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NVIDIA Driver Developer Discusses Linux Graphics

kdawson posted about 5 years ago | from the give-us-a-single-page-option-already dept.

Graphics 317

An anonymous reader writes "Andy Ritger, who leads the NVIDIA UNIX Graphics Team responsible for creating drivers on Linux, FreeBSD and Solaris, has answered many questions at Phoronix about the state of Linux graphics, gaming, and drivers. Ritger shares some interesting facts, such as: the Linux graphics driver download rate is 0.5% that of their Windows driver downloads at NVIDIA.com; how the Nouveau developers are doing an incredible job; creating an AMD-like open-source strategy at NVIDIA would be time intensive and unlikely; and development problems for the Linux platform. Also commented on are new features that may come to their Linux driver within the next twelve months." Like all stories at Phoronix, in common with most other hardware review sites, this one is arbitrarily and maddeningly spread across 8 pages.

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Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (4, Insightful)

Lord Lode (1290856) | about 5 years ago | (#29815609)

I download my Nvidia drivers from the Archlinux package repository. How many Linux users manually download them from Nvidia? The 0.5 percentage could be a big understatement...

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (5, Informative)

otravi (1289804) | about 5 years ago | (#29815655)

This was mentioned in the article. They do find it troublesome to measure their Linux user-base due to this.

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29815837)

On the other hand, I believe Windows users often get the drivers from MSI or whoever manufactured the card. Actually, probably a large percentage do. So it's impossible to tell how accurate the 0.5% figure is because there are so many other places to get the drivers on both platforms.

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (1)

Chaos Incarnate (772793) | about 5 years ago | (#29816189)

For video cards? Not generally. Most users who are upgrading drivers will use the reference manufacturer's.

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29816277)

No, most users just install a new driver when Windows Update says there is one available. Most folks don't upgrade their drivers at any other time.

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (1)

Korin43 (881732) | about 5 years ago | (#29816635)

On a package based distro, if you install anything without a package, you pretty much break auto-updating. For me, keeping it up to date without having to check is more important than having the latest driver (since they never change anything big anyway).

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (1)

Ceiynt (993620) | about 5 years ago | (#29816195)

When I had a MSI NVidia video card, I found the drivers were always about 6 months behind what was at the NVidia site directly. However, when I had the MSI system board, I found the drivers for the board to be fairly up to date, surpassing the ones MS had for things like the on board NIC and sound.

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (1)

nametaken (610866) | about 5 years ago | (#29816713)

You'd think it could be derived with greater accuracy by using units sold (or estimated marketshare) and estimated linux marketshare on the desktop.

Then maybe subtract about .00000001 for the zealots that refuse to install the nvidia provided driver. Oooo, zing!

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (1)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | about 5 years ago | (#29815661)

He admits that in the article.

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (2, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | about 5 years ago | (#29815965)

Yet the summary sees fit only to mention the .5% issue....

Why? Because if TFA mentioned that the vast majority of Linux users with Nvidia cards never need to go to Nvidia's site for anything at any time it wouldn't be a SlashDot article.

I swear, it would be more honest if TFA authors just inserted the random "Balmer Boils Babies" or "Apple Abandons Angola" outbursts into the articles we could all chuckle and move on, without the need to explain that TFAuthor had to find a way to insert his bias into the summary by cherry picking one-liners.

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (1)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | about 5 years ago | (#29816049)

What I found more notable than the 0.5% number was the amount of new features that will not be appearing within the next twelve months.

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (5, Informative)

ustolemyname (1301665) | about 5 years ago | (#29815677)

Quote from the article:

Q: Overall, what percentage of NVIDIA's customers do you believe use Linux?

I don't know many concrete percentages. Highend workstation visualization is roughly half Linux, and Digital Content Creation (DCC) is largely Linux. NVIDIA Linux graphics powers a respectable portion of the 3D workstations. Our CUDA user base also has a large Linux contingent.

However, the number of Linux driver downloads from nvidia.com is only 0.5% the number of nvidia.com Windows driver downloads. Of course, many Linux users get our driver through distro packages and other means that wouldn't be measured in that download figure.

Measuring the size of the NVIDIA Linux user base has always been a challenge for us.

Italics mine.

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29816103)

Digital Content Creation (DCC) is largely Linux

lolwut?

Ohhhhhhhh you're counting the renderfarms at Pixar, ILM, Weta and whatnot. Okay. Carry on. But know that those are typically headless and do not have a dedicated graphics card (if they even have an on-board one). CUDA, OpenCL, et al. notwithstanding. Not yet anyway. They'll make their impact in the near-ish future.

The actual -creation- (painting, compositing, audio editing, 3d scene setup, etc.) is done mostly in Windows, in OS X, and on dedicated workstations such as Avid and formerly-discreet(-logic)-Autodesk's offerings, while a lot of broadcast stuff is on even more esoteric stuff where you don't even have a keyboard, just a big ol' panel with knobs and buttons and jog dials and sliders and a mouse only for positioning and scaling elements. Some of these may carry a Linux kernel, but they're typically offered as turnkey solutions.. you don't plonk a different card in there and scour the interwebs for the appropriate driver.

DCC on Linux exists, even outside of the renderfarms, don't get me wrong... but to state that it is -largely- Linux? Come on, man. Present your numbers if you believe otherwise.

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (5, Informative)

nrgy (835451) | about 5 years ago | (#29816469)

I think you have it wrong and I'm writing this at Sony Pictures Imageworks on a CentOS box.

The film industry is mainly Windows and Linux, the larger the facility the higher the chance of it being a Linux house, but not always.

