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