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Nvidia pledges to play nicer with Linux

Nvidia pledges to play nicer with Linux

Nvidia has promised to play nicer with Linux developers, pledging to release documentation to the community-driven Nouveau driver project.

Nvidia has promised to start playing nice with Linux, more than a year after project founder Linus Torvalds called it 'the single worst company we have ever dealt with' and handily just ahead of the launch of Valve's SteamOS and related Steam Box Linux-based hardware.

While all major graphics hardware manufacturers target Microsoft Windows as their primary platform - for the simple reason that it is used on the overwhelming majority of desktops and laptops on the market today - their respective support for operating systems based on the open-source Linux kernel vary considerably. Intel is one of the best, offering open source drivers for the majority of its graphics devices - some PowerVR-based Atom chips notwithstanding - while AMD follows closely behind with a feature-packed proprietary driver package as well as contributions to an open-source, though more basic, equivalent.

Nvidia, sadly, trails the pack. While its proprietary driver, a binary-blob which replaces much of the underlying infrastructure of the X Windows environment and acts as little more than a wrapper around its Windows driver bundle, performs well, the company has long ignored demand for an open-source driver package. Its only half-hearted attempt was killed off unceremoniously years back, and it has refused to aid any community efforts at creating an open-source driver for its hardware - leaving the Nouveau project, which seeks to do exactly that, to reverse-engineer their own in a laborious and frequently painful process.

It's an approach which has proved short-sighted for the company. Its Tegra product line, which combines the company's own graphics technology with CPU IP from Cambridge-based ARM, is a continued focus - and the majority of Tegra-based devices run Android, which is built on top of the Linux kernel. With Valve now launching a gaming-centric Linux distribution of its own, dubbed SteamOS, things are likely coming to a head - which is why it's no surprise to see a volte-face from the company.

In a post to the Nouveau mailing list, Nvidia has pledged to change its ways and finally start supporting the community-driven open source driver project. 'Nvidia is releasing public documentation on certain aspects of our GPUs, with the intent to address areas that impact the out-of-the-box usability of Nvidia GPUs with Nouveau,' explained Nvidia's Andy Ritger in his message. 'We intend to provide more documentation over time, and guidance in additional areas as we are able.'

Sadly, Nvidia is limiting its efforts to simply providing documentation for its GPUs, rather than assigning engineers to contribute code directly to the project as do its rivals Intel and AMD. 'A few of us who work on Nvidia's proprietary Linux GPU driver will pay attention to nouveau at lists.freedesktop.org and try to chime in when we can,' Ritger promised. 'If there are specific areas of documentation that would most help you, that feedback would help Nvidia prioritise our documentation efforts.'

Developer response to Nvidia's sudden silence-breaking pronouncement has been surprised, cautious but ultimately welcoming, with requests already being submitted for additional documentation to help improve power management on Nvidia GPUs.

The move may help to heal the rift between the company and Linux founder Linus Torvalds, who famously offered a one-finger salute to sum up his feelings on Nvidia's approach to the Linux community. Speaking to Ars Technica, Torvalds described himself as 'cautiously optimistic that this is a real shift in how Nvidia perceives Linux,' but warned that the released documentation is so far fairly limited. 'I really hope that some day I can just apologise for ever giving them the finger.'

12 Comments

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theshadow2001 25th September 2013, 11:14 Quote
This is great news. I was hoping that the SteamOS would help bring about better drivers for linux and it seems it has.
damien c 25th September 2013, 12:13 Quote
Now for those of us who mainly play games on our pc's, we just need the developers of the AAA titles to actually support Linux.
Gareth Halfacree 25th September 2013, 12:17 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by damien c
Now for those of us who mainly play games on our pc's, we just need the developers of the AAA titles to actually support Linux.
We're getting there: all Valve-published games from this day forward will support Linux, most indies are launching simultaneously on Linux alongside other platforms, and as for the triple-As you've got Metro: Last Light coming to Linux - and if that enjoys success on the platform, others will doubtless follow.

There's no real excuse not to: most game engines run fine on Linux, and even when you're using an in-house engine porting isn't hard. Case in point: Serious Sam was ported to Linux by one guy. Not a team of engineers, just one guy. (I interviewed him a while back - lovely chap.)
Glix 25th September 2013, 14:31 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Quote:
Originally Posted by damien c
Now for those of us who mainly play games on our pc's, we just need the developers of the AAA titles to actually support Linux.
We're getting there: all Valve-published games from this day forward will support Linux, most indies are launching simultaneously on Linux alongside other platforms, and as for the triple-As you've got Metro: Last Light coming to Linux - and if that enjoys success on the platform, others will doubtless follow.

There's no real excuse not to: most game engines run fine on Linux, and even when you're using an in-house engine porting isn't hard. Case in point: Serious Sam was ported to Linux by one guy. Not a team of engineers, just one guy. (I interviewed him a while back - lovely chap.)

But its a bit unfair to imply that games can be ported easily to Linux. Some engines are designed purely to work on Windows, so is it a Management problem or a lack skills within the teams?
rollo 25th September 2013, 15:12 Quote
Valve will force the issue eventually most likely, they will at least support the valve OS if nothing else.

Valve would not have pushed ahead with its plans without publisher support.
Gareth Halfacree 25th September 2013, 15:22 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Glix
But its a bit unfair to imply that games can be ported easily to Linux. Some engines are designed purely to work on Windows [...]
Name one. No, seriously. There are very few game engines designed purely for use with Windows. Any game that is also available on a PS3, Wii U, hand-held console or Mac, for a start, is already ripe for a quick port to Linux. (Incidentally, Ryan handles OS X ports as well - one of the benefits of a shared POSIX-like environment betwix that and Linux.)

Here's a few engines I can name from the top of my head: Unity, Unreal, Frostbite, Torque, CryEngine, Gamebryo, id Tech, REDengine, RenderWare and RAGE. Not a single one of those is Windows-exclusive. Point of fact, designing a Windows-exclusive game engine in this day and age would be a monumentally stupid thing to do - the whole point of middleware is that it abstracts you from the underlying platform, not ties you in to one specific market.
Corky42 25th September 2013, 15:50 Quote
What with Valve, AMD, and now NVidia all paying more attention to Linux (open source)

Are we seeing the beginning of the end of the proprietary systems so loved by Microsoft, Apple, Sony, and the rest of the company's that try desperately to control what users can do.

The more you tighten your grip, the more systems will slip through your fingers
rollo 25th September 2013, 17:07 Quote
Find out pretty fast if xbox one and ps4 dont sell well, Apples latest product launch sold 9million in 2 days.
teppic 25th September 2013, 17:46 Quote
The open source drivers won't be used for gaming on Linux. It's great that they're improving of course. Both companies are putting a lot of effort in lately.

And yes, major games aren't developed specifically for Windows. Whether existing games are ported or not will depend on demand. There'd be an advantage of porting older games - some big performance improvements (particularly DirectX 9 titles).
Corky42 25th September 2013, 17:53 Quote
If the open source drivers wont be wont be used for gaming on Linux could you explain to simpletons like my self what they will be used for, does the community have different priority's ?
teppic 25th September 2013, 19:04 Quote
The open source drivers are usually used for desktop and basic 3D. There are political/philosophical reasons for the open source drivers as well. Plus there can be distribution problems if you include the proprietary ones, currently most distributions ship with open source drivers and give you the option to download the proprietary ones once installed.
Glix 25th September 2013, 20:10 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
-

League of Legends? I know it's on Mac, but a lot of people report it doesn't work properly. :p

I don't whether that is a result of the hardware of the users or a problem with certain OS setups.
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