Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Dell's Linux Pressure

Dell is now applying pressure on vendors to improve their Linux driver support. This was the message sent as part of their presentation at the Ubuntu Live conference. As you can see from the Dell slide, Dell is investigating driver support for various hardware. Of interest to me is obviously the ATI Video and Broadcom Wireless products. These are the only two products in my new laptop that isn't working perfectly.

The Broadcom wireless only works using the Windows drivers under ndiswrapper. The ideal situation would be for the device to be supported under the bcm43xx kernel driver. Unfortunately, my hardware is too new and the driver doesn't work on the newer versions as of kernel 2.6.22. Instead of stone-walling the Linux driver developers, Broadcom could do what their competitor, Atheros did. Atheros releases an entirely proprietary hardware abstraction layer (HAL). It then provides the Linux community with the necessary software interfaces (API). This means that Atheros gets to keep it's hardware internals confidential, while allowing Open Source programmers to develop working drivers.

With ATI, I've already complained about their miserable Linux driver performance. According to the article, "Dell wants to offer ATI Linux systems, but first the driver must be improved for the Linux platform (not necessarily open-source, but improved). Dell currently ships desktop Linux systems with Intel using their open-source drivers as well as NVIDIA graphics processors under Linux." ATI would do well to listen to the world's 2nd largest computer company. I'm sure that Dell would like to play ATI off NVIDIA and ChipZilla to secure competitive pricing for it's machines. So, I'm hopeful that ATI will take head and improve it's Linux drivers. At the moment, it is releasing an update each month. I've just installed the latest version (8.39) today. It's still a joke.

This is essentially the main comment that I had when the first rumours of Dell selling Linux boxes first appeared. Dell selling Linux is a good thing for Linux. Hardware vendors who have ignored Linux in the past, will have to start making sure that their hardware works with Linux. One advantage that Linux has against Windows is driver development. These companies do not need to do it totally in-house. They can provide interfaces to their hardware to kernel driver developers and let the community do the bulk of the development work.

Hopefully, the hardware vendors will listen. It pays to listen to someone with the large purchasing power of Dell. Also, I guess this means that the Dell Linux boxes are doing well in sales. That's why Dell is putting more effort into Linux driver availability. (There's also news today that HP had just acquired 5,000 Ubuntu licenses to be sold to a university. Maybe HP will be coming on-board next!).

PS. I've received an email from the company managing the HP Cashback programme. My claim has been approved and I will get a cheque for 100 quid within 28 days. Cool! Also, HP has contacted me to tell me that they won't refund my Windows. I pointed out to them that the EULA states that I can claim a refund. They have yet to get back to me on that.

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