April 5, 2006 12:55 PM PDT

Device support 'key' to desktop Linux

BOSTON--Hardware manufacturers should do more to make their devices compatible with Linux, experts agreed on Tuesday.

Making drivers available promptly and automatically would help open-source users, said attendees at a panel on the Linux desktop at the LinuxWorld conference here.

"Things like wireless, customers expect to just work. We need power management to just work, to make sure our laptop batteries work for longer than 15 minutes," said John Cherry, the manager of the Open Source Development Labs' Desktop Linux initiative.

LinuxWorld Boston 2006 roundup

Guy Lunardi, a desktop architect at Novell, agreed that the automatic support of drivers is vital, and must be provided as soon as a device becomes available. "The key point is that it must be timely. The drivers will eventually get there, but the driver must be there when the device is supplied (to customers)," Lunardi said.

The OSDL is trying to help the open-source community get access to hardware specifications before a product is publicly available, by organizing nondisclosure agreements between developers and hardware vendors.

It is not just down to the open-source community to write drivers: Hardware companies are increasingly providing drivers for Linux, as well as for more mainstream desktop operating systems, said Waldo Bastian, a desktop Linux architect who works for Intel.

But although Linux drivers are increasingly being developed in a timely manner, many of them need to be installed separately from the main installation.

"How can we make it that drivers are included in the default install, so you don't have to do extra installs to get wireless working?" a member of the audience asked the panel.

Some drivers cannot be included in the kernel as they are proprietary, but Novell is working on a process that could automatically install drivers after the main installation has finished, Lunardi said.

Ingrid Marson reported for London-based ZDNet UK.

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desktop Linux, Open Source Development Labs, LinuxWorld, Novell Inc., open-source community

14 comments

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Soooh....When has it not been this way?
My point is this.....

Having been in the industry for 20+ years, There have always been forward looking manufacturers who realized even in the 80's that MS was not the world...As much as MS wants you to think so...

As a consultant, I always supported them with my clients whenever possible....

My point is... & I've been saying this for 20+ years: I am really amazed I have to explain it:

It is in any Company's best interests to do exactly what is in that Company's best interests...It has always been this way!.....

Let's boil it down: When a company can make a killing in the market by releasing a driver when the hardware is released, then and ONLY then will it become a priority...orrrrh....

A CFO can't afford to keep his mistress/secretary/wives happy & needs more money/month to make ends meet (So to speak)

Guess what happens? "Paradigm Shift"; "New Technologies make an impact on bottom line" can you say..."Press release"?

Complain as much as you want to make yourself feel better....only when you affect THEEIIRRR bottom line will it matter...becauuuuuse...

Money is the only thing these people care about...(In an Earnest voice) Look me in the eye & teeeehhhhllll I'm wrong...

Just trying to help....
Armando Canales
Engineer at Large
Posted by Mondoh! (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A driver is one thng....
Having also been on the hardware side of this industry for more
than twenty years, I agree with the premise of the article. Drivers
should be readily available for new devices when they come out.
If the open-source community has access to the specs before it
comes out, great. The biggest problem I have is with platform
specific FIRMWARE. Apple & Sun Micro are two of the worst
examples I can think of. IBM, HP/Compaq, you name it, have all
done it. What company is going to write "special" drivers for a
company with 2% market share? They aren't.

I can't stick a generic Radeon card in my Mac because of
firmware. There is a driver for it, sure. Nor can I stick a Sun
graphics card in my PC. My generic Adaptec 29160 in the Mac?
Fuhgettaboutit. My Quantum DLT4000 with Sun firmware? It
works fuzzy at best.

It's like buying a boat. You need a part for it? Well, just because
that part says "marine use", that will be 30% more please...
Drivers are cheap, and farely reliable ones can be downloaded
for free from many different sources. It might not be on the day
the product is released, but some smart programmer will write
one because they need it. If they are generous, and they see a
need for it, they will upload it to the rest of us.

What is needed is "standardized" firmware. Or at least a way to
reliably flash from one platform to another. Standards are nice.
That's why we have so many of them.

