AMD mulls opening Linux graphics driver source

Red Hat developer Christopher Blizzard has written a rather interesting update on his blog about AMD’s Linux graphics driver support plans. According to Blizzard, AMD executive VP and Chief Sales and Marketing Officer Henri Richard attended the Red Hat Summit and “committed to fixing the ATI problems with open source.” Blizzard paraphrases Richard’s statements as, “most people are worried about what they will lose…[intellectual property], etc…we’re worried about what we can win.”

If this is indeed true, it would be a definite change of direction for AMD. In October last year, shortly before the AMD-ATI merger was finalized, we emailed ATI’s Software and Video Marketing Manager Terry Makedon about this very subject. He told us, “Proprietary, patented optimizations are part of the value we provide to our customers and we have no plans to release these drivers to open source. In addition, multimedia elements such as content protection must not, by their very nature, be allowed to go open source.” Makedon then added that, as of mid-October 2006, nothing had changed as a result of the AMD deal.

Comments closed
    • muyuubyou
    • 13 years ago

    Terry Makedon is f****** clueless

    • sigher
    • 13 years ago

    This will never happen, seems though that AMD now realizes they sell a lot of vapor and are starting to use that knowledge in a mocking fashion.

    • eitje
    • 13 years ago

    of course nothing has changed as a result of the AMD deal.

    things have, however, changed as a result of Dell deciding to go open source in a big way. AMD wants as big of a slice of that pie as they can get!

    • Forge
    • 13 years ago

    Do it, AMD. Nvidia’s Linux drivers are fantastic and only getting better. Only embracing the open source folks can save your bacon now.

    Also witness the big uptick in Radeon 8500 usage once the R200 open source drivers got to usability. It’s not just Linux geeks, either, it’s folks running FreeBSD/Solaris/et al, who have gotten no support from Nvidia historically, though NV seems to have finally realized and is moving to take over those niches, also. Last I looked, the R3XX/R4XX drivers were getting up to snuff and work had started on open source R5XX stuffs.

    Heck, steal a page from Nvidia’s book: When the open source forcedeth nForce ethernet driver started getting useful, NV dropped the closed source stuff they had on it’s head and started contributing reams of code to the open source stuffs. It’s now almost all their work, and still open. It works.

    Just dump your buggy Catalyst backport down the drain and embrace the open source drivers out there. Get those all the code snippets and NDA docs they need to get 100% function, and worry about DRM junk later. If we really want DRM, we’ll tell you. So far we’d rather have blunt force vasectomies, if the vocal users are a majority.

      • Forge
      • 13 years ago

      A P.S. for Mr. Tippett at ATI’s Linux department: I know you’ve worked hard to make ATI’s Linux stuffs all they can be, but I believe the code is working against you by now. I don’t mean to imply your work is unappreciated, I just think the source materials aren’t leaving you anything worth showing off.

      • Flatland_Spider
      • 13 years ago

      They seriously need to do something.

      Right now Nvidia and Intel are the best choices for alternative OSs, Intel especially in laptops. It doesn’t matter how good DAAMIT’s stuff is; if one platform is useless with the operating system of my choice, I’m going to go with the platform that lets me do what I want to do.

      Personally, I was pretty ticked off when I bought a X1600 Pro only to find out that R5XX wasn’t supported under FreeBSD, so it’s Nvidia for me until DAAMIT gets their driver act together. Nvidia still requires a Linux compat layer on FreeBSD, but at least there are drivers.

      They either need to up support if they don’t want to open source it, or give the drivers to the community so they can support it.

        • stdPikachu
        • 13 years ago

        Totally agree with your sentiments, especially re: the Intel drivers. Whilst I’ve had a few (niggly) problems with the binary nV drivers, when I upgraded to a C2D I opted for a mobo with a G965 chipset just to see what it performed lik under Linux – colour me impressed. Enough 3D clout to run any of my OGL eye candy at respectable framerates at 1680×1050, and zero crashes/lockups. My only gripe at the moment is that the open source drivers for the GMA X3000 don’t yet support XvMC.

    • sroylance
    • 13 years ago

    Where did he say it was easy? It’s not easy, but it’s not that hard relative to building a GPU or writing a GPU driver.

    • magila
    • 13 years ago

    It’s not that it would be easy, but if they already wanted to badly enough to risk a patent suit over it they would certainly be willing to spare the necessary man hours.

    Edit: Oops meant for #18

    • albundy
    • 13 years ago

    would be nice if game developers move towards OpenGL and away from that awful “other” api. would be nice to support multiple shader models, rather than force people to upgrade every two months.

    • just brew it!
    • 13 years ago

    If nVidia really wanted to steal ATI’s optimization ideas, they’d disassemble/decompile ATI’s drivers. Lack of source code would be only a temporary roadblock.

      • BobbinThreadbare
      • 13 years ago

      Is it really that easy?

