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Nvidia says no to free drivers, I say no to Nvidia

Linux kernel developers issue a statement signed by about 100 developers that they find non-free kernel modules to be undesirable and harmful. As they say "Such modules negate the openness, stability, flexibility, and maintainability of the Linux development model and shut their users off from the expertise of the Linux community. Vendors that provide closed-source kernel modules force their customers to give up key Linux advantages or choose new vendors."

Right on.

They have even criticized Nvidia specifically for not releasing free drivers. Nvidia responded. They have said no because, as they say, the drivers contain "intellectual property NVIDIA wishes to protect" and have further explained how they are already greatly supporting Linux and have a kernel team taking care of the non-free driver, all in all trying to make it sound like they are still offering their GNU/Linux using customers a sweet deal.

So let me get this straight, what is a part of this deal. You buy a video card, get the driver CD which may or may not contain a Linux version of the driver (in which case you have to go to their site to download it), finally install it and it works. Sounds great, right? But what if you could do better? What if you are a programmer who wants to improve a particular aspect of the driver? You can't do it. So the question is, do you really fully and entirely own the card you bought? Perhaps. But what about the thing that makes it work, that makes it do what you bought it to do?

Well, apparently, that one you don't own. You are merely rented it with the right to use it as is and that's about it. If you think something doesn't work because there is a bug in the driver, nope, can't fix it. Gotta contact their sweet customer service and beg them to fix it.

So in short, the deal is, you get the card, but the only way to use it is to rent a driver to which you have an incomplete access, thereby making your fruitful use of the card consistently dependent on Nvidia and, quite obviously, therefore limiting the control you as a supposed owner of the card really have over it.

Who gives them the right to do this? Well, frankly, you, so long as you buy the card. I've said in my last post here that I don't necessarily believe anymore that them offering such a (distasteful) deal is an immoral thing to do, but the question is do you wish to accept it? Do you agree that paying for something and then having limited access is a good deal for you?

That's something everyone has to answer for themselves. I for one, while I've been contemplating buying Nvidia as my next card because of the reverse engineered noveau driver which, last time I checked, was progressing quite well, now feel like spitefully saying no. AMD is helping develop a free driver for their modern cards and is therefore the way to go.

Bottom line is. Nvidia, you say no to freedomware drivers, I say no to you. How about that? Perhaps with enough people in the market acting on that same sentiment will make the value of NVIDIA's precious "intellectual property" suddenly seem trivial (that "property" is the recipe that makes MY card (should I buy it) work!).

Thank you


Totally agree, and I'm


Totally agree, and I'm suspicious of their "property", doesn't make sense, it just means, we have some secrets in the card you buy which we think you shouldn't know, DRM anyone?
so Nvidia, What's your "property" doing in my "property" ?
So here you are Nvidia, you can have it all to protect Smiling
Time for "boycott Nvidia" initiative ?

Good questions. It would be

Good questions. It would be nice if Nvidia would answer them. Perhaps it is indeed a time for the boycott campaign. Technically, it's what I was aiming at with my post. Smiling


Couldn'tve said it better

Ive never used nvidia at all mainly because I could care less what "works" or whats "better, so ive always sided with ATi. This just gives me all the more reason not to buy one Smiling.

Isn't it somehow funny that


Isn't it somehow funny that previously ATI was evil for having crappy Linux-drivers and nVidia was the choice for Linux-3D. Not because drivers were free software, no they were not, but they worked, unlike the ATI-drivers of earlier days, which were a pain in the ... to install and never worked with the latest kernel...
And now the focus is switching, AMD has bought ATI, and as AMD already previously used to be quite friendly towards free software they release all the specs so that a truly free driver can be written for their cards, and as nVidia still keeps on saying no to free drivers, no matter if they do it themselves or release the specs for others to do it, people see nVidia is the evil company in the "GPU-wars" and ATI is favored.

I think it's pretty funny, even more so as I have been using ATI for quite a while now already.