You hear "Macs make movies" so often and if anyone who doesn't work in the industry could see the state of things they would find the quote funny.

The main users of Apple products are producers and other pencil pushers running around with iPhones and Mac Pros, video files passed around during production are usually QuickTime files. Other than that a very limited amount of the business is anything Apple related. Final Cut is popular however its only one tool in the whole production chain and a facility doesn't need to equip everyone with a Mac just because its used. It is not uncommon to see a few Macs around facilities however you do not seem them in numbers.

I have only visited one all Mac based facility and even then they had RHEL dual booting macs. I can probably count on both hands how many visual effects studios I've seen or heard of that are all Mac based. Linux and Windows are no doubt the prominent players in the visual effects field. Linux isn't just on the backend either, plenty of facilities run Linux on the desktop and any one day there are thousands of artists typing grep and ls in a terminal somewhere. Its not just the bigger facilities either, plenty of smaller shops run Linux all around. If a facility isn't running Linux it most likely is running Windows.

Avids are used in editorial nothing more, so you do not see them in numbers. The Autodesk offerings have moved off Irix and are now HP/IBM Linux workstations.

Nvidia has the DCC market cornered with the Quadro line, I'm not going to get into the debate of whether they are wroth the price or not though. Even if a facility doesn't use Quadros in mass you can almost be certain the workstations have some sort of Nvidia card installed. Most applications in DCC are OpenGL based, since Nvidia has a track record of having a better OpenGL product, its not hard to understand why they might have a strong hold on the DCC industry.

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (1)

oakbox (414095) | about 5 years ago | (#29815695)

Couldn't they approach the 3 or 4 largest linux distros/repositories and ask? I, also, got my NVIDIA driver from a repository, not the NVIDIA web site.

- Oakbox

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (2, Informative)

Atriqus (826899) | about 5 years ago | (#29815775)

Probably not since the distros can't track the downloads either, considering getting stats from their many random mirrors could prove problematic.

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (1)

cyphercell (843398) | about 5 years ago | (#29815867)

How many people just don't go to the trouble cause the product is a red-headed step-child. Why not just assume that everyone who uses Linux with an NVIDIA card just wants their shit to work (tm).

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (2, Informative)

icebraining (1313345) | about 5 years ago | (#29816229)

Well, Debian has Popcon [debian.org] , but it's completely voluntary and off by default, so it's probably hard to tell for sure.

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (1)

JackieBrown (987087) | about 5 years ago | (#29816511)

I wish it was on by default so packages that I use (and therefore everyone else uses) would get more recognition.

While I kid about everyone having my interests, I imagine most people that do probably do not go to the trouble of turning Popcorn on. Especially not if they use a pre-packaged distro like sidux.

That said, when I do my installs on my machine, I always leave it on.

I do understand the privacy concerns, though, and respect Debian for choosing the default as no even though this information would be very useful to them.

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (1)

RiotingPacifist (1228016) | about 5 years ago | (#29816303)

Couldn't they approach the 3 or 4 largest linux distros/repositories and ask?

Nvidia: Hi, I'm from nvidia
*click*

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (4, Informative)

Wowsers (1151731) | about 5 years ago | (#29815767)

I used to go off to the Nvidia site to download the Nvidia drivers for my card, then manually installing the driver.

Then I read about DKMS packages in the repositories that I could install, so every time the Kernel got updated, the package for the graphics driver got automatically recompiled with that Kernel. I was unsure about trying it, but when I did I never looked back, it's been great. Never had to manually edit the xorg.conf file ever again (although I have a backup just in case it goes wrong).

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (1)

MMC Monster (602931) | about 5 years ago | (#29816343)

This is the default method on the latest couple releases of Ubuntu.

I haven't gone to nvidia.com to download a linux driver in well over a year. Can't say I miss it, either. :-)

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (4, Funny)

sakdoctor (1087155) | about 5 years ago | (#29815841)

I just checked the nvidia site for the first time for linux drivers.

Operating System: Windows Server 2003 64-bit, Windows XP 64-bit
File Size: 123 MB

Operating System: Linux 64-bit
File Size: 21.2 MB ...What?

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (2, Informative)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | about 5 years ago | (#29815991)

They're replacing the OpenGL libraries with their own proprietary binaries. Those are roughly 20 Megabytes: the kernel module is tiny.

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (2, Informative)

Verunks (1000826) | about 5 years ago | (#29815993)

the windows drivers includes other things like physx, 3dvision and the hdaudio driver

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (1)

shentino (1139071) | about 5 years ago | (#29816931)

So why are those goodies disabled under Linux?

Come on NVIDIA, just release the specs and let us write our own damned drivers eh?

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (4, Funny)

Mad Merlin (837387) | about 5 years ago | (#29816091)

I just checked the nvidia site for the first time for linux drivers.

Operating System: Windows Server 2003 64-bit, Windows XP 64-bit File Size: 123 MB

Operating System: Linux 64-bit File Size: 21.2 MB ...What?

Clearly Linux is 6x more efficient than Windows.

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29816159)

No, Windows is better value. You get 6x as much driver for your money.

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29816135)

They include versions of the driver for every version of Windows that they support, as well as many different cards within a single driver.

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (1)

decipher_saint (72686) | about 5 years ago | (#29815851)

One of my first "adventures" with Linux as a newbie was thanks to a "stable" nVidia "driver" from their support page.

Hand burnt, lesson learnt.

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (1)

Mad Merlin (837387) | about 5 years ago | (#29816077)

I download my Nvidia drivers from the Archlinux package repository. How many Linux users manually download them from Nvidia? The 0.5 percentage could be a big understatement...

