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On open source drivers and NVIDIA

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July 18, 2008 9:15:15 AM

So something has come to my attention recently, and that is the Linux community now seems to be on the verge of boycotting nvidia because they haven't opened up their drivers. This strikes me as rather curious behavior seeing as how NVIDIA has had fairly decent Linux support for a while (perhaps not as good as their windows support but certainly better than ATIs support was in the past). It seems to me that all this uproar about NVIDIA was triggered mostly by the fact that AMD decided to open up their drivers (which is a good move on their part), while NVIDIA has not yet done this, and it is funny as now the two have switched roles as to who is the 'good guy' and who is the 'bad guy'. I wonder, is all this anger really warranted? I mean wouldn't it be better to push for open drivers in a non-abrasive manner? After all, I feel this could backfire on the Linux community and NVIDIA could just stop supporting their cards on Linux altogether.

Another question: why is it that some people insist on 100% open source? I agree that open source allows for the possibility of faster bug fixing and more quality software, but the way I see it, whether or not the software is better than the proprietary alternatives hinges on two things: 1)The talent of the people working on the software 2)the overall amount of interest that people have in participating in the project. I have seen programs that get little attention because their developers have other priorities, which isn't a bad thing but the program suffers for it nonetheless.

Also, lets face it, just because a program is open source doesn't mean it has the superior technology, yes? Case in point being nvidia drivers: nvidia's binaries yield superior performance to their open source alternatives, yeah? And having more people using the drivers will not help those guys figure out how to reverse engineer drivers any faster (although an increased pool of project coders may help a bit, but not everyone who would use their drivers is necessarily a coder). Yet another example is Flash vs Gnash: it seems logical to me to choose the one that has the superior technology (and is safer to use), and if Gnash some day outdoes Flash, I am sure people would prefer it to its closed source rival (the same goes for when open source drivers outperform nvidia drivers). For me, from a user standpoint, it makes sense to go with the software that is technologically superior, even if it does lead to a mixed environment. It may not be ideal, but it is the most practical solution since the open source community isn't necessarily going to be willing or able to provide a viable alternative to all the programs out there.

Those are just some thoughts from an insomniac. Feel free to share your own thoughts with me :) 

-Zorak
July 18, 2008 3:54:51 PM

Zorak said:
So something has come to my attention recently, and that is the Linux community now seems to be on the verge of boycotting nvidia because they haven't opened up their drivers. This strikes me as rather curious behavior seeing as how NVIDIA has had fairly decent Linux support for a while (perhaps not as good as their windows support but certainly better than ATIs support was in the past). It seems to me that all this uproar about NVIDIA was triggered mostly by the fact that AMD decided to open up their drivers (which is a good move on their part), while NVIDIA has not yet done this, and it is funny as now the two have switched roles as to who is the 'good guy' and who is the 'bad guy'. I wonder, is all this anger really warranted? I mean wouldn't it be better to push for open drivers in a non-abrasive manner? After all, I feel this could backfire on the Linux community and NVIDIA could just stop supporting their cards on Linux altogether.


Part of the issue is that there are some zealots that always have to have a "whipping boy" to bash on. The previous whipping boy ATi has made a dramatic change in both proprietary driver quality and in releasing specs for a much better open-source driver, so now NVIDIA with its sparse open-source nv driver and held-under-NDA specs assumes that role. Also, the fact that ATi did make that change gives a lot of fuel to the fire of the zealots as it appears that their strategy of whining incessantly until they get their way worked, so why not target NVIDIA with the same tactics?

Quote:
Another question: why is it that some people insist on 100% open source?


The big reason is that they are zealots and anything less than complete open-source is not enough. The minor reason is that open specs and code do allow for more efficient, higher-quality, and more feature-filled drivers/software independent of the manufacturer. The second reason is why I prefer open-source drivers to proprietary drivers as it delivers a _consistent_ experience for the end-user (e.g. me) as a result. Sometimes that experience is better than with proprietary drivers, sometimes it is worse, but it is consistent.