Open GPU drivers


Although I'm sympathetic from the openness side of things, the practical side of things it that open source 3D drivers are pretty much a non-starter for most of these cards simply because of the complexity. You have to be intimately familiar with the internal workings of the GPU. Look at the documentation that AMD recently released for their GPU cores. We'll see how long it is before a freely written driver can even begin to keep pace with the closed source ones. No one has years to sit around and wait either, as the GPU cores are revved on what seems to be a basically annual cycle. No company has a team of people sitting around waiting to answer questions about how particular parts of the core works or how to work around silicon bugs, etc. I don't buy into the argument about fixing bugs or making improvements with these parts either because of the complexity involved and lack of available documentation. It's so much more than just having a register map with parts like these. Even the internal driver teams need to work really closely with the actual silicon designers to get good drivers for parts like these. That resource is not available to the outside world.

I don't really understand what the huge advantage to having open source drivers for these chips is supposed to be. As long as the drivers work more or less, and you can get done what you need, who cares. I think for a lot of people, it would be the motivation of curiosity or to work around undesirable things like DRM, etc. Unfortunately, neither is a particularly compelling reason from the point of view of a silicon vendor.

When Larrabee finally ships, things will probably change.

This kind of post is why Linux still sucks


I am disappointed to see this kind of criticism. From nVidia's standpoint, they have made a significant effort to support Linux, and what do they get for it? Crap like this. Why even bother? I can see an nVidia executive deciding to kill Linux support if the reaction is bad enough. The opensource-or-death movement is almost as bad as the command-line-or-death group in that both cripple linux from broader acceptance. Maybe your happy compiling your own operating system, drivers, programs, etc... but I only care about usability, stability, and application support. I don't feel the need to always access someone else's source, I am too busy with my own code.

And calling it renting to use the driver is moronic. nVidia put time and effort into designing the card, then put time and effort into making it work in Linux. Thank you nVidia for your efforts. I don't feel the need to see every one of your proprietary secrets to use one of your products. Keep it up, and please ignore the cultists.

I completely agree with the


I completely agree with the previous post from OnlineSolutions. I'm willing to make concessions for usability. I'm already sacrificing a LOT by using Linux as my primary operating system. I'm just not getting close to the point where games are routinely playable, and now you want to rip into nVidia because they don't do things *your* way? Feel free to boycott nVidia (and ATI), it won't harm me any, and it won't harm the video card manufacturers either. Hell, you can barely buy a PC (pre-built, obviously you can roll your own) without some form of nVidia or ATI chip in them somewhere.

This really digs at me like the whole 'go green' craze that goes on these days too. I am NOT boycotting gasoline, wifi (more nonfree driver omg!), video cards, and whatever else the extreme hippies decide is "bad" for the world. I thought we were finally past the Linux elitist nonsense where Linux is the only way, and everything must be free/opensource. Seriously though, your solution is to give up 3d accelerated graphics. Do you realize how that's just not a solution? I love the command line as much as the next guy (I work at an all Linux web host, I'm stuck in the command line world 10 hours a day ffs), but I do enjoy the occasional game as well. Sue me if I don't care about what nVidia dos with their code.



Instead of just asking for the source, why doesn't someone just force Nvidia's hands?
It'll be VERY hard and it probably wont work right, but if you brand it as decomplied drivers as the "real" drivers and they don't work, then Nvidia will be forced to release the code. At the very least they will be doing more QA testing before they release their own drivers which could make them better. Or they could see right through our "trick" to get them to release their code. But, by the time it all blows over we could have a good foundation for an open source Nvidia card driver. Though ironically nvidia drivers are usually better than ATI's, which doesn't ATI release the code to their drivers (I could be completely wrong, as I don't keep up with the Linux politics but I have had better results using Nvidia drivers than ATI drivers.)?

My comments to your comments

cwz wrote:

We'll see how long it is before a freely written driver can even begin to keep pace with the closed source ones.

Well, it seems you're either not using a recent ATI-card on Linux or your using the official ATI-driver, but the RadeonHD-driver, which is based on the specifications released by ATI is quite advanced already, and in quite short time you can say.
It works fine (which I can say from my own experience, having a Radeon X1250 onboard), and for some cards (from what I hear up to R500) it even already supports 3D-acceleration.
So, overall, things are progressing quite nicely.

cwz wrote:

I don't really understand what the huge advantage to having open source drivers for these chips is supposed to be.

