Saying that Nvidia's relationship with Linux users has been less-than-friendly would be an understatement. (Remember when Linux creator Linus Torvalds flipped off the company in 2012?) But now it seems like Nvidia is ready to make friends, because it's publishing some of its GPU hardware documentation with the MIT license to make it more accessible to the public, according to a Phoronix report yesterday.
Linux was created specifically because Torvalds believed there needed to be an open-source alternative to Windows. Many Windows users prefer to use open source tools, which they can examine and modify themselves, instead of proprietary software over which they have limited control. Nvidia's reliance on proprietary drivers doesn't align with that ethos.
Other developers have stepped in to create open-source Linux drivers for Nvidia hardware. Those efforts have been stymied by a lack of documentation for the company's GPUs, however, which is what makes yesterday's revelation such a big deal. Nvidia's decision to make a fair amount of its hardware interface documentation publicly available should make it much easier for devs to work on these drivers.
The company told Phoronix that this open source documentation is "a work in progress" several years in the making and that "not all hardware interfaces have been published." Right now, much of the documentation is said to cover the Maxwell, Pascal, Volta and Kepler architectures; Phoronix reported that open-source documentation for the Turing architecture is also on its way but didn't specify when it'd arrive.
This is an important gesture from Nvidia. Many gamers rely on Windows even if they'd prefer to use Linux simply because the former plays nicer with Nvidia hardware. If this documentation leads to better Linux drivers, it could easily complement other efforts to improve gaming on the platform, such as Valve's ongoing commitment to improving Linux support for games sold via its Steam marketplace.
Nvidia made the documentation referenced in Phoronix's report available via GitHub. Hopefully, this signals the start of improved Linux support from the manufacturer, rather than a random gesture of goodwill, because a lone olive branch extended seven years after being called "the single worst company" the Linux community has tried to work with probably isn't going to be enough for Nvidia to make a new friend.