Intel Shafting Linux Users With Clover Trail: No Support
While Intel can be loved for consistently supporting their in-house products under Linux, and their Open-Source Technology Center (OTC) makes great strides at improving Linux from open-source contributions to the Mesa graphics stack to doing all sorts of kernel-level work along with major contributions to WebKit, Tizen, Wayland, and other key open-source components, they have a new blemish. It appears Intel won't be supporting their forthcoming Atom "Clover Trail" hardware under Linux.
Up to this point Intel has well-supported their Atom hardware under Linux for both netbooks as well as MIDs/UMPCs/tablets. The only blemish in their Atom support up to this point has been the more recent generations of Atoms that utilize PowerVR graphics licensed from Imagination Technologies rather than an in-house graphics solution. Due to the external IP licensing for the PowerVR SGX graphics core, they haven't been able to provide an open-source graphics driver and are limited to shipping a binary graphics driver where your mileage may vary as a Linux desktop end-user. On the processor side and other areas, however, the Intel Atom processors have seen great Linux support. Generally, Intel hardware is supported by mainline open-source Linux components prior to the hardware even shipping.
Unfortunately, it looks like for Intel's forthcoming Clover Trail parts there will not be any official Linux support. For months there have been rumors and different statements that Intel would not be supporting Clover Trail for Google's Linux-based Android platform. It seems that there will actually not be any Intel-sanctioned Linux support at all for this next Atom.
Clover Trail is said to be launching around the time of Microsoft's Windows 8 launch next month, where they will have the new tablet OS that should work great on the new x86-based Atom. Intel is said to be working with a number of different partners on many Clover Trail tablets to be loaded with the new Windows operating system. With Intel Clover Trail to go with the Microsoft Windows 8 debut, they will be going without any love for Android or Linux this time around.
In terms of the Clover Trail hardware, it's a dual-core 32nm Atom SoC and relies upon Imagination's PowerVR SGX graphics. So at least it's just some PowerVR cruft that already would be frustrating to deal with under Linux, but it's unfortunate Intel is avoiding Linux support at the behest of Microsoft.
Friends at The Inquirer are running a story tonight entitled "Intel says Clover Trail will not work with Linux" following word coming out of the Intel Developer Forum that is happening this week in San Francisco. There's been similar statements elsewhere too (for those not trusting The INQ) about Linux/Android not handling these imminent Atoms, plus I've heard similar statements from my sources.
If you search the mainline Linux kernel commit activity for Clover you will also see no hits from Intel on "Clover Trail", but the only clover mentions are from the days of Clovertown. (In comparison, you can search for Cedar there are hits for current-generation Cedarview and a Valley query shows many hits for the future Valley View Atom.)
Clover Trail hardware might end up working out on Linux based upon the contributions of other developers, but don't expect any official support out of Intel or for any IHVs to be shipping Linux-based Clover Trail tablets/hardware.
If there's any good takeaway out of this for Linux users is that this is hopefully just a one-off affair with Microsoft this time around. Intel is preparing great Linux support for Valley View, which is a next-generation Atom SoC to be delivered in months ahead.
Valley View will see full Linux support and is looking to be fantastic: an Atom SoC with Ivy Bridge graphics as Phoronix exclusively noted months ago, so no more PowerVR graphics with a binary blob. Intel OTC developers have been taking Valley View very seriously with lots of open-source development activity surrounding it ahead of the launch in some months ahead; right now we're right around the stage of the initial Valley View power-on with a development board.
In addition to Valley View, Intel Linux developers have also been extensively working out Haswell open-source Linux support. Haswell is the 2013 successor to Ivy Bridge and it too should be fantastic from the performance and feature front.
Aside from the continued hardware support and ongoing work by Intel OTC developers on other areas of the open-source Linux stack like Tizen/Qt/Wayland/Connman (just to name a few of many), Intel is likely the closest tier-one hardware vendor to have Linux as part of "the company's DNA." Unlike the upper-management and PR/marketing of other company representatives trying to avoid Linux, Intel is one of the better companies to deal with and talk about Linux.
Intel representatives actually listen and aren't scared or asking nonsensical questions when talking to them about forthcoming hardware testing and support under the open-source OS. While Clover Trail is looking to be an exception, they also don't explicitly tell their customers to use Windows for fixing Linux problems. Of the multitude of IHVs I have dealt with over the past eight years working on Phoronix.com in writing thousands of Linux hardware reviews as well as Phoronix Test Suite software dealings, Intel is one of the best companies for talking Linux with -- from developers to upper-management -- and it's only been getting better.
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