The big advantage is that when you have a community behind it somebody will take care of the driver. Who guarantees that AMD will not stop supporting the Radeon 9600 (as an example) in a year or two? But if there is a free driver it can still be taken care of. This is one advantage of free software.

cwz wrote:

As long as the drivers work more or less,...

That exactly was the problem the ATI-driver used to have. It more often had problems than worked, especially on a recent kernel. I have on several occasions patched the source of the driver (parts of that driver are free, other parts are not) to get it running, on some occasions there was nothing I could do about the problem and either had to use an older kernel, or not use the fglrx-driver.
That said, these problems seem to be fixed now, and ATI delivers quite a usable driver from what I understand.

OnlineSolutions wrote:

From nVidia's standpoint, they have made a significant effort to support Linux, and what do they get for it? Crap like this. Why even bother? I can see an nVidia executive deciding to kill Linux support if the reaction is bad enough.From nVidia's standpoint, they have made a significant effort to support Linux, and what do they get for it? Crap like this. Why even bother? I can see an nVidia executive deciding to kill Linux support if the reaction is bad enough.

Yes, they have made a great effort of supporting Linux, and nobody here denies this. As I said before, nVidia previously used to be the way to go for Linux-gamers (and others wanting to have easy and reliable 3D), but since AMD has released the ATI-specs many people who care about free softwares and free drivers now favour ATI.
If a nVidia-executive now decides to totally kill of the Linux-support nVidia will most probably run into bigger trouble than they desire, and any of us can really foresee.
Not only geeks are now demanding open drivers, but also bigger players, and there definitely is pressure from different sides, and this cannot simply be ignored.
There is an interesting note in the German Linux-magazine about this (not the nVidia issue, but the free driver issue), I will look it up and post a translation; probably tomorrow.

f4nt wrote:

I'm already sacrificing a LOT by using Linux as my primary operating system.I'm already sacrificing a LOT by using Linux as my primary operating system.

To be honest: If you have to sacrifice so much, why do you use it? Really. If I had to make big sacrifices just to use Linux I simply wouldn't.

f4nt wrote:

Feel free to boycott nVidia (and ATI), it won't harm me any, and it won't harm the video card manufacturers either.Feel free to boycott nVidia (and ATI), it won't harm me any, and it won't harm the video card manufacturers either.

It surely won't harm you, and this surely is not the intention of anybody here. On this forum we try to support people, and not create bigger problems than they already have.
As for hurting the manufacturers I would like to point out my reply to OnlineSolutions. As said, I will post a translation of that interesting text related to this topic.

f4nt wrote:

Seriously though, your solution is to give up 3d accelerated graphics.Seriously though, your solution is to give up 3d accelerated graphics.

Why do you think this is our solution? For older ATI-cards, as far as I know up to the X800, the R300-driver offers 3D-acceleration, the RadeonHD-driver is, as I said, progressing quickly and I am pretty sure that progress will continue like this.
Intel for a long time already offers really free drivers, which enables users with Intel-GPUs (like in my notebook) to have accelerated 3D.

f4nt wrote:

...but I do enjoy the occasional game as well.but I do enjoy the occasional game as well.

So do I, and I openly admit to have a Windows-installation on my PC which I start every once in a while (an average of 2 hours a month would probably not be far from reality). The problem here is not that I cannot have free 3D-acceleration on Linux, the problem is that most games simply are made for Windows. Thus, this is a totally different issue.
This said I think it is worth mentioning that there are also a lot of good games for Linux, like FlightGear, or NetHack. ;-)

adamsna wrote:

It'll be VERY hard and it probably wont work right, but if you brand it as decomplied drivers as the "real" drivers and they don't work, then Nvidia will be forced to release the code.It'll be VERY hard and it probably wont work right, but if you brand it as decomplied drivers as the "real" drivers and they don't work, then Nvidia will be forced to release the code.

I see three issues with this:

  • In most countries decompiling is illegal.
  • Branding decompiled drivers as the official drivers in any case surely is illegal.
  • Nothing about this will force nVidia to release the code.

Besides this I see the issue you mentioned, that it will be really, really hard to do, probably impossible, especially if you want to get portable code.

