No, ARM Didn't Open-Source Their Full Mali Linux Driver
Written by Michael Larabel in Hardware on 2 May 2014 at 11:12 AM EDT. 6 Comments
A few Phoronix readers have written in with excitement thinking in recent weeks - including this morning - that ARM open-sourced their Linux/Android graphics driver... But in reality, nothing has changed.

A few links have been sent in to our news tip box with this page, which reads, "Open Source Mali-200/300/400/450 GPU Kernel Device Drivers." While the page mentions open-source drivers, it's only about the kernel portion of the driver and it's always been that way with ARM -- and most other ARM-based graphics vendors. The kernel portion is open, the user-space components are closed. Without an open user-space, having an open kernel driver is only of limited use, and will not be accepted into the upstream Linux kernel.

ARM makes available the kernel driver for some easier porting to different kernel releases, but it doesn't really allow users much. It's the user-space binary blob that's feeding the kernel driver all of its magic when running OpenGL ES, etc. The Lima driver that's been in the works for a few years by Luc Verhaegen is what's being attempted as a reverse-engineered user-space driver for Mali to replace this blob.


Qualcomm was in a similar boat when Freedreno started for open-source Adreno support where the Freedreno Gallium3D driver was written against the open Qualcomm kernel blob interfaces and over time is when Rob Clark of Freedreno also ended up writing his own proper DRM driver (called "MSM") that's since been mainlined.

So long story short, that ARM Mali Developer Center page isn't new, and their open kernel driver isn't worth too much without an open user-space driver. The latest Mali 400/450 driver release is even from last November.

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Michael Larabel is the principal author of Phoronix.com and founded the site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience. Michael has written more than 10,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and OpenBenchmarking.org automated benchmarking software. He can be followed via Twitter or contacted via MichaelLarabel.com.

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