My nickles worth,
Don Billing

If it plugs into a wall, I've worked on it.....
Posted by drbillin (2 comments )
Link Flag
Soooh....When has it not been this way?
My point is this.....

Having been in the industry for 20+ years, There have always been forward looking manufacturers who realized even in the 80's that MS was not the world...As much as MS wants you to think so...

As a consultant, I always supported them with my clients whenever possible....

My point is... & I've been saying this for 20+ years: I am really amazed I have to explain it:

It is in any Company's best interests to do exactly what is in that Company's best interests...It has always been this way!.....

Let's boil it down: When a company can make a killing in the market by releasing a driver when the hardware is released, then and ONLY then will it become a priority...orrrrh....

A CFO can't afford to keep his mistress/secretary/wives happy & needs more money/month to make ends meet (So to speak)

Guess what happens? "Paradigm Shift"; "New Technologies make an impact on bottom line" can you say..."Press release"?

Complain as much as you want to make yourself feel better....only when you affect THEEIIRRR bottom line will it matter...becauuuuuse...

Money is the only thing these people care about...(In an Earnest voice) Look me in the eye & teeeehhhhllll I'm wrong...

Just trying to help....
Armando Canales
Engineer at Large
Posted by Mondoh! (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A driver is one thng....
Having also been on the hardware side of this industry for more
than twenty years, I agree with the premise of the article. Drivers
should be readily available for new devices when they come out.
If the open-source community has access to the specs before it
comes out, great. The biggest problem I have is with platform
specific FIRMWARE. Apple & Sun Micro are two of the worst
examples I can think of. IBM, HP/Compaq, you name it, have all
done it. What company is going to write "special" drivers for a
company with 2% market share? They aren't.

I can't stick a generic Radeon card in my Mac because of
firmware. There is a driver for it, sure. Nor can I stick a Sun
graphics card in my PC. My generic Adaptec 29160 in the Mac?
Fuhgettaboutit. My Quantum DLT4000 with Sun firmware? It
works fuzzy at best.

It's like buying a boat. You need a part for it? Well, just because
that part says "marine use", that will be 30% more please...
Drivers are cheap, and farely reliable ones can be downloaded
for free from many different sources. It might not be on the day
the product is released, but some smart programmer will write
one because they need it. If they are generous, and they see a
need for it, they will upload it to the rest of us.

What is needed is "standardized" firmware. Or at least a way to
reliably flash from one platform to another. Standards are nice.
That's why we have so many of them.

My nickles worth,
Don Billing

If it plugs into a wall, I've worked on it.....
Posted by drbillin (2 comments )
Link Flag
Copy Windows.......isn't that what you do anyway?
Linux is always a step behind Windows.....following like a lost puppy and doing tricks, trying to immitate Windows usability and software.

So why stop now? Can't you just emulate the plug and play ability of Windows?

It won't be as good as the Windows implementation...but, what in Linux is?
Posted by Jim Hubbard (326 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Aside from showing extreme ignorance...
Do you have anything useful to say..?

>> "Linux is always a step behind Windows... ...trying to immitate [sic] Windows usability and software"

Please dont bother continuing to spout such tired myths... Linux is NOT a copy of Windows, and never has been. And neither is "open-source software" in general. Stating otherwise, means that you are either, extremely ignorant of an overwhelming number of basic technological facts, or, are simply being untruthful.

>> "Can't you just emulate the plug and play ability of Windows"

You clearly do not understand "driver models", at all. And, more importantly you are intentionally ignoring that "plug and play" is dependent on the "hardware developer" providing certain information to software-developers. In other words, "Plug and Play" works so well with "MS-Windows", because it is specifically designed to from the start. Which is the very POINT of this whole issue.

>> " It won't be as good as the Windows implementation...but, what in Linux is"

Why bother debating such a childishly-asinine question..? But, just for laughs, lets see... Linuxs Security-Model... Its robustness... Its user-administration... Its system-openness... Its cost... The Linux communitys, proven, superior-ability to deal with, the far fewer incidences of, flaws...