According to some people I

According to some people I guess I am a "cultist" or "elitist" for making a buying decision that they don't agree with it, and sure enough people like me are the reason "Linux sucks". That's a very... interesting.. attitude. Unfortunately doesn't sound quite rational.

If you disagree there is absolutely nothing that you are being asked for, let alone forced to do. Buy Nvidia if it is your choice. I will buy ATI. And the reasons are what I stated in the blog. I am doing it publicly because I have the right to speak, to try and persuade other people to make the same choice, but never to force them. Some people will agree and some will disagree. This is how free market works. If enough people agree with me then we might cause a market shift. Otherwise what happens happens.

But I'm not just gonna sit still if I have the opportunity to voice my opinion and by that perhaps cause the consequences which I desire. And the great thing is that you don't need to sit still either.

So what's the problem? You disagree? Fine. You want to make a different choice? Absolutely fine. You don't mind using non-free drivers? I even said I don't consider that immoral, quite explicitly. I'm fine with that too! So seriously, what's the problem? You can argue points, but throwing labels around just makes you seem hot headed, not the one you're arguing against.


I say f*** Linux and all


I say **** Linux and all who code for it - it's nothing but a pile of bloated dependency-ware

Really now. Do you like


Really now. Do you like having to wait weeks or months for corporate tech-support to patch a bug in software? It's not a matter of "opensource-or-die", it's a matter of "if its broken, and you wont help me, why cant i fix it myself?". The exchange rate on my two-cents varies, so take that however you want.

**** Linux?


Wow what a smart comment. This guy has Windows or .Mac all up his ass!!!!

I use an Nvidia card in my Ubuntu PC and it works perfectly. But I agree with you, Nvidia is making a very questionable decision here. The computer world would be an easier place if everything was open and free (as in freedom). Things like this, and formats(mp3, mpg. avi, ooxml etc.) are here only to make the user expirience harder and harder every day.

Leave Nvidia alone...... do


Leave Nvidia alone...... do you want them to be like ATI and produce garbage drivers than can't do anything but run GL screen savers? It's their right to keep the driver code to them self. Shut up and let them keep making drivers!! This is the type of rant that drives people away from open source and Linux

Who says it isn't their

Who says it isn't their right? It is simply mind boggling how many people read in the article something that just isn't there. Puzzled Saying that I wont accept the deal they are offering and encouraging others who agree to not accept it as well is NOT the same as saying that Nvidia has no right to offer such a deal in the first place.

Basically leaving them alone is exactly what I'm doing!

Thank you for your very


Thank you for your very constructive comment Mr. Ballmer... ;-)

"From nVidia's standpoint,


"From nVidia's standpoint, they have made a significant effort to support Linux, and what do they get for it? Crap like this. Why even bother?"

You don't seriously think that nVidia made a Linux driver out of the goodness of it's corporate heart or in a fit of sympathy for Linux users do you? Linux may only have a small percentage of the desktop market, but for a big corporation in a highly competitive market, every last percent of market share is important. nVidia made a decent Linux driver because there was no decent driver available from their main competitor - it was a commercial opportunity for them, and that is the whole essence of the post; use your buying power wisely and make a difference.

Your reference to "proprietary secrets" shows why you don't really understand all this. One of the main reasons that Linux supporters rarely accept this seemingly logical and reasonable argument is because most of us are programmers and understand that there are no significant, valuable, "special secrets" that need protecting in source code. This is a nonsense peddled by business people who either don't understand what their assets are if not the source code, or are playing political business games by preying on the technical ignorance of government policy makers and consequently corporate buyers.

Video card drivers are possibly the place where this Intellectual Property argument is strongest, because the performance of the hardware can be heavily influenced by the software driver, and in this case there are also numerous mathematical algorithms being used where the manufacturer may have invested significant resources into finding the most efficient computational implementations. But in none of these cases is the "technology" involved special and secret and most likely if the source code were properly opened up, armies of open source developers would tweak the code to extremes impossible for a single vendor having limited resources. As things stand right now though, the majority of open source driver efforts are consumed with trying to reverse-engineer and figure out the hardware details. Perhaps what nVidia is most afraid of is that opening their driver source would lead to levelling of the playing field in this respect? But that is not really in the interest of the consumer, and we should vote with our wallets!