        • stdPikachu
        • 13 years ago

        Not easy by any stretch, but a company with the financial and informational resources of nVidia would be able to do it. But it would take a long time and be incredibly expensive. This is the problem facing the OSS coders who don’ have anywhere near the amount of kit, time and experience that a company like nV command.

        Personally, I’d be overjoyed if ATI only (re)released the source for the 2D portions of their driver in order to get things like XvMC and multihead setups working correctly. After years of using nVidia and, more recently, Intel GFX under Linux, the problems I face with ATI make their drivers seem like a joke.

    • herothezero
    • 13 years ago

    q[< Because when you have a patent on something others can not use it unless you let them. It doesn't matter if you tell others how your thing works or not.<]q Are you trying to tell us that patent violations don't happen in the open-source community simply because something is patented? Dude, you're horribly naive.

      • ew
      • 13 years ago

      Got any proof to back that statement with?

        • Flatland_Spider
        • 13 years ago

        The freetype package has some code in it dealing with sub-pixel hinting that looks to encroach on MS’s cleartype patent. The code was disabled in the default build once it was discovered, but it is still there and can be enabled.

          • FubbHead
          • 13 years ago

          But then the whole patenting system, and how dated and stupid it has become, deserves a topic of its own.

            • murfn
            • 13 years ago

            I believe you can patent an algorithm. While program code is normally covered by copyright. The source code in the drivers is unlikely to contain patented algorithms. Regardless, once an algorithm or anything else is patented, it is public knowledge and there is no need for source code should you wish to infringe upon the patent. Keeping the source could closed is not about protecting patents, unless you are trying to hide the fact that you are using somebody else’s patents. I doubt this is the case here.

    • ew
    • 13 years ago

    Being patented and proprietary shouldn’t stop them from open sourcing their drivers. They may not be able to use the GPL but I suspect they could come up with a license that would make the source available to the public and still protect their IP from competitors.

    EDIT: And they can even get around the DRM issue. They just keep that code to themselves in their closed source branch. So if you want the DRM features you use the closed DRM driver(most people). No reason the rest of the code should be closed.

      • swaaye
      • 13 years ago

      I dunno. When I look at someone else’s code, it gives me ideas on how to approach things that I’d never thought of before. That’s the risk. I’m sure NV, say, isn’t going to go copy things, but it can give them competitive new directions to look at.

        • ew
        • 13 years ago

        But if those ideas are patented then you can not use them.

          • eloj
          • 13 years ago

          There was a time when ideas couldn’t be patented. Ah, the good old days.

            • Sargent Duck
            • 13 years ago

            Hey! I patented the saying “the good old days”, and all derivations of it. I’m taking you to court.

      • TheTechReporter
      • 13 years ago

      “make the source available to the public and still protect their IP from competitors” ?
      How exactly do you think that is possible?

      Remember, IP isn’t just about the exact lines of code in your program, it’s about the ideas you implemented.

      If I read your source code, I’ve already gotten hold of your IP whether you like it or not, and you can’t really prove anything if I steal your _idea_ and use it in my software (as opposed to stealing your _code_).

        • ew
        • 13 years ago

        /[

          • swaaye
          • 13 years ago

          Sounds like they’d need an awful lot of patents to protect probably millions of lines of driver source.

            • ew
            • 13 years ago

            The patents wouldn’t protect the code. The patents would protect the ideas expressed by the code.

            The code would be protected by copyright. IANAL but the license they use to distribute the code could state that it can not be modified to be used with competitors products.

          • BobbinThreadbare
          • 13 years ago

          Yes, but how do you enforce that?

        • ew
        • 13 years ago

        Your confusing trade secrets with patents.

        • sroylance
        • 13 years ago

        Intellectual property does not exist in any laws in the US. We have 3 separate domains: copyright, trademark and patent. None of them are ‘about’ anything and none of them cover ‘ideas’ in a completely general sense.

        You can own code, you can own a patent and you can own a trademark, but you can’t own an idea.

          • BobbinThreadbare
          • 13 years ago

          You can own a business method too, which includes algorithms, where the specific code is different, but if you do something in the same way it’s a patent infringement.

    • Bensam123
    • 13 years ago

    “Proprietary, patented optimizations…”

    I wonder if he’s talking about how when I switched from 6.9 to 7.2 drivers textures have become noticeably more blurry on my x800XL. The depth that they blur at is also messed up. Playing Company of Heroes the mountains easily show the effects of their “optimizations” resulting in half the mountain getting blurred when it’s at the edge of the screen and another part not getting blurred.

      • swaaye
      • 13 years ago

      Way to whine.

      I think he’s referring to stuff like the shader compiler and general performance optimizations. And all of the ways they’ve hacked things up to work around developer hack jobs, say. Half of the accelerator is its driver.

      • Shinare
      • 13 years ago

      Sounds to me like you need to check your driver quality settings (AA and AF in particular).

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