According to an earlier Phoronix survey [phoronix.com] , only about 20% of users download the drivers directly from the vendor's website (across all vendors, not just Nvidia). All else being equal that'd suggest it's reasonable to say the overall Linux marketshare is ~2.5%, which seems low, but there's probably other factors at work (Windows users may download drivers more frequently, thus counting more hits, etc). The 20% number may also be higher or lower, especially if you consider that many people complain about the Nvidia drivers installer, whereas fewer complain about the ATI driver installer.

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (1)

kramulous (977841) | about 5 years ago | (#29816293)

I download mine from the site. However, the last time I downloaded one was about 9 months ago. Yes I have had to reinstall it, oh, only about a billion times since then (gotta stop tinkering), but I've always used the one I originally grabbed.

If there is another thing Linux has taught me, it is to always keep a local copy of the really important things. That, and my ISP will always go 'down' at what I believe to be a critical time.

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (1)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | about 5 years ago | (#29816319)

Absolutely correct. On the other hand, the video cards come with a CD of Windows drivers. I wonder how many Windows users just install the driver from disk rather than download the latest version. That might tip the balance back a bit in the other direction.

One can also ask (1)

jim_v2000 (818799) | about 5 years ago | (#29816363)

how many Windows users get their Nvidia drivers through their OEM and Windows Update?

I'm going to bet that it evens out.

Re:One can also ask (1)

JackieBrown (987087) | about 5 years ago | (#29816643)

I downloaded them when I used windows and use apt with Debian.

With linux you need to use the matching kernel headers and a few other packages to successfully install the driver from the nvidia site.

If I use the debian package it does this for me.

While that seems trivial to me now, it was not when I was just starting.

In fact, (and I am not doubting you,) but I did not even know that you could get the nvidia driver through windows update and never would have thought to take that route.

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (1)

Odinlake (1057938) | about 5 years ago | (#29816745)

Indeed - how about if we all just start to download the linux drivers from Nvidia once a day for a while? Make a cron job.. coming to think of it, maybe I will right away, hehe.

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (1)

GoochOwnsYou (1343661) | about 5 years ago | (#29817023)

Aw, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Forfty percent of all people know that

-- Homer Simpson

Re:Measurement from the NVIDIA site? (1)

bcrowell (177657) | about 5 years ago | (#29817061)

I download my Nvidia drivers from the Archlinux package repository. How many Linux users manually download them from Nvidia? The 0.5 percentage could be a big understatement...

In addition to reason #1 that you supplied...

#2: I won't be counted in their percentage because when it was time to buy a video card for the linux box I built last week, I made sure to buy a card from ATI, which has a vigorous program of openly documenting their drivers and trying to make open-source drivers available.

#3: And in general, if I have a mobo with onboard video, I don't bother buying an external video card. Why would I bother? 3-d graphics support on linux sucks, I don't want binary blobs on my computer if I can avoid it, and for 2-d, the onboard video is usually fine.

So there are lots of good reasons for linux users not to be showing up in nvidia's download statistics -- and probably not contributing to their bottom line, either.

8 pages.. lame (2, Funny)

brxndxn (461473) | about 5 years ago | (#29815623)

Who is going to be the first to just grab the .txt from the article with the pictures and supply it in a common format for all these sites?

What was the topic again? I have ADD and got distracted somewhere.

Re:8 pages.. lame (1)

ZERO1ZERO (948669) | about 5 years ago | (#29815887)

LET'S PLAY BIKES!!!

Important Stuff Please try to keep posts on topic. Try to reply to other people's comments instead of starting new threads. Read other people's messages before posting your own to avoid simply duplicating what has already been said. Use a clear subject that describes what your message is about. Offtopic, Inflammatory, Inappropriate, Illegal, or Offensive comments might be moderated. (You can read everything, even moderated posts, by adjusting your threshold on the User Preferences Page) If you are having a problem with accounts or comment posting, please yell for help.

Re:8 pages.. lame (1)

selven (1556643) | about 5 years ago | (#29815937)

here you go [pastebay.com]

Flawed stats (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29815633)

I never download the driver from their site since I use the dkms rpm provided by my distro.

Misleading statistic (1, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 5 years ago | (#29815653)

the Linux graphics driver download rate is 0.5% that of their Windows driver downloads at NVIDIA.com

It is entirely possible that Windows users download their drivers much more often than Linux users.

Windows user: "Hey, do I need the x64, or the 32bit? What kind of card to I have? Just to be safe, I better download them all and see which one works. WHQL certified... or not? What's the difference? Let's download both and find out. Hey look, some beta drivers..."

Linux user: "apt-get...done. Because I built this f***er from the ground up and I'd lose some of my geek cred if I couldn't recite the serial number."

Re:Misleading statistic (2, Funny)

Lulfas (1140109) | about 5 years ago | (#29815723)

While likely accurate, you also forget that Windows users are much more likely to have no clue what they are doing and not be downloading any drivers because they aren't in a car.

Re:Misleading statistic (1)

jim_v2000 (818799) | about 5 years ago | (#29816391)

"It is entirely possible that Windows users download their drivers much more often than Linux users."

Since most Windows users buy their machines with OS and drivers already installed, it's probably not that many who even download any drivers at all.

Re:Misleading statistic (1)

amRadioHed (463061) | about 5 years ago | (#29817105)

Also doesn't take into account how many Windows users consider reinstalling the OS the solution to everything.

Why Graphics Support on Linux Sucks (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29815671)

Graphic card support on Linux sucks because Linux itself is terrible.

Dozens of incompatible package systems make development a time consuming joke that will still probably not be compatible with enough stuff to say something is "Linux" compatible.