I get the feeling that some


I get the feeling that some people simply don't understand the point of this post... and thus totally overrate it.

@mejason: The ATI-drivers have come a long way and by now are far from crappy. I've been using the fglrx-driver some years ago when it still used to be crap, and I mentioned this time in my previous posts. But I have also used the driver last year to play stuff like Nexuiz, and also Doom 3, and there were no problems at all.

As said, the ATI-driver has improved a lot over the recent years, and it now is far from being unusable, or only usable for screensavers...

I enjoy Linux much moreso


I enjoy Linux much moreso than Windows. I'm making more sacrifices to use Windows than I am in Linux in my mind. Granted, I keep Windows around for the games that just create too much hassle to run in Linux, and because it plays much nicer with my Xbox 360 in terms of media sharing. I have two major problems with the original article:

1. The renting statement. Last time I checked nVidia doesn't charge weekly/monthly/annual fees. You bought software that you're not allowed to have the source code to, sorry to hear that bothers you. People dig that 'rent' crap though, it's all the hot rage in the DRM plagued world we live in. Basically, I call BS just on using that analogy, because you aren't renting anything. You *purchased* and *own* the card/driver. Are you allowed to modify the code? No, you can't. There are plenty of things in life you just don't get exactly how you want.

2. Somehow nVidia is expected/required to actually open up it's code. Why on Earth is this the case? Could it possibly be beneficial to nVidia, sure. Could it possibly teach ATI how to finally write a driver that resembles something functional (hope so, as I continue to suffer through ATI driver hell). Businesses rarely do anything that doesn't guarantee some form of return, and while open sourcing the drivers is theoretically free to do, it doesn't mean they'll gain anything in the process. Best case scenario a hundred Linux enthusiasts pledge their wallet to nVidia, until they do something else that doesn't please the Linux/opensource 'elite'.

People really don't realize the effect that rants like this article have, they really don't. People avoid certain Linux distributions because of the elite stuck up nature of their community. People avoid opensource projects for the same reason (looking at you openldap). We (figuratively) want the world to embrace linux and the opensource ideals, but I just see us going about it all wrong. We want to boycott nVidia because they do what they want with what is rightfully theirs? That's fine and all, but they do provide a half decent product, and their drivers have at least a half decent track record. Maybe I don't get it. Maybe everyone in the Linux world really uses just opensource products, thus no Flash, no Wifi, no mainstream music (damnit, they won't give me the master recordings!), and no movies (I want the raw footage, so I can edit it to suit me!). It's just goofy. This article was probably written from a PC with an nVidia motherboard in a Starbuck's, using ndiswrapper to make his non-free, non-opensource wifi driver actually work. Anyways, pick your battles. Don't rape a company that's at least made some effort for the Linux community, and don't give me all that crap about it was just a solid business decision. If you suddenly think dumping money into a linux community that is ridiculously small (in comparison) is a great fiscal decision then you've failed at simple math and economics.

The thing is, as I


The thing is, as I mentioned, that pressure now not only comes from the community itself, but also from the side of the OEM-manufacturers, and not small ones.
The news in the German Linux-magazine I mentioned yesterday mentions three big manufacturers (Dell, HP and Lenovo) of computers who in future plan to expect their suppliers to provide open source drivers for the hardware they deliver.

That these companies do this not only shows that somehow we are not that wrong about our position, and also gives quite some weight to the pressure on the companies as these three are players in the field which cannot be overlooked, all three probably belong to the top 5.
This does directly imply that in the near future it is highly unlikely that a Dell-, HP- or Lenovo-PC/-notebook comes with a nVidia-GPU.

And you cannot tell me that this does not make an impact.


As a user, I don't care whether I can modify the driver or not. All I want is a ready driver that I can download as quickly as possible and start using it. As long as it works, I am fine.

The free software concept


The free software concept is wonderful, 90% of software i use for development is Opensource.
IMHO the concept of free software means freamdom which every man seeks, right?So why we deny a company like NVIDIA from that freedom, Companies like NVIDIA are in vicious battles with there compititors in the same technology that you wish to be opensourced, one or two months of lag of one compititor to another makes a big difference.

Crap! I'm a fool that fell


Crap! I'm a fool that fell for the "wonderfull open Intel drivers" and bought a machine with their card, what a mistake that was. The drivers are complete crap, I have 1/5 of performance the same card gets under Windows. I'm compiling and recompiling drivers, mesa, dri, Xorg non stop, and it never gets better... maybe in a few *YEARS* when rest of the world will be running games 3x more demanding and better looking than Crysis. And there I'll be playing happily my Quake 3 arena with barely 50FPS(finally!!!!).

I see you are one of those who tell fairy tale stories about "million coders that run around fixing bugs in open source software". Yeah, where are those coders when you need them to fix *OPEN SOURCE* Intel drivers, problably too busy reinventing Unix with projects like elektra, avahi, upstart and .

Yes to AMD


I guess I'm a cultist too, as I'm going to reward AMD with my buying money for what they are doing with their driver. I used to reward Nvidia for their well working drivers. It seems that I have changed cult :-)

I am starting to dislike


I am starting to dislike NVIDIA more and more every day and I am a loyal customer. If they are not going to get their act together, maybe its time to switch brands.

I think I know what you


I think I know what you mean. The last twice I specifically bought NVIDIA cards for my desktops because of their Linux driver, and this also influenced my choice when buying my last laptop. I'm a strong open source advocate, but where there is a lack of suitable alternatives, I don't necessarily have a problem with using proprietary closed source software so long as it's backed by official support for my platform. What I do have a problem with is that NVIDIA have chosen to perpetuate the standard corporate bullshit line about protecting Intellectual Property as their justification for keeping the source closed. If they just said something more like "we're unsure about any potential consequences to our business from opening our driver source, so we would prefer not to do so at this time, but we understand the potential benefits to our customers and will keep the matter in mind" then I would (rightly or wrongly) feel less aggrieved. So I guess we're all susceptible to spin in one direction or another, but the way they have responded directly with that IP nonsense nails their colours firmly to a mast in a place I am simply not prepared to go. I'm not really up to speed on the matter so far as what AMD are doing now with ATI, but if they have/will produce a decent open source driver, then that is where I will put my money next time.

I will stick to intel.....


I will stick to intel.....

Why do people have a problem with good intentions?


I don't see why this is an excuse to criticise Linux or the open source community. But, more importantly, I think people who write bad things about them should take two things into account before making idiots of themselves:

1) Just because you can't easily see the influence that open source has had on your life, it is extremely significant. The prime example of this is internet explorer: the amount that it has been improved by the existence of Firefox is huge, so even if you don't use the open source software, you are reaping the benefits. Other examples include Windows, iTunes, Photoshop, MS Office, etc. I am not avoiding elaborating on this, I just don't have the time.

2) The failings of open source software aren't that significant and there are many basic things which, shock horror, I find lacking in Mac OSX or Windows (like mouse-focus, workspaces and middle-click pasting) . The impact of the difference only comes when you are familiar with one, but not the one you are currently using.

"I say **** Linux and all who code for it - it's nothing but a pile of bloated dependency-ware"

I can't understand why so many of you see the need to tell us that our preferred operating system is inadequate. I find that I work best on it and it's most enjoyable. Who are you to tell me it's simply worse? I don't feel triumphant over you since I pay a total of €0 for my software, I simply feel sorry for you for being so ignorant.

"As a user, I don't care whether I can modify the driver or not. All I want is a ready driver that I can download as quickly as possible and start using it. As long as it works, I am fine"
I think this has been covered, but, as a non-coder, I know that the importance is that open code means higher quality.

ATI and drivers


I found an OpenGL function that did not work with a couple of ATI cards. Sent them a small demo prog that isolated the problem.

They replied "we do not recommend using our Direct 3D cards [it was a Radeon X300 - Argey] with open GL applications; we would recommend our FireGL line; "

I wrote back "The specification here:
says "Full hardware support for OpenGL® 2.0"! "

To which their reply was "Though we do support open GL 2.0 on a hardware level with the Radeon Series, our software drivers have limited Open GL capabilities."

So they say they do in writing, but the wriggle and twist when you ask them to deliver.


This of course is something


This of course is something that then also can be taken care of with a free driver. ;-)