Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Open Source Graphics Drivers - The Revolution?

Digg scooped up two very important tidbits today:

  • Intel just released open source drivers for their i965 chipset graphics controller.

  • InfoWorld is reporting that AMD is "strongly considering open-sourcing at least a functional subset of ATI’s graphics drivers", following the recent aquisition of ATI by AMD.

What's all the fuss about?
First off, Intel has a good history of releasing open source drivers, and they're continuing to set a great example for other big industry players. (Their new "Intel Linux Graphics" site is a good move.) The press coverage that they're getting for these new drivers comes at a particularly opportune time, considering what AMD/ATI's thinking about doing. I think this'll put some pressure on AMD/ATI to release open source graphics drivers, which is a good thing. (The current legal situation with Linux distributions bundling and using binary-only drivers is a bit sticky.)

NVIDIA's closed-source drivers and support have consistently beat the quality of ATI's offerings, so it would be quite the shocker if ATI open-sourced their drivers. ATI would suddenly have much more respect within the Linux community and their graphics cards would (hopefully) all work "out-of-the-box" in Linux. The decision would essentially leave NVIDIA no choice but to similarly open-source their own drivers.

Now, this is all best case scenario - There's other possibilities here as well. I think the worst that could happen if ATI's drivers do get open-sourced is that, well, we have "at least a functional subset". That could mean just 2D acceleration support, which is better than nothing, but not nearly as good as it could be. In that case, I doubt that NVIDIA would end up releasing any form of open source driver in response - ATI just wouldn't have upped the ante enough.

Regardless, the push for open source graphics will definitely be one to keep an eye on over the next year.

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