Also, OpenGL is basically where DirectX was 10 years ago. Pathetic.

Ran ran ruu! (1)

otravi (1289804) | about 5 years ago | (#29815679)

It's slightly sad to see that NVIDIA most likely won't go through the same effort as AMD/ATi did with their internal documentation. The current open source drivers are quite amazing regardless tho'.

Re:Ran ran ruu! (4, Informative)

PitaBred (632671) | about 5 years ago | (#29815953)

From what I understand, NVIDIA's driver architecture is significantly different. The NVIDIA driver replaces most of the X graphics stack, whereas fglrx and ATI's open-source projects have always tried to work mostly with the X11 system. Personally, I prefer ATI's approach, and spend all my GPU and CPU money with them any more.

Re:Ran ran ruu! (4, Insightful)

jim_v2000 (818799) | about 5 years ago | (#29816415)

It is interesting then that ATI gfx drivers have generally been a pain in the ass to use in Linux, while Nvidia's work well most of the time.

Re:Ran ran ruu! (2, Informative)

chrb (1083577) | about 5 years ago | (#29816875)

The pain-in-the-ass ATI drivers were closed source and used the binary only kernel module fglrx. They did a poor job of keeping it aligned with the kernel releases of different distributions. The closed source xorg driver fared slightly better, but was still lagging behind the xorg mainline sources. Since xorg integrated the open source Radeon 9600 driver I haven't had to bother installing any closed source drivers, and my system has been more stable. It just works.

Re:Ran ran ruu! (1)

jim_v2000 (818799) | about 5 years ago | (#29817169)

I'll admit, I haven't used an ATI card for sometime for the reasons I mentioned above, and last I heard (earlier this year), there were quite a few issues with ATI cards in Ubuntu.

Do the OSS ATI drivers work with things like Compiz?

There's only two questions that matter (3, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | about 5 years ago | (#29815691)

Q: Are there any plans in place to provide new features within the xf86-video-nv driver or to better engage with the Nouveau developers for some open-source support?

With the nv driver, we've always tried to provide something minimal that just works out of the box and requires the least maintenance. For that reason, feature set in the nv driver has stayed pretty slim.

The guys working on nouveau have done a really incredible job so far. However, our policy remains the same: we won't try to hinder their efforts, but we have no plans to help them.

Scumbags.

Q: AMD was able to open source and/or document a lot by separating out the parts they couldn't legally disclose. Similar problems have been cited as preventing NVIDIA from open sourcing their driver (licensed 3rd parts code, etc) or documentation. Could nVidia use the same strategy?

A similar strategy might be technically possible for NVIDIA, but for better or worse I think it is quite unlikely. There are several reasons for this:

- For competitive reasons on other platforms, I don't think we would ever open source any of our cross-platform driver source code (which is 90%+ of the Linux driver... see my earlier description of code sharing). The Linux-specific pieces of the driver code base don't really stand on their own, and generally need to change in sync with the cross-platform code, so I don't believe it would be practical to just open source the Linux-specific pieces.

- We have developed substantial IP in our graphics driver that we do not want to expose.

- Unfortunately the vast majority of our documentation is created solely for internal distribution. While at some point it may be possible to release some of this information in pubic form it would be quite a monumental effort to go through the vast amounts of internal documents and repurpose them for external consumption.

Yes, and there's a whole community that would like to help you do that. That second answer is the real point here. They don't want to open source it because they don't believe in open source. It's that simple. Hopefully this will kill the last of the NVIDIA apologists.

Re:There's only two questions that matter (2, Insightful)

ClosedSource (238333) | about 5 years ago | (#29815753)

You'll never hear me apologize for people whose beliefs are in opposition to my own!

Re:There's only two questions that matter (3, Funny)

skine (1524819) | about 5 years ago | (#29816455)

I'm sorry you feel that way.

Re:There's only two questions that matter (4, Funny)

smellsofbikes (890263) | about 5 years ago | (#29815883)

While at some point it may be possible to release some of this information in pubic form it would be quite a monumental effort to go through the vast amounts of internal documents and repurpose them for external consumption.

I wonder how far back that particular typo goes, although I'm too lazy to find out. Regardless, it's a funny mental image.

Re:There's only two questions that matter (1)

selven (1556643) | about 5 years ago | (#29817143)

Are you sure it's a typo? They could be taking a lesson from the Linux kernel [vidarholen.net] but being a bit more subtle.

Re:There's only two questions that matter (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29815895)

Yes, and there's a whole community that would like to help you do that. That second answer is the real point here. They don't want to open source it because they don't believe in open source. It's that simple. Hopefully this will kill the last of the NVIDIA apologists.

No it won't. I have dual 9800s and it runs WoW like a champ (read: no spontaneous system resets or strange/spurious bugs.) I'm unlikely to change to a card with an open source driver anytime soon, because what I have right now works.

I'm really mystified by this attitude - if a company produces a stable, reliable product with closed software and the market is willing to pay for it, what difference does it make? It's not like they are charging $$$$ for crappy product, like, say, Windows. And if you can't understand nVidia's position - e.g. maybe they really DO have some novel graphics processing pipeline in their software that provides them with a competitive speed advantage over the competition - then it's worth keeping it obscured. That's capitalism. (Speculation: some of their binary code dynamically optimizes an FPGA on board for better performance.) You can be damned sure that if I suddenly managed to come up with a novel algorithm for faster database transactions that I'd keep it secret, too, and then sell the hell out of it in competition with Oracle and DB2. Again, that's not bad, that's competition.

Don't get me wrong, I doubt that 95% of the code that is closed is actually worth closing. It really might be that last 5% scattered everywhere that warrants keeping it closed.

Re:There's only two questions that matter (1, Troll)

QuantumG (50515) | about 5 years ago | (#29815941)

Sorry, you're not the kind of apologist I'm talking about. You don't care about open source either.. fine, you two enjoy each other. My objection is to the asshats who think NVIDIA "can't" open source their drivers and so people who do care about open source should give them a free pass. They can, they choose not to.

Re:There's only two questions that matter (3, Insightful)

petrus4 (213815) | about 5 years ago | (#29816833)

I'm really mystified by this attitude - if a company produces a stable, reliable product with closed software and the market is willing to pay for it, what difference does it make?

The reason why you can't understand this attitude, is because you're not a Stallmanite freetard.

You're essentially correct; from any sane, neurotypical point of view, there's absolutely nothing wrong with nVidia's hardware or its' drivers being proprietary whatsoever.

Re:There's only two questions that matter (2, Informative)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 5 years ago | (#29816915)

Actually, there's a pragmatic reason for open-source in preference to closed-source: it integrates much better with a Linux distro. I have an Nvidia card too, and setting it up isn't the easiest thing. As mentioned in the article, you can't just open the Nvidia graphical config program and reconfigure your display on-the-fly. I just installed a new monitor last night on Kubuntu and had to go through this. While the Nvidia graphical config program works, it can't save an xorg.conf file in /etc/X11 because it doesn't have permissions (it wasn't run sudo, since I just picked it from the "System" menu). So I had to save it in my home dir and manually copy it. Even then, it didn't work that well; I ended up running it three times I think, and getting three different xorg.conf files even with the same settings. I finally stumbled on one that works with my dual-monitor (TwinView) setup.

With open-sourced drivers and utilities, the community and distros are able to fix issues like this, and distros are able to much better integrate these things into their system. With closed-source stuff, there's only so much they can do, because they don't have access to the code, and even if parts of it were OSS (like the utilities), distros and the community are much less likely to expend any effort on them if the important parts are still closed-source.

The linkage between closed-source drivers and the kernel isn't all that reliable either. A lot of kernel symbols are exported with "EXPORT_SYMBOL_GPL", so proprietary drivers can't use them. Kernel devs aren't very friendly towards closed-source drivers, and when bugs show up involving closed-source drivers, they refuse to help (how can they? The code is secret), whereas with open-source drivers, they can debug the problem. So, there's a pretty big price paid in maintaining a closed-source driver.

And if you can't understand nVidia's position - e.g. maybe they really DO have some novel graphics processing pipeline in their software that provides them with a competitive speed advantage over the competition - then it's worth keeping it obscured. That's capitalism.

Nvidia isn't a software company, it's a hardware company. They sell graphics chips, which are used by OEMs like Giga-Byte and ECS to make graphics cards for the high-performance graphics card market. There's only one other vendor out there that's even remotely competitive: ATI (now part of AMD). I'm not a graphics expert, but honestly, what could they possibly be doing in software that makes their hardware run so much better? ATI doesn't seem to feel the same way, because they had no problem open-sourcing their drivers.

You can be damned sure that if I suddenly managed to come up with a novel algorithm for faster database transactions that I'd keep it secret, too, and then sell the hell out of it in competition with Oracle and DB2. Again, that's not bad, that's competition.

That's apples and oranges. Databases aren't sold bundled with hardware; they're a purely software product. Oracle databases don't require a special Oracle PCIe adaptor card; they run on any sufficient hardware and supported operating system. Nvidia isn't selling drivers, they're selling graphics cards. What's more, databases and other high-level software is very distinct from the OS and hardware it runs on. Even Oracle databases come in versions for every major OS: Windows, Linux, Solaris, etc. It's no big deal, if you're a Linux distro, if Oracle is open-source or closed-source. Heck, it's probably no big deal for Oracle to make .rpm versions of its products, targeted at specific RHEL and SLES versions, making installation just as simple as any open-source app. This isn't the case with a graphics driver, for the reasons I pointed out above. It really needs to integrate better with the distro, and that isn't possible if it's closed-source, unless Nvidia does the integration work themselves for each targeted distro (which they don't).

Re:There's only two questions that matter (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29817147)

One possible (and purely theoretical) way that this may be a problem would be if nVidia used a bunch of deprecated X APIs in their drivers, which stopped the X devs from removing support for these features and focussing on new and improved APIs, and forcing them to maintain and port old code.

Obviously this is just an indication of where one company playing dirty might hinder the overall progress of new features (like vendor-generic plug'n'play monitor support) and is not based on fact in the slightest.

CAPTCHA: apathy

Re:There's only two questions that matter (1)

WinterSolstice (223271) | about 5 years ago | (#29815917)

The problem is you basically have to choose between NVidia and ATI.

What we really need is someone to come up with the graphics equiv of OpenMoko and get it out there. A truly open graphics card.
If you can point me to one, I'll buy it :)

Re:There's only two questions that matter (1)

the_humeister (922869) | about 5 years ago | (#29816043)

Or use Intel's GMA. Their drivers are open source.

Re:There's only two questions that matter (1)

Mad Merlin (837387) | about 5 years ago | (#29816177)

Their main site seems to be broken right now, but there's the OGP:

They won't be cheap or fast (and they're not out yet), but they're completely open, including the hardware design.

Re:There's only two questions that matter (1)

jim_v2000 (818799) | about 5 years ago | (#29816477)

I suppose when someone figures out how to buy an OpenManufacturingPlant then it will happen.

Re:There's only two questions that matter (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29816105)

As someone who's worked for NVIDIA driver development, I can tell you that NVIDIA has no "beliefs" regarding open source at all, and most of the developers have no problem with it. I've had plenty of chats with folks there who were trying out Ubuntu, etc. A guy down the hall had a poster on his door of the linux kernel 0.1 source (I think from a Red Hat conference of some kind). The real reason they don't want to open-source the driver is because the driver is /massive/, and setting up the documentation and outlets for it would take time and effort away from their primary goal, which is staying on top of the market and satisfying as many customers as they can while doing so. And trust me, I don't care how good a dev team you've put together, if they simply dumped the driver code out on the net I guarantee no one would be able to reverse engineer the damn thing.

So yeah. If you can make a good case why it's in their interests to open source it, I bet they'd consider it more seriously. Don't make the mistake of anthropomorphizing a large company.

Re:There's only two questions that matter (1)

_Sprocket_ (42527) | about 5 years ago | (#29816151)

Yes, and there's a whole community that would like to help you do that. That second answer is the real point here. They don't want to open source it because they don't believe in open source. It's that simple. Hopefully this will kill the last of the NVIDIA apologists.

My next purchase will be AMD/ATI as soon as the drivers give me performance that match NVIDIA. I'm hoping that time comes soon.

Re:There's only two questions that matter (1)

John Whitley (6067) | about 5 years ago | (#29816173)

They don't want to open source it because they don't believe in open source.

Right. That's unfortunate for the various open source platforms. Perhaps I've not read the right sources, but I've seen little advice to help companies like NVidia come to grips with how open source policies help them. That second point, "We have developed substantial IP in our graphics driver that we do not want to expose." is very telling, and one for which Free/Libre/Open/etc. proponents seem to have no coherent response: what to do when a company doesn't understand a path to a successful business model involving open source. Hand-waving about principles isn't enough. By evidence so far, whining that the drivers aren't open isn't enough either. So where's that convincing argument?

Stallman, FSF, et. al. have raised awareness on the risks of proprietary software. However, without a practical means to support the creation of said software the risk of the proprietary becomes less than the risk of not having the software at all.

Re:There's only two questions that matter (1)

tuppe666 (904118) | about 5 years ago | (#29816531)

I liked this post. whining is extremely important. I'll give it the cool name "viral marketing". I'll go further I will chose to continue to buy and advise others of chipsets that do have a successful business model that involves free software regardless of platform.

Re:There's only two questions that matter (4, Insightful)

Kjella (173770) | about 5 years ago | (#29816255)

Scumbags. (...) They don't want to open source it because they don't believe in open source. It's that simple. Hopefully this will kill the last of the NVIDIA apologists.

Oh, STFU and volunteer yourself to go write open source AMD drivers. They've been running an open source strategy now for 2+ years and they're still short on manpower even though there's plenty specs out there and AMD is actively leading the development on top of the hours they've spent getting the documentation through legal review. There's plenty evidence to suggest the open source drivers would drop dead if AMD wasn't carrying them every step of the way, you think nVidia is impressed? The alleged army of open source coders waiting for specs is more like a handful, that's not a claim it's a fact. By all means they're making great progress and all that but they're way, way behind the blobs still.

I think the problem (5, Insightful)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | about 5 years ago | (#29816863)

Is that you get people who've toyed with writing a driver for something simple, and get lulled in to thinking that means that all drivers are not a huge deal. Problem is that's not the case. Something like a basic SATA controller really doesn't have a whole lot in the way of functionality for you to implement to get a driver up and working. You can see this in terms of downloadable driver sizes too. Take a look at something like the MegaRAID cards from LSI. The actual driver is all of 25k.

Well that's not the case with graphics cards. They are extremely complex beasts, and getting more complex all the time. You are working to implement a very complex API (OpenGL). As such the driver is going to be much more complex. You can again see this in terms of driver sizes. The core nVidia driver for my 7950 here at work is 16MB. That's just the main driver file, there are other support files it needs to work, and then more files on top of that to really give you all the functions you want (like the custom control panel and such).

So it is a much harder job. It is also a continually moving target. As of this month, we now have a new generation of graphics hardware out that has major differences. The DirectX 11 gen hardware (Radeon 5000 series) is quite different from the previous gen in terms of what it can do. As such the drivers are going to be different. It isn't a case of "Just update the old drivers for the new hardware." It is writing drivers to support a whole new set of features.

Thus I think you get people who have this "Oh it isn't so hard," idea because they've played with the simple stuff. Ya well, sorry guys this isn't simple. In fact, I'd wager graphics drivers are the most complex drivers on systems these days.

As such I can see why nVidia isn't impressed. It isn't a case of "Just give us the docs and we'll knock out a dynamite driver in a week." They might like to pretend that is how it'll be but it's not.

Re:There's only two questions that matter MOD UP! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29816335)

Modder it way up!

Re:There's only two questions that matter (1)

TheSunborn (68004) | about 5 years ago | (#29817081)

If there is such a large community why are they not working on the ati drivers? And if they are, why does the ati linux drivers still sucks?

I don't wanna see their "pubic" documentation... (1)

yet-another-lobbyist (1276848) | about 5 years ago | (#29815783)

From the bottom of P.3:

... While at some point it may be possible to release some of this information in pubic form it would be quite a monumental effort [...]

Re:I don't wanna see their "pubic" documentation.. (2, Interesting)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | about 5 years ago | (#29816007)

Personally I will withhold judgement until I know who exactly will be releasing the information. It just might [wikimedia.org] become something that you do want to see.

Re:I don't wanna see their "pubic" documentation.. (1)

Mr. Roadkill (731328) | about 5 years ago | (#29816213)

Personally I will withhold judgement until I know who exactly will be releasing the information. It just might [wikimedia.org] become something that you do want to see.

Oooh... Tux has an outie... and he ought to lay off the herring for a while, too, from the look of things.

Re:I don't wanna see their "pubic" documentation.. (1)

Youx (988716) | about 5 years ago | (#29816241)

Wow ... I never knew penguins had bellybuttons...

Hopefully this will put an end to some trolling. (5, Insightful)

serviscope_minor (664417) | about 5 years ago | (#29815855)

I'd like the authors of some common troll s to note:

a) The most high profile binary kernel module distributor considers the unstable kernel API to be very little trouble.

b) One of the most high profile X driver cerators thinks that X is well designed.

so there.

Re:Hopefully this will put an end to some trolling (3, Funny)

_Sprocket_ (42527) | about 5 years ago | (#29816163)

Wait - you're expecting mere FACTS to dissuade trolls? You must be n.... wait a minute.

Re:Hopefully this will put an end to some trolling (4, Informative)

thue (121682) | about 5 years ago | (#29816501)

Saying that NVIDIA think the unstable kernel API being "very little trouble" is a little understated. What they actually say in the article:

1) The lack of a stable API in the Linux kernel. This is not a large obstacle for us, though: the kernel interface layer of the NVIDIA kernel module is distributed as source code, and compiled at install time for the version and configuration of the kernel in use. This requires occasional maintenance to update for new kernel interface changes, but generally is not too much work.

That said, the kernel API churn sometimes seems unfortunate: in some cases, working interfaces are broken or replaced with broken ones for no seemingly good reason. In some other cases, APIs that were previously available to us are rendered unusable.

Re:Hopefully this will put an end to some trolling (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 5 years ago | (#29816965)

He did say "generally is not too much work". That's not the same as "no work", but it's not as bad as "it's completely blocking us" or "it's such a pain we're thinking of giving up on this".

Re:Hopefully this will put an end to some trolling (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29816653)

Yet they replace a major portion of it. Something just doesn't fit here.

2009 (1)

ciderVisor (1318765) | about 5 years ago | (#29815905)

The year of Linux on NVIDEA.

Lies, damn lies, and download rates (3, Insightful)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | about 5 years ago | (#29815935)

One powerful reason for the low Linux download rate is because the packaging for the NVidia Linux drivers is terrible. It doesn't upgrade properly, it replaces system provided OpenGL libraries with little warning, and it has lacked (the last time I looked) a way to detect if there is a more recent driver available. Instead, people install the freshrpms or atrpms or other repositories that report dependencies and available updates more reliably for RedHat based software,

I shouldn't have to compile a kernel module in order to install a software package: it should be published, or at least publishable, along with the updated kernel itself. But NVidia refuses to use licensing that would permit this, so they're going to continue to have people not only using alternative installation sources, but becoming quite angry when they update their kernels and their graphics drivers from NVidia stop working until they can be recompiled and a new kernel module built.

Re:Lies, damn lies, and download rates (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 5 years ago | (#29817003)

I haven't had any trouble with this since I switched to (K)ubuntu, as it seems to manage the Nvidia driver and updates just fine. But I wouldn't want to mess with getting the drivers directly from Nvidia for the reasons you stated. And that's why their download rate is so low; why would anyone, besides the developers at the distros, or someone who really wants to be on the cutting edge, ever download a driver directly from Nvidia when their distro will take care of all that crap?

Comedy Answer (2, Funny)

BandoMcHando (85123) | about 5 years ago | (#29815949)

From page three:

"Q: AMD was able to open source and/or document a lot by separating out the parts they couldn't legally disclose. Similar problems have been cited as preventing NVIDIA from open sourcing their driver (licensed 3rd parts code, etc) or documentation. Could nVidia use the same strategy?"

"... While at some point it may be possible to release some of this information in pubic form ..."

Ever the child... I must admit it made me snigger...

Nvidia facing obsolescence (5, Interesting)

mrsam (12205) | about 5 years ago | (#29815989)

Both Intel and AMD own their own respective graphics chipset. Intel, AFAIK, developed their own integrated graphics chipset, mostly, and AMD purchased ATI.

Both Intel and AMD support the free software community far better than Nvidia. Both Intel and AMD are racing to integrate video graphics into their respective CPUs. With the graphics chip integrated into the CPU, Nvidia gets locked out.

Nvidia's only remaining market niche, as I see, is extremely high end graphics. Intel's and AMD's graphic offering, at the moment, lag Nvidia's, somewhat. Someone who needs all the rendering power they could get would not have Linux support as a major bullet point, as I see. They'll be quite content to using Nvidia's drivers on either Windows or Linux, depending on their software, with Nvidia's nature as a binary blob under Linux being of little concern. That's the only market niche I see remaining for Nvidia. Both AMD's and Intel's product lines, although not as powerful as Nvidia's, are perfectly fine for the average user and/or gamer. With out of the box support in current Linux distros for Intel's hardware (mostly already the case today), or AMD's hardware (eh, maybe tomorrow), Nvidia's outlook there is not too bright.

Re:Nvidia facing obsolescence (2, Insightful)

Zerimar (1124785) | about 5 years ago | (#29816211)

AMD's high end graphics (the 5870) far surpass the offerings from nVidia.

Re:Nvidia facing obsolescence (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29816671)

Have you ever used one of Intel's GPUs? To say they're inadequate for anything but the most simple tasks is an understatement...

AMD? NVidia is far superior on Linux (1)

HardWoodWorker (1032490) | about 5 years ago | (#29816805)

Have you tried using AMD's drivers with 2 monitors? They don't work! Their configuration process is tedious and error prone. Their Catalyst software is incredibly amateurish and dated-looking. nVidia's configuration process is not ideal, but I can always get my nVidia cards working in Linux. I am now a lifelong nVidia customer.

It's a shame because I like AMD cards and really love their CPUs, but their cards don't work. AMD doesn't care about Linux. I have tried 3 AMD cards in the last 4 years (I tried 3 different cards 2 months ago) and had to return all of them because they don't work in Linux. I scoured the web for help with the various errors and posted on the forums and couldn't get them working on two monitors. I tried writing support and they told me to go f**k myself (in polite terms, of course).

Re:Nvidia facing obsolescence (1)

chrb (1083577) | about 5 years ago | (#29817071)

The market niche I see is ARM based smartphones. Within the next couple of years I expect the smartphone market will unify around Android, Google will figure out how to do a secure(ish) app store with OpenGL native code games, and the hardware manufacturers will start competing based on 3D graphics power. At this point you'll have mobile phone manufacturers wanting ARM Linux drivers and embedded low power 3D video chipsets, but they will all be shipping slightly different versions of the kernel, so they'll need source code. People will figure out how to port the existing open source ATI drivers to some low power ATI chipsets, and there will be some unified acceleration. The Ubuntu guys will ship their "Android on xorg" layer, bringing the possibility of open source xorg drivers being only a compile away from running on phones. Probably the larger manufacturers won't be brave enough to ship an Ubuntu phone with Android/xorg architecture, but somebody will.

Linux Driver. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29815995)

0.5 percent well if thats the only matrix they go by,then every distro should make you download it from there each time you install.

Dont include it any more.

.05% a small portion of NVIDIA on Linux use. (1)

delire (809063) | about 5 years ago | (#29816071)

From TFA. Q: Overall, what percentage of NVIDIA's customers do you believe use Linux?

I don't know many concrete percentages. Highend workstation visualization is roughly half Linux, and Digital Content Creation (DCC) is largely Linux. NVIDIA Linux graphics powers a respectable portion of the 3D workstations. Our CUDA user base also has a large Linux contingent.

. and earlier:

Q: Is NVIDIA starting to see more interest in the driver from companies or publishers?

There has been, and continues to be, significant Linux workstation interest from a variety of workstation segments (e.g., Oil & Gas, Automotive, Film and Broadcast, etc). Workstation is where Linux has the most measurable business impact for NVIDIA.

In large multi-display installations Linux is very popular and offers several strong and distinct advantages over other operating systems.

CUDA on Linux receives huge interest from a variety of High Performance Computing (HPC) customers.

Linux on Tegra receives a lot of customer interest.

Linux on Ion also receives considerable interest.


It seems Linux use is very strong among high end commercial art creation, alongside the scientific/engineering and small form-factor computing areas.

This is where Linux fails... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29816107)

...along with its constant problems with getting audio to work stable. Oh boy.

Re:This is where Linux fails... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29816751)

If you turn the speakers on audio works just fine. Try it some time!

Only from repositories? (1)

StarbuckZero (237897) | about 5 years ago | (#29816215)

Back in the old days I would go to the site and download the drivers. Now there are installed from the Ubuntu repository soon as I turn on 3D desktop effects. So if you ask me they might want to start tracking downloads from the different distros out there. Then again I'm sure a lot of people are thinking that.

However it still suck that they're not worried about ESA and PhysX support. I'm a little upset that the Linux gaming market is not doing well but that's when I just say fuck it and go with a gaming console. However I still enjoy playing FPS games like QuakeLive and I hope I'll still be able to play some of the new games using Wine if there isn't a native port. I think the only thing that would help Linux get back on track is a game console because a lot of games are ported to Windows using Microsoft's XNA SDK.

Who downloads drivers? (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 5 years ago | (#29816491)

Insert Ubuntu or Knoppmyth CD, choose the install option, walk away, done.

linux gaming (1)

je ne sais quoi (987177) | about 5 years ago | (#29816603)

I found the perspective from an NVIDIA coder on linux gaming to be fascinating:

Anyway, without a compelling Linux gamer customer base, it is hard to imagine many commercial game developers supporting Linux ports of their games. Like John alluded to in his comment, more Linux users paying for existing Linux titles like Quake Live will make the statistics more favorable for future Linux ports.

...

- Linux's recent success in netbook and handheld markets may lead to more Linux games developed for those platforms. Perhaps some of those will be interesting for Linux desktop use.

- Wine and TransGaming provide a way to run Direct3D games within Linux. Work is ongoing to continue to improve this path. Recently, several new OpenGL extensions were defined to make OpenGL semantics more closely match Direct3D semantics (thanks to TransGaming, Mark Kilgard from NVIDIA, and others at Codeweavers, Blizzard, Destineer, and Asypr). These extensions make it easier for applications like Cedega from TransGaming to map Direct3D on top of OpenGL, or for applications to interchange Direct3D/OpenGL graphics abstraction layers.

This confirms that companies ARE paying attention to if linux users go out and buy linux games. On the other hand, the fact that bioware didn't release drag age: origins on linux after releasing nwn on it might be a depressing tell-tale that linux users aren't buying enough to make it worthwhile for them (but then, they seem to be screwing the pooch with DA in terms of everything that made NWN cool, like community content, etc.).

Holy War (2, Funny)

arielCo (995647) | about 5 years ago | (#29816923)

Q: Which text editors or IDEs do NVIDIA Linux developers use?

Most of the engineers on the Linux driver team use emacs and/or vim for their day-to-day development work.

What, no preference? Heretics!

[/sarcasm]

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