2009 Linux Graphics Survey Results
Our third question asked participants what Linux graphics drivers they were using. NVIDIA's binary driver was the most popular driver on Linux, which is no surprise at all considering NVIDIA hardware is the most popular on Linux according to our last question, but the only real option for those NVIDIA customers looking to use their GeForce / Quadro hardware with modest 3D support is through using NVIDIA's binary-only driver as the Nouveau support is still emerging.
What we found most interesting from these results though is the ATI driver numbers. This is the first year that there were more people using the open-source ATI driver (through the xf86-video-ati DDX driver) than AMD's official Catalyst driver! There were 3,117 counts for xf86-video-ati, 2,770 for the Catalyst driver, and then 1,185 installations still using the xf86-video-radeonhd driver. Last year the Catalyst / fglrx driver had a 6% lead over the -ati driver. This was a bit surprising to us, but unlike NVIDIA, AMD backs a viable open-source strategy for their hardware via providing open documentation and significant contributions to the open-source ATI Linux driver stack. The open-source ATI Linux driver stack provides kernel mode-setting, 2D / X-Video acceleration, and modest 3D support for almost all of their graphics cards, while support for some of the newer GPUs is still emerging. More information on this can be found in Open ATI Driver More Popular Than Catalyst.
When it came to the less popular drivers, there were 485 counts towards the Nouveau driver while 361 towards NVIDIA's official open-source driver, the obfuscated xf86-video-nv driver. Last year the xf86-video-nv driver was twice as common as the xf86-video-nouveau driver, but with the Nouveau stack stabilizing and with Fedora switching to it for their default NVIDIA driver (and Ubuntu is in the process of doing so too), it is not shocking that xf86-video-nv driver is losing ground quickly. In 2010 we would not be surprised if this driver is outright abandoned by NVIDIA. Between the Linux VIA drivers, there were 55 for xf86-video-via, 168 for OpenChrome, and 57 for Unichrome.
The next question asked participants how they acquired their video drivers on Linux, whether it is through the vendor's web-site, building from source, using their distribution's mechanism, or using third party options. In a landslide, the most common method for acquiring one's driver was through using the distribution-supplied packages / from their distribution's package management repository. There were 10,720 counts towards this path while the second most popular way was through the vendor's web-site (in the case of the binary-only drivers where the latest upstream packages are offered from AMD and NVIDIA) at 3,300. However, even most users of the proprietary drivers seem to use the approach of using the distribution-specific packages that are offered to them, although they may not always be the most up-to-date. These results show just 828 building their driver from Git source while 657 were building from source using an officially tagged release or driver snapshot.