VIA Evaluating Its Open-Source Role
Two months ago VIA Technologies had announced their intentions on joining the open-source bandwagon, but since that time we've seen little more than talk. The VIA Linux Portal was announced as a place for hosting "drivers, technical documentation, source code, and information regarding the VIA CN700, CX700/M, CN896 and the new VIA VX800 chipsets." However, this "Linux Portal" isn't anything more than a binary dungeon. There are a few binary-only VIA Linux drivers on that website and nothing more. There are bug tracking and forum sections on this website too, but they aren't yet established.
Last month we shared the views of several open-source developers that VIA's open-source efforts may be a bluff. Though, however, last month VIA proceeded to provide a 16,434 line kernel frame buffer driver.
So one might assume VIA has just been busy working on sanitizing documents and code, right? Well, their silence hasn't been because they are hard at work preparing information, but they are still back at the planning stage.
Since yesterday's announcement of X.Org 7.4 coming soon, there has been a discussion within the mailing list to determine whether the UniChrome or OpenChrome driver should be the default for X.Org. UniChrome and OpenChrome are both developed by third-parties unaffiliated with VIA as their official xf86-video-via driver has its share of issues. Between UniChrome and OpenChrome, each driver has its advantages when it comes to which one has already adopted libpciaccess, supports the most VIA ASICs, etc. But that's not the point of this article.
In this mailing list thread, Xavier Bachelot -- who is one of the OpenChrome developers -- had provided a brief update on VIA's open-source strategy. The OpenChrome developers had a two-hour talk with VIA concerning this strategy, which happened a month ago. Since then, all that VIA has told these open-source developers is "a one liner saying they are still 'collecting the idea inside the VIA Linux group' and they still don't know what they 'can do for the first step'."
So if you had hoped to see a plethora of code and documentation from VIA early this summer, guess again. As we shared in an earlier article, VIA has been planning a strategy since at least last October when they had contacted Luc Verhaegen (the UniChrome developer, and one of the Novell developers working on RadeonHD) looking for ways that VIA could improve its open-source image.
We have no idea how far VIA Technologies now is in their "idea collection" process internally or what options they are looking at for their "first step", but it will likely be a ways out before anything comes to fruition. AMD's open-source strategy was being worked on internally for three or four months before it was publicly announced last summer. AMD has provided a number of documentation dumps covering the mode-setting to 2D to 3D for their GPU product families since last September. AMD's most recent documentation dump was yesterday when they released the R600 ISA document, but the community is still waiting on all of the 3D R600 information and sample code (to come in the form of TCore and another package they'll soon be announcing). Soon as their next-generation GPUs are released, the community will even have more on their plate that they're waiting for. AMD has two dedicated engineers working on this open-source sanitizing process and even still it takes quite a while. They have to pour through thousands of lines of source-code, type up documentation, and ask their design architects to fill in voids within their internal documentation. This is then followed by having all of the information approved by a review board before it's ready for release.
With VIA still thinking of what to do for the open-source community, we're looking at some time before the community sees any action -- even if VIA just goes through half the protocols that AMD is going through with their open-source process. Long story short, the silence isn't because VIA is busy working on their open-source contributions, but they don't even know yet what they want to do. By that time, NVIDIA could be opened up and AMD could be working on open-source R800 specifications.
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