Closed Source Drivers & The Linux Community

Every time I come in contact with a closed source ‘proprietary’ driver I find that it offers me more trouble than it is worth.


Nvidia is the kind of cooperation that pollutes the Linux community. Linux is open source, the Nvidia drivers are not. They are proprietary, which is silly in general. I buy hardware and when I buy hardware I want a pretty decent specification on how to use it (e.g: under the form of source code). If that is not available, then I bought something useless. The NVidia drivers, and specially the 3D access, are closed source and incredible difficult to install. I managed to do this for all past kernels and versions of their closed source driver. However very recently my card was ‘suddenly’ no longer supported. This means that I now have the choice of buying a new one (probably the big master plan behind their current driver), or fall back to the less-than-optimal implementation of the NVidia driver. I ‘choose’ the last option.

ATI Radeon cards: Fglrx

The firegl cards are a nightmare as well. Again a closed sourced driver and a company that tries to get their ‘hands’ in the market by not releasing the source of their driver in one way or another. These days this might seem ‘natural’ not to provide a specification of hardware. But, the reality is that one effectively buys a car without the ability to steer it. For instance it has taken many generations of the Radeon driver to actually not crash X every once in a while (probably a concurrency problem). However, it was completely impossible to fix that issue since no source was available. Similarly: lately the drivers changed their versioning scheme which broke the binary driver entirely. Normally one could fix that, now we can’t.

It finally happened. One of our machines stopped working with the upgrade to the 8.38 drive. The mobility Radeon 9000 is no longer supported. So here we are: great hardware, no drivers. Does this mean their hardware is completely useless ? The answer is: yes.

Sound Blaster

Sound blaster cards and creative labs in general are a nightmare for the Linux community. In a sense they are partly supported, in another sense they are supported because some people have spent a lot of time in figuring out how the cards work. However, what I can now do with my ‘Create Labs live mega DSP piece of hardware’ is that I can access the DA and AD circuits. That’s about it. There are simply no proper specifications available on how to access the hardware.

Intel IPW2200 drivers

At the moment I have a Intel IPW2200 wireless network card. That driver is closed source as well, and I’m pretty sure that in the near future the drivers will become obsolete as well.

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