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Gordon's Thoughts On Open-Source GPU Drivers

Gaming

Published on 18 March 2011 08:58 AM EDT
Written by Michael Larabel in Gaming
108 Comments

Being discussed this week in our forums is an interview that Ryan "Icculus" Gordon gave last week to the Czech AbcLinuxu web-site. In particular, comments made by Ryan regarding the state of open-source graphics drivers and how they basically are just in bad shape.

Ryan Gordon is perhaps the most well known Linux game developer that began at Loki Software and since then has independently been responsible for porting various games to Linux and Mac OS X such as Unreal Tournament 2004, America's Army, and many others. He's also been involved with Google Earth on Linux and various other projects, including the defunct Unreal Tournament 3 port.

Ryan feels that the open-source graphics drivers are not ready yet and that "we're in a dangerous position where distros are treating them as if they are."

He also doesn't like the Mesa patent mess and how S3TC texture compression support can't ship with these open-source drivers. "Also, I find it completely ridiculous that we're shipping open source OpenGL drivers without S3TC support because of patent concerns. Today, that's like shipping a web browser without .jpg support!"

Below are Ryan's comments in full concerning open-source GPU drivers for Linux.
I think they aren't ready yet, and I think we're in a dangerous position where distros are treating them as if they are.

I use Nvidia's closed-source drivers on a GeForce 9800GTX. My next GPU will be a more-powerful GeForce card with closed-source drivers. The things I work on require this.

Also, I find it completely ridiculous that we're shipping open source OpenGL drivers without S3TC support because of patent concerns. Today, that's like shipping a web browser without .jpg support!

I feel very pragmatic about this; open source video drivers being shipped simply for dogmatic attitudes towards software freedom is costly to Linux as an ecosystem. I believe the only way that we'll ever find a reasonable way to have open source drivers is if Nvidia (etc) start developing their drivers as open source from the start, as first class members of the community.

I don't buy this attitude that GPU driver development is just _so hard_ that mere mortals can't do it, and thus there's no value to being open. But I do think there's no way that open source drivers can keep starting from scratch as each new generation of hardware hits store shelves. The cleaner solution is to open up the source to drivers we already know work, and have everyone--hardware vendors, distros, individuals--working in the same source tree. Every one would win.

I continue to dream of a better world. :)

In the interview he also comments on OpenGL vs. DirectX, his Linux development history, his Linux game porting work, etc. He outright denied to talk about the Unreal Tournament 3 Linux situation.

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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