NVIDIA will be joining the Linux Foundation, per an announcement coming out in the morning. But for open-source Linux fans, will this be a reason to rejoice about NVIDIA potentially moving forward with open-source drivers? Don't break out the champagne quite yet.
NVIDIA is getting in bed with the Linux Foundation, along with three other to-be-announced companies, as the latest effort to expand this Linux organization. However, it's looking to be more of a mobile play for the company rather than to get in on the open-source GPU driver space by either supporting the open-source Nouveau driver project, to put out other code and documentation, or some other organized effort. The area that's hot right now is their Tegra platform
NVIDIA's had years to change their position on Linux graphics driver licensing, but they haven't for well-known reasons with their shared code-base between platforms, interwoven third-party intellectual property, and other competitive reasons. They also seem quite happy with their current approach of working on their first-rate Linux/BSD/Solaris proprietary graphics driver that shares many of the same features and performance abilities with their official Windows driver. NVIDIA's stance on the Nouveau project has been to not do anything to help nor hinder the project.
NVIDIA says they are committed to the best experience and innovation with their GPU and mobile products, from Wednesday's announcement catering to Linux fans. By joining the Linux Foundation they hope to increase their collaboration with Linux stakeholders in order to benefit users and developers. (One recent example of attempted collaboration was NVIDIA trying to collaborate with Linux kernel developers about using the DMA-BUF infrastructure
within their drivers, but that was largely rejected by kernel developers
on licensing merits.)
Many NVIDIA GeForce customers are quite satisfied with the NVIDIA Linux status quo considering that their proprietary Linux driver does generally work very well, is actively supported, quickly supports new versions of the Linux kernel and X.Org, timely enables new hardware at launch, and all-around tends to work great for its users. The reverse-engineered Nouveau driver is available, but its performance is not always great
, burns through excessive power
, and has other feature limitations.
In the mobile space, the NVIDIA Tegra graphics are powered by a binary blob. They do have open kernel patches
and other work already for the less controversial areas of their multi-core ARM platforms. They do make their Tegra Linux ARM experience not too bad by offering an Ubuntu-based spin
and a fair amount of documentation to get started (I'm currently working on some benchmarks for them from their quad-core Tegra 3 development tablet and previously provided NVIDIA Tegra 2 benchmarks
While some are getting excited
after sharing this news of NVIDIA joining the Linux Foundation, again, it doesn't necessarily mean any fundamental changes. Joining the Linux Foundation as a corporate member basically means you're providing money and other resources to this non-profit Linux group. Members of the Linux Foundation aren't mandated to open-source their software, port their software to Linux, or to otherwise become a Linux saint.
Among the many Linux Foundation members
are VIA (their open-source strategy failed
and really haven't been doing anything), AMD (they're still happy with their Catalyst binary blob while the open-source support is still lagging
), Adobe (they abandoned Flash Player for Linux
and most of their software is not available natively under Linux), Oracle (enough said with their share of controversies in various open-source communities), and a host of mobile-focused firms like ARM / Qualcomm / Samsung that don't ship full open-source graphics drivers for Linux (the best case to date for them has been open-source kernel drivers
with closed-up user-space components, some of which are being reverse-engineered
As far as end-users are directly affected, being on the Linux Foundation member list is almost like being on the Free Software Foundation's high priority project list
, which comes without any guarantees. It would be wonderful if NVIDIA joining the Linux Foundation marked some fundamental shift to dramatically enhance the NVIDIA Linux user/developer experience, but at least for now it doesn't look that way.