Quote:
I agree that open source allows for the possibility of faster bug fixing and more quality software, but the way I see it, whether or not the software is better than the proprietary alternatives hinges on two things: 1)The talent of the people working on the software 2)the overall amount of interest that people have in participating in the project. I have seen programs that get little attention because their developers have other priorities, which isn't a bad thing but the program suffers for it nonetheless.


And that is exactly why I am not a zealot. If there is a proprietary program or driver that is better for my uses than an open-source one, I'll use that instead, such as how I use fglrx on my desktop instead of the OSS ati driver even though the ati driver probably has enough features for me to use instead. Fglrx is much faster and has more features, not to mention is more stable at the moment. Maybe I will use the OSS driver at a later date but it will be weighed on its performance and support merits rather than the code license. The only bad thing about proprietary setups is that if you have NO OSS alternatives at all, it can be painful. That is not the case here as you can simply choose OSS-supported ATi or Intel hardware instead of NVIDIA's if you do not like NVIDIA's blobs.

Quote:
Also, lets face it, just because a program is open source doesn't mean it has the superior technology, yes? Case in point being nvidia drivers: nvidia's binaries yield superior performance to their open source alternatives, yeah? And having more people using the drivers will not help those guys figure out how to reverse engineer drivers any faster (although an increased pool of project coders may help a bit, but not everyone who would use their drivers is necessarily a coder). Yet another example is Flash vs Gnash: it seems logical to me to choose the one that has the superior technology (and is safer to use), and if Gnash some day outdoes Flash, I am sure people would prefer it to its closed source rival (the same goes for when open source drivers outperform nvidia drivers). For me, from a user standpoint, it makes sense to go with the software that is technologically superior, even if it does lead to a mixed environment. It may not be ideal, but it is the most practical solution since the open source community isn't necessarily going to be willing or able to provide a viable alternative to all the programs out there.


Exactly. I choose my software based on what gives me the best overall user experience, just like I choose my hardware. Thus I stay very far away from DRMed stuff. DRM is just really bad news as it is *designed* to prevent the user from using the affected file/program in a certain way. But proprietary != DRMed and as such, you can sometimes have proprietary programs/drivers that work much better and allow the user to do as much with them as an OSS program except recompile the source. Sometimes being able to recompile the source is a really big deal (as with some drivers or programs for non-i386 arches), so I'd choose the OSS program instead, but sometimes it is not, so I would use the proprietary program. I don't drink anybody's Kool-Aid, not Microsoft's, Apple's, nor RMS's.
July 18, 2008 4:22:03 PM

Zorak said:
So something has come to my attention recently, and that is the Linux community now seems to be on the verge of boycotting nvidia because they haven't opened up their drivers. This strikes me as rather curious behavior seeing as how NVIDIA has had fairly decent Linux support for a while (perhaps not as good as their windows support but certainly better than ATIs support was in the past). It seems to me that all this uproar about NVIDIA was triggered mostly by the fact that AMD decided to open up their drivers (which is a good move on their part), while NVIDIA has not yet done this, and it is funny as now the two have switched roles as to who is the 'good guy' and who is the 'bad guy'. I wonder, is all this anger really warranted? I mean wouldn't it be better to push for open drivers in a non-abrasive manner? After all, I feel this could backfire on the Linux community and NVIDIA could just stop supporting their cards on Linux altogether.



Some people like things are free as possible. They don't want to encourage people to rely on commercial works. Its complicated... some see it as a status symbol and etc. some, as a sign of independence and so on... People are insulting Nvidia because their offer on the table is less than that of ATi...

For example, the AMD Phenom is not a bad processor. Its just that whatever's out there tends to be more worth it or more powerful. Nvidia will always have a market in Linux as long as there is folding @ home on the Linux platform and as long as they hold the folding crown...

Zorak said:


Also, lets face it, just because a program is open source doesn't mean it has the superior technology, yes? Case in point being nvidia drivers: nvidia's binaries yield superior performance to their open source alternatives, yeah? And having more people using the drivers will not help those guys figure out how to reverse engineer drivers any faster (although an increased pool of project coders may help a bit, but not everyone who would use their drivers is necessarily a coder). Yet another example is Flash vs Gnash: it seems logical to me to choose the one that has the superior technology (and is safer to use), and if Gnash some day outdoes Flash, I am sure people would prefer it to its closed source rival (the same goes for when open source drivers outperform nvidia drivers). For me, from a user standpoint, it makes sense to go with the software that is technologically superior, even if it does lead to a mixed environment. It may not be ideal, but it is the most practical solution since the open source community isn't necessarily going to be willing or able to provide a viable alternative to all the programs out there.

