Yes, this manufacturer eventually released beta, binary-only drivers for Linux. No, they never followed up on their pledge to send me a prerelease GeForce 2 (wow, this was a while ago!) to make up for my pain and suffering with the TNT 2 driver situation. No, they never released source code for their 2D drivers. (That’s two fibs from one marketing guy — you’d think I’d learned my lesson.)
One of my points in pushing for open drivers was that the world of free Unix is not limited to Linux. It’s nice to see the manufacturer finally supporting FreeBSD. Of course, the closed source drivers may be causing the kernel swap daemon to crash. That’s unfixable; how are kernel developers to debug code they can’t read? Since this has bitten me several times in the past months, the binary-drivers are next to useless.
Far be it from me to rant and rave about just one video card manufacturer, though — especially as this all happened on the x86 platform. Back to the laptop.
To write effectively about Linux, I need to run it on my laptop. I’m also interested in Linux on alternate platforms (to become an article series). Not least, Mac OS X isn’t Free enough for day-to-day use. I’ve been pleased with Gentoo GNU/Linux on a server, so it seemed like a natural fit.
I found it pleasing that Apple is using an alternate video card manufacturer in their laptops. This is nice hardware; I’m very pleased. The company has been helping a couple of XFree86 developers write drivers for the video chipsets.
Unfortunately, the situation is much, much worse on the PPC platform. Not only are there many times fewer developers, but even though the company has recently released binary-only drivers, they support x86 only!
I’m writing this on an operating system built on a free Unix. I’m hardly the only person running an operating system composed of or including a free Unix on the PPC platform. My colleague Edd, for example, is running Debian PPC on his iBook. For the sake of argument, I’ll also consider everyone running Mac OS X to be another vote in favor of the viability of Unix on PPC. (You can’t swing a meerkat in my group at O’Reilly without hitting several people running some sort of Unix.)
Here’s my postulate. Linux is worth supporting, as evidenced by quasi-open and truly open and even binary only drivers. Unix on PPC is viable, with so many people switching and quite a few weirdoes like me running Linux. Thus, does it not make sense that Linux PPC deserves a little support, let alone the venerable BSDs?
After four years of running Linux on my desktop, I’m used to being treated like a second-class citizen. Now that I’m on a different platform, I’m even lower on the ladder.
Hardware Manufacturers, wise up! If you’re going to support a platform (either hardware or software), don’t do it halfway.
Update, 02 December 2002: I forgot to mention the video card in question.
Am I nutty, or am I on to something here?