VIA's Linux TODO List... Maybe Look Forward To 2011?
Nearly two years ago at the Linux Foundation Summit in Austin was VIA's most recent announcement about becoming serious with open-source support. This was not VIA's first time they claimed to back an open-source strategy, which led a number of open-source developers to immediately call VIA's open-source strategy a bluff. To date this still is mostly a bluff, but they have produced some fluff. In 2010 it looks like this will still be the case, but VIA hopes to produce some code by the second half of 2010. This code, however, will likely not appear in most Linux distributions until 2011.
Since that 2008 announcement (which came two years after they stopped an earlier open-source attempt) there has been some 2D and 3D documentation published by VIA Technologies for some of its integrated graphics processors and they have made some patches, created a new DDX driver (though it has gone virtually nowhere), and they also improved the frame-buffer driver. This work though is absolutely no comparison to the amount of code, patches, and other work that has been done by AMD and their partners since they announced their own open-source strategy back in September of 2007. VIA Technologies also hired Harald Welte as an open-source liaison, but he didn't even do much and is no longer contracted by VIA. As is shown in our most recent Linux Graphics Survey, these half-baked open-source attempts haven't done anything to increase VIA's market-share.
VIA also released some DRM code for the Linux kernel, but it hasn't made it into the mainline kernel. There are issues with the code itself, but this DRM code is really just used by VIA's proprietary driver rather than by open-source drivers. VIA has expressed interest in a Gallium3D driver, but they will not provide a driver and want the community to create one even though they have not released enough documentation to date.
The latest chapter in VIA's open-source strategy story comes in the way of their 2010 TODO list. VIA's Bruce Chang wrote a message on the OpenChrome mailing list this morning because "VIA has been having a dream to host VIA's developing source in public" and he views this community driver project as being "VIA's best friends." As a result, VIA wants to host their code on OpenChrome's server. VIA could just use SourceForge for hosting their code like most open-source projects or their own Linux project site they launched back in 2008, but they are likely trying to generate some attention off the OpenChrome project or hoping that a few of their developers will participate. VIA has been known to give out documentation to OpenChrome developers under Non-Disclosure Agreements for documents they don't wish to publicly release.
With this mailing list message, Bruce also shared VIA's TODO list for their Linux driver. This is where it gets interesting (or actually, it's quite sad). VIA's TODO list has three items on it: a TTM/GEM module, kernel mode-setting, and then a Gallium3D driver. While VIA has been working on their open-source efforts since 2008 and the other common Linux drivers out there already have in-kernel memory management and kernel mode-setting support and are hacking away on Gallium3D support, VIA has made virtually no headway. Their timetable for these three TODO list items is appalling.
VIA Technologies is not expecting to have memory management for TTM/GEM working until the second quarter of 2010. Yes, we are still at least four months out from seeing VIA's in-kernel memory management. It was a year ago that VMware's Thomas Hellström when acting as a lone, independent developer had hooked TTM into the OpenChrome driver as he was making a new VIA 3D stack, but VIA seems to be disregarding that work and starting over. Before getting in-kernel memory management, VIA Technologies first needs to be able to get some DRM code into the mainline kernel, which so far they have been unable to accomplish. If a Q2'2010 target is actually reached for this memory management prerequisite that is needed before KMS or Gallium3D work can get fully underway, it will likely not be until at least the Linux 2.6.35 kernel (but more than likely 2.6.36) that we could see this code in the mainline tree. With the way most distributions roll, it will likely not be until the end of 2010 that this code is even found in Linux distributions (Ubuntu 10.10, Fedora 14, Mandriva 2011.0, etc).
After the TTM/GEM management work is complete, VIA's Bruce Chang mentions their target for kernel mode-setting is the second half of 2010. Nothing else was shared in regards to VIA's KMS driver plans whether all of their IGPs will gain this support or just some select IGPs. In other words though, don't look for any VIA KMS support for about a year out but it could end up being H1'2011 before this mode-setting support lands in a majority of distributions.
Lastly, VIA Technologies hopes to have a Gallium3D driver "developing in next Q4." There's been a lot of work going into the Gallium3D support for the Nouveau, Intel, and AMD drivers, but still even for these G3D drivers where they have their classic Mesa drivers to base their work off of, it's still an enormous challenge. With no viable open-source 3D drivers right now for VIA, this Gallium3D challenge will be even greater. It will likely be sometime in 2011 before we possibly see this VIA Gallium3D driver. Though we do not know what chipset families VIA plans to support with this open-source driver since before they said no to Chrome 9 support.
At the end of the day, this mailing list message from VIA is rather displeasing and based upon it we would not expect to see any real open-source VIA support to appear within desktop Linux distributions until H1'2011 or later with maybe Ubuntu 11.04 and Fedora 15 if we are lucky. VIA really isn't contributing much to the open-source Linux community in the form of code, documentation, or other support. Heck, right now one of the X.Org developers that is actually skilled with VIA driver development and has been working on one of the original VIA Linux drivers for years, is sitting unemployed. Even with VIA's affections for the OpenChome driver project, their own TODO list that is dated from November 2008 is still far behind schedule.
While it's clear from VIA's TODO list that it is far from being reached, they have not set back their Linux publicity campaign. Less than two weeks ago VIA Technologies unveiled the VN1000 Digital Media Chipset and in its press release, they mention, "The VIA VN1000 Digital Media IGP Chipset is fully compatible with all VIA Nano, VIA C7, VIA C7-M and VIA Eden processors and supports all Microsoft Windows platforms and popular Linux distributions." VIA's Linux page hasn't been updated in months nor any other open-source driver repositories seem to have been updated with any support at all for the VN1000 (even the mode-setting changes needed will likely be extensive for this new Chrome-derived ASIC), but without any upstream support how can VIA even claim there's support within popular Linux distributions?
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