-Zorak


Take this for an example. Organtic fruit is smaller and weaker than its non-organtic cousin. Why do people buy it?

MU_Engineer said:

Exactly. I choose my software based on what gives me the best overall user experience, just like I choose my hardware. Thus I stay very far away from DRMed stuff. DRM is just really bad news as it is *designed* to prevent the user from using the affected file/program in a certain way. But proprietary != DRMed and as such, you can sometimes have proprietary programs/drivers that work much better and allow the user to do as much with them as an OSS program except recompile the source. Sometimes being able to recompile the source is a really big deal (as with some drivers or programs for non-i386 arches), so I'd choose the OSS program instead, but sometimes it is not, so I would use the proprietary program. I don't drink anybody's Kool-Aid, not Microsoft's, Apple's, nor RMS's.


Yes, I agree...

But sometimes propitiatory is need-by... Sometimes software that is proprietary is not DRM'ed and is not open source...

I'll have to agree with you, most people care only about the price tag ie. me
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July 18, 2008 10:45:25 PM

MU_Engineer I think your line of thinking is a very healthy attitude and I wish that more people thought that way. I think kool-aid and FUD are things to be avoided like the plague, but unfortunately people buy into both of those on a daily basis. Also I agree that DRM is generally a bad idea. I can understand that software companies and movie makers and record companies want to protect themselves from pirates, and they have a right to, but I cease to give a damn about their rights the second the actions they take to protect themselves automatically cast me as a criminal and start screwing around with MY computer *cough* SONY ROOTKITS *cough*, so I also avoid stuff with DRM in it. Sooner or later they will piss off enough legitimate customers with their ineffective tactics at which point they will be at the mercy of their consumers once more as people abandon their products in droves (isn't free market economics nice?).

But yeah, zealotry with regards to free software or open source doesn't make sense to me and I think while it may be pushing towards good goals, i think the methods the zealots employ do more harm than good.

-Zorak

p.s. Nice to see there are other like-minded people here :) 
July 19, 2008 3:21:45 AM

^ Come on! Protect the software, but don't intrude into my computer... Vista on my computer died (BSOD) because I changed something in the BIOS... said that it was not real... has the retail box to prove it...

Died along with x1 tunes activation =(

DRM is pretty bad... it gets cracked within two days of release... leaves real customers with DRM... Real customers get the headaches =(.
July 19, 2008 8:14:50 AM

Yeah, DRM is a lot like gun control. It makes it harder for legitimate people to get their guns (or use their purchased software/movies/music) while the baddies aren't going to use legitimate means anyways (or pirates will find a way to crack DRM schemes within days of release or sometimes even BEFORE release!).

Heh. I am glad i decided to bypass the vista disaster altogether. I think if I ever need another copy of 'windows' i will most likely use ReactOS (If they ever finish it, that is ;)  )

-Zorak
July 19, 2008 2:04:37 PM

Vist is not that bad. It's bloated, slow and propriatry granted, but it does work. People seem to have short memories with Windows, I'd still say it's one of the best versions they have ever made. What it has shown is how lazy the commercial HW and SW companies have become in adapting to change.

I'm forcing myself to use Windows for a while to get back into MS technologies. I have to support a set of Windows applications on a daily basis and can honestly say that things are better now than they have ever been in the past. Not a popular thing to say down here I'm sure but it is my experience.
July 19, 2008 2:16:03 PM

^ Yeah, I suppose... people only remember the bad stuff...

Had another go in a computer store... forgot how I loved the sidebar cpu load widget thing...

...tablet support...
July 19, 2008 2:20:14 PM

Horses for courses. I feel happier with Ubuntu but I've had to accept some limitations of the commercial world. Windows is paying my bills... Ubuntu makes me feel good.
July 20, 2008 11:10:27 AM

It isn't the fact that the operating system is 'bad' per se, It is just that when MS put this thing out in about 4 different versions, all of which cost alot (and people who shelled out 400 for the ultimate got ripped b/c they really haven't gotten the extras they were promised), they didn't provide something revolutionary enough to justify their long development time and HUGE charges for their software. I mean COME ON you can get a freaking next-to-top-of-the-line graphic card for 400 f*cking dollars! You can even build an entire computer for that much if you wanted to! Based on my (i admit) limited experience, coupled with the info from friends who actually bought it and use it, Vista is just like XP with a few extra things added. The security may be 'better', but lets face it, when your system can be compromised by a stupid animated cursor (which has been fixed now), that doesn't inspire a whole lot of confidence that the new operating system is 'more secure'.

The heart of what I term the Vista disaster is that MS set us up to expect something great, charges for something great, and then provides something that doesn't measure up as a whole lot better than previous offerings, and THAT is what is pissing people off. All of this, of course, is not even considering restrictive license issues and all that garbage.

Also I took care not to mention hardware support because I think that would be downright unfair; Linux goes through the same issues of not getting proper support from hardware vendors, and that can hardly be blamed on the operating system. In fact, everything that I have read and heard is pretty damning towards the hardware vendors seeing as how they had almost a year to prepare drivers for the new windows.

So, if I absolutely NEED windows, since vista doesn't really supply me with anything extra that is worth mentioning, i'm glad to stick with my less bloated copy of XP (although I am loath to boot into it now), and when I can no longer get support for it I will probably use ReactOS to run any straggling windows programs that I can't live without.

-Zorak

p.s. My prices are based on when the OS was initially released so if the prices are WAY more reasonable now then I apologize (but the rest of my case still stands).
July 20, 2008 1:52:52 PM

I plumped for Vista Business x64 OEM on my new build. The price was £84 including UK VAT at 17.5%. This was as part of a complete new rig that came in at a total price of £430 including UK tax at 17.5%. As a proportion of the overall cost it killed me. However I needed Windows and compared to the PITA that using a torrent copy would bring me it was still a better option for me.

In terms of defects I'll not throw too much mud. I would always wait for SP1 on any MS release. In many ways I do the same with Ubuntu, leaving it a couple of weeks for that large scale post Beta testing to take place. The important distinction here is the price. Paying nothing I have no demand of imediate perfection, paying £84 I expect quality from day one. It should not be forgotten though that the FOSS community can drop the odd clanger - From Ubuntu land we have had clear text storage of root passwords and then the SSL key issues... Hmmm.. not great from either side really.

The versions of Vista are a pain and on that point I concur. I've recently had issues supporting customers using our software on Vista Home installs. We recommend 2k3 Server but can live with Vista Business for single user installs. Most of my end users have trouble deciding if they are on XP or Vista so I have to resort to the 'Do you have a little flag or a button that says start' type questions. The thing is... and it kills me to say this... it just works. I used to hammer and XP install and managed to get the blue screen on a regular basis. With Vista at both work and home I have had one that I could attribute to anything other than over enthusiastic OC attempts.

Don't get me wong, I'm not about to fully decamp from the land of Linux. ReactOS is interesting but you'll be waiting a fair old while before it's ready for the prime time and even then I doubt it will be a qualified platform for most software vendors. Fine if you are a home user but a show stopper in the commercial world. My prediction is that a baseline version of Windows will be made free to the masses in time. Most software companies are moving to a subscription model to keep steady revenue streams and if you look at what some companies are doing with .NET and SilverLight (hint: The company I work for is doing this) then they will make the money on services.

I'm not sure with Vista if it was actually MS or the end users that created more hype. Did apple even post an advert for the 3G here in the UK? I never saw one yet people still queued in the rain for one. Thanks blog sphere and tech sites, you just cut £5m off our advertising budget! Sometimes the users are their own worst enemy.



July 20, 2008 9:58:25 PM

Heh, apple fanatics are a whole other can of worms, man ;)  . They have some sort of strange psychic ability to detect even when that stupid CEO has a case of indigestion, let alone a new product anouncement. I do agree that the Microsoft fans (although I haven't met very man PRO-MS people, most are just normal about MS) may have generated some hype. But Vista still promised revolutionary new things like WinFS and Powershell (which they did ship eventually) to name just a couple of features that had to be removed.

