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A call for graphics card vendors to Open source their drivers?

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Graphics architectures have progressed to the point where they are about as programmable as a general-purpose computer architecture. No one would buy a computer for which there are no publically accessible programming guides. It is no secret what instructions the P4 supports or what control registers are available on the XScale. If Intel would release a radical new CPU where there is no documentation on the programming model, only proprietary compiler support via ICC, then nobody would buy it. Then why has the industry allowed these graphics companies to support undocumented features above and beyond VESA standards via proprietary drivers? It's really a shame that we can't have leading-edge graphics support, given that we have highly capable people willing to write the drivers free of charge if they were given the appropriate specs. So.. what are the pros/ cons of open sourcing their drivers? Does anyone think that people will actually contribute to the drivers and optimize them better than they are (especially linux) . Does anyone think that there is a reason the graphics card companies (ati, nvidia) SHOULDNT open their drivers?

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Sure, I can think of a few reasons.

Time spent by people organizing the code for release is better spent making new stuff. Time spent by engineers ensuring the code is free of certain intellectual property claims is expensive. Time spent by lawyers making sure the license is okay is expensive. Time spent by lawyers dealing with potential issues arising from wackos who don't understand 'use at your own risk' is expensive...

These aren't exactly good reasons, but there's not exactly a compelling cause for the drivers' release either.

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Drivers are as important as the actual physical card. If Nvidia, for example, opened their interface, it's possible that someone would produce an Nvidia clone card that took advantage of their drivers.

That I believe is the main reason the hardward interface remains closed on all comercially viable cards.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
If that were true, we'd be seeing CPU clones showing up everywhere, just because Intel released the white papers for their CPU's.

Just knowing how to interact with the hardware via open drivers, doesnt mean knowing the hardware. Any more than knowing an object's interface means knowing how the object is implemented.

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Quote:
Original post by Anonymous Poster
If that were true, we'd be seeing CPU clones showing up everywhere, just because Intel released the white papers for their CPU's.

Just knowing how to interact with the hardware via open drivers, doesnt mean knowing the hardware. Any more than knowing an object's interface means knowing how the object is implemented.


exactly. not to mention the infrastructure necessary to even fabricate them. If i had the money, i would buy the company and Open source their drivers.

the ATI driver for linux is dismal.

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Quote:
Original post by Anonymous Poster
If that were true, we'd be seeing CPU clones showing up everywhere, just because Intel released the white papers for their CPU's.


Just what do you think AMD and Via are doing? They are Intel clones. Indeed, the original AMD chips came from the same exact blueprints as Intel.

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Quote:
Original post by Anonymous Poster
If that were true, we'd be seeing CPU clones showing up everywhere, just because Intel released the white papers for their CPU's.
Heh, you're pretty young AP. In 386 land, we had Tandy, AMD, Cyrix, Intel and IBM, to name a few. However, thank's to Moore's law, processors double in speed AND manufacturing costs every six months: the start up costs are too much currently to have tons of clones.

Plus, Video cards have drivers, while CPUs are essentially driverless. I'm unsure how much time Intel spends on WinOS or Linux, but it's probably far less than NVidia or ATi spends on their driver development. I've never played with ATi, but NVidia's software renderer is pretty impressive.

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Nvidia have stated, that they'd gladly open source their (Linux) driver, however it is completely impossible for them to do so, given that it's full of numerous other companies' (SGI especially) code which has been licenced to them under an incompatible licence (i.e. one which does not permit source code release, never mind open source release).

Modern graphics drivers are extremely complicated, so it's unlikely that any major company would ever be able to open source their driver, for purely legal reasons.

Mark

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