And, just for the record, I am a technician that has primarily worked with Microsoft-products, for decades.
Posted by Gayle Edwards (262 comments )
Link Flag
Have you ever...
...used a Linux distribution lately?

Yesterday I installed a WIFI card in my Opensuse 10.0 laptop. Went to Yast to configure the card, it was immediately detected. Yast guides me through a series of pages to configure the stuff, and I was on the network.
Does this count as plug-and-play to you?

Only thing I had to do, and that is related to what the article states, I had to do my homework, and look for a card that has good Linux support. Basically any card based on the Ralink RT2500 is OK, and that is because the manufaturer has a positive attitude towards OS.

But hey, I don't want to spoil your fantasy. You can live happily with your continuous security issues...
Posted by Steven N (487 comments )
Link Flag
Ah, ignorance is bliss...
Actually, my impression is that Windows is increasingly borrowing from Linux/UNIX rather than the other way around (in fact, some code in newer versions of Windows are lifted verbatim -- the TCP/IP stack, for instance).

Linux is far more plug-and-play than Windows. Very few devices require a specific driver at all. Most things "just work" in a way that they still don't in Windows (but Microsoft's catching up). Microsoft still doesn't have something quite like hotplug yet.

Drivers for Linux are really trivial to write, in comparison to Windows. In fact, most hardware vendors prototype and test hardware under Linux for that reason. However, the same firms ultimately never release the Linux drivers.

The problem stems from several issues. For example, several vendors ship hardware without testing that it works right (DELL's ACPI is a great example) then ship a patch -- but the patch is distributed with a Windows installer. As a result, Linux users have to reverse engineer the patch and patch it themselves. Some vendors don't publish the specs to their hardware making it difficult to support it (only really a problem for things using non-standard chipsets), and there are still other vendors that will sue anyone in the US that attempts to write a Linux driver for their hardware (thankfully, they can't do this outside the US).

As a result, hardware support for custome hardware and chipsets for Linux lags behind the hardware release for several months. Now, 90% of hardware follows some spec or uses well-established chipsets and will simply work plug-and-play, but there are a still the occasional odd-ball things that require work to get working, and the rare item that won't work at all.

Sure, Linux supports more hardware and is more plug-and-play than Windows (where you frequently need to install drivers for devices; that's rarely true under Linux, support is usually there already), but the issue is that when something doesn't work, it can be almost impossible to resolve -- and the vendor won't help.
Posted by Zymurgist (397 comments )
Link Flag
Copy Windows.......isn't that what you do anyway?
Linux is always a step behind Windows.....following like a lost puppy and doing tricks, trying to immitate Windows usability and software.

So why stop now? Can't you just emulate the plug and play ability of Windows?

It won't be as good as the Windows implementation...but, what in Linux is?
Posted by Jim Hubbard (326 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Aside from showing extreme ignorance...
Do you have anything useful to say..?

>> "Linux is always a step behind Windows... ...trying to immitate [sic] Windows usability and software"

Please dont bother continuing to spout such tired myths... Linux is NOT a copy of Windows, and never has been. And neither is "open-source software" in general. Stating otherwise, means that you are either, extremely ignorant of an overwhelming number of basic technological facts, or, are simply being untruthful.

>> "Can't you just emulate the plug and play ability of Windows"

You clearly do not understand "driver models", at all. And, more importantly you are intentionally ignoring that "plug and play" is dependent on the "hardware developer" providing certain information to software-developers. In other words, "Plug and Play" works so well with "MS-Windows", because it is specifically designed to from the start. Which is the very POINT of this whole issue.

>> " It won't be as good as the Windows implementation...but, what in Linux is"

Why bother debating such a childishly-asinine question..? But, just for laughs, lets see... Linuxs Security-Model... Its robustness... Its user-administration... Its system-openness... Its cost... The Linux communitys, proven, superior-ability to deal with, the far fewer incidences of, flaws...

And, just for the record, I am a technician that has primarily worked with Microsoft-products, for decades.
Posted by Gayle Edwards (262 comments )
Link Flag
Have you ever...
...used a Linux distribution lately?

