Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Open Source Driver Development

So, Greg KH and the Linux community are offering free driver development. This is very clever, I think, and potentially a very cool thing. The is interesting on many levels. On one level, the availability of free drivers enables hardware vendors/IHV's to reduce their costs. On another level, it means that the must admit that their hardware sales are their revenue input and the software is merely an enabler for that hardware revenue. In other words, software has no real economic value, and usually has a large development cost that can be avoided. On a completely different level, it means that the IHV's must release specifications to their hardware to the public (yes, there are some ways to restrict that, although odds are they are a hassle which is really not worth the hassle) and the level of competition in devices shifts from "secret ways to make hardware work well" to "public specs which have more features with great hardware support". In other words, I think public specs will drive more direct competition in real hardware value. Of course that means that vendors will be forced to have real value in their hardware which could be a good thing for the consumer.

All in all, the real proof will be in the pudding, as they say. Until a few hardware vendors show that this is a viable option, there will likely be some skepticism. Going open kimono on hardware specs scares a lot of IHV's - it means that they show their (often small!) hardware value add to their competitors on their public specs now. And, there is the risk that the rather judgemental nature of the Linux community may still avoid the use of more advanced capabilities. For instance, even releasing specs on a network card that supports TCP Offload Engine (TOE) support may not get full community support.

But, really, I think this will be a great thing for the Linux ecosystem overall. Provided someone signs up....

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