Anyways, all this talk about vista and its shortcomings (both perceived and real) is really getting off topic, so I'll say no more about that subject.

-Zorak
July 21, 2008 3:40:37 PM

audiovoodoo said:
Vist is not that bad. It's bloated, slow and propriatry granted, but it does work. People seem to have short memories with Windows, I'd still say it's one of the best versions they have ever made. What it has shown is how lazy the commercial HW and SW companies have become in adapting to change.


I have also used Vista and it seems to be a very average MS OS release. It is by far not one of the best (such as Windows 95 and 2000) nor one of the worst (DOS 4.00, Windows Me). It just got a lot of bad press as it is one of the more resource-demanding MS OSes and broke a lot of drivers but doesn't bring a lot of new features to the table. Windows 95 was probably the most resource-hungry MS OS compared to its predecessor and required a lot of new W95-specific drivers, but it brought a lot of new *usable* features to the table, so people sort of overlooked its massive-for-the-time RAM appetite and the fact that their old widgets didn't work.

Quote:
I'm forcing myself to use Windows for a while to get back into MS technologies. I have to support a set of Windows applications on a daily basis and can honestly say that things are better now than they have ever been in the past. Not a popular thing to say down here I'm sure but it is my experience.


Windows has gotten much more reliable and stable in the last decade. Windows 2000 was the first MS OS that I would call ready for the modern desktop as it had Direct3D/OpenGL in the later SPs and USB out of the box as well as the NT OS core that was stable enough to stay up for months rather than days with the Win9x line. Windows XP and Vista were just tweaks to Windows 2000 and have retained much of the stability and ability that 2K had, provided your third-party drivers didn't suck royally. As far as user experience, an out-of-the-box Windows install is very spartan and has many unneeded services and such running that hog RAM. Once you tweak msconfig to stop the unneeded services, uninstall crapware, get an antivirus program, and get third-party programs to make a usable environment, Windows isn't all that bad. It's not *nix, but it's not horrible and I can use it when I have to. That is unlike Windows 9x, where it was good for playing games but not much else due to its instability.
July 21, 2008 4:39:00 PM

Now I remember beta testing 95 for a very large company whilst on my placement year (internship) at uni. Man, that was one hell of a change to the way we did business. Strange though, my recommendation after testing was that we should avoid deployment and go NT Workstation due to better stability and security. They didn't listen to me and still went 95, compared to 3.11 with Trumpet Winsock and DECnet it was sooooo much better they forgave it its faults.

My boss at the time left for a very senior IT post with a large power company. First thing he did was ban any new 95 installs and created a policy that all new machines were NT. He called me up 3 months later telling me that it had delivered far greater stability and to his balance sheet lower TCO. It also meant they had a far smoother ride when they did eventually move to 2K. I'd have to agree that it was the first truly solid MS release by most measures.

July 22, 2008 4:35:36 AM

Heh. You know, i never really got to use win95. We had an old 486 with win 3.1 on it until we finally decided to buy a new computer in 1998 with (shockingly enough) windows 98 on it. From what i've heard they really were pretty much the same thing. Anyways, I picked up a lot of my computing habits from using win98 for so long and to this day i still like the layout of windows explorer and the 'browser' metaphor over 'spacial' file browsers like the finder on macs, of course as ingrained as that habit is, I really enjoy the convenience of the command line provided by bash in Linux. I still feel that I can find stuff a little faster using a program like nautilus in 'browser' mode if I can't remember my directory structure and don't want to type 'ls' a bunch of times, but I am getting better wish bash all the time :) . Despite picking up useful computing skills in windows 98, i still HATE it so much for all the random crashes and video codecs that would break for no apparent reason. Supporting a system like that from 1998 till my mom finally got a new machine in 2006 was a MAJOR pain in my neck, and I will be happy when my memories of that time are nothing but a vague recollection in the back of my mind :) 

-Zorak
July 22, 2008 10:12:43 AM

I feel your pain!

At least you didn't have to deal with ME!

ME was bad :(  Really bad.

Unlike the original 98, Redhat 5 actually worked back in 1998 :) 
!