Yesterday I installed a WIFI card in my Opensuse 10.0 laptop. Went to Yast to configure the card, it was immediately detected. Yast guides me through a series of pages to configure the stuff, and I was on the network.
Does this count as plug-and-play to you?

Only thing I had to do, and that is related to what the article states, I had to do my homework, and look for a card that has good Linux support. Basically any card based on the Ralink RT2500 is OK, and that is because the manufaturer has a positive attitude towards OS.

But hey, I don't want to spoil your fantasy. You can live happily with your continuous security issues...
Posted by Steven N (487 comments )
Link Flag
Ah, ignorance is bliss...
Actually, my impression is that Windows is increasingly borrowing from Linux/UNIX rather than the other way around (in fact, some code in newer versions of Windows are lifted verbatim -- the TCP/IP stack, for instance).

Linux is far more plug-and-play than Windows. Very few devices require a specific driver at all. Most things "just work" in a way that they still don't in Windows (but Microsoft's catching up). Microsoft still doesn't have something quite like hotplug yet.

Drivers for Linux are really trivial to write, in comparison to Windows. In fact, most hardware vendors prototype and test hardware under Linux for that reason. However, the same firms ultimately never release the Linux drivers.

The problem stems from several issues. For example, several vendors ship hardware without testing that it works right (DELL's ACPI is a great example) then ship a patch -- but the patch is distributed with a Windows installer. As a result, Linux users have to reverse engineer the patch and patch it themselves. Some vendors don't publish the specs to their hardware making it difficult to support it (only really a problem for things using non-standard chipsets), and there are still other vendors that will sue anyone in the US that attempts to write a Linux driver for their hardware (thankfully, they can't do this outside the US).

As a result, hardware support for custome hardware and chipsets for Linux lags behind the hardware release for several months. Now, 90% of hardware follows some spec or uses well-established chipsets and will simply work plug-and-play, but there are a still the occasional odd-ball things that require work to get working, and the rare item that won't work at all.

Sure, Linux supports more hardware and is more plug-and-play than Windows (where you frequently need to install drivers for devices; that's rarely true under Linux, support is usually there already), but the issue is that when something doesn't work, it can be almost impossible to resolve -- and the vendor won't help.
Posted by Zymurgist (397 comments )
Link Flag
Right question, wrong answer
Yeah device support (automatic anyway) is key to getting Linux adopted, sort of. It is only key for people installing Linux on existing computers - which isn't that important IMHO. For true adoption someone like Dell needs to offer Linux on computers PRE-INSTALLED.

So of course Linux needs to support devices before Dell will pick it up, so the question of device drivers is the right one. But NDAs or binary drivers are NOT the right answer. If Linux is to stay free - meaning I could make my own distribution anytime I wanted that was comparable to existing ones - NO BINARY DRIVERS. Binary drivers are typically more buggy, more poorly written, and may have security holes no one knows about.

If companies don't want to make drivers and distribute the source fine. All we need is documentation so we can make our own drivers. Reverse engineering binary drivers is a very costly option, only the most important drivers will get reverse engineered. NO MORE NDAs, NO MORE BINARY DRIVERS.
Posted by jambarama (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Right question, wrong answer
Yeah device support (automatic anyway) is key to getting Linux adopted, sort of. It is only key for people installing Linux on existing computers - which isn't that important IMHO. For true adoption someone like Dell needs to offer Linux on computers PRE-INSTALLED.

So of course Linux needs to support devices before Dell will pick it up, so the question of device drivers is the right one. But NDAs or binary drivers are NOT the right answer. If Linux is to stay free - meaning I could make my own distribution anytime I wanted that was comparable to existing ones - NO BINARY DRIVERS. Binary drivers are typically more buggy, more poorly written, and may have security holes no one knows about.

If companies don't want to make drivers and distribute the source fine. All we need is documentation so we can make our own drivers. Reverse engineering binary drivers is a very costly option, only the most important drivers will get reverse engineered. NO MORE NDAs, NO MORE BