noticed that the slides for some of the presentations for next week's summit began surfacing on the Linux Foundation web-site. Whoops! ;))

About The Author
Michael Larabel is the principal author of Phoronix.com and founded the web-site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience and being the largest web-site devoted to Linux hardware reviews, particularly for products relevant to Linux gamers and enthusiasts but also commonly reviewing servers/workstations and embedded Linux devices. Michael has written more than 10,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics hardware drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and OpenBenchmarking.org automated testing software. He can be followed via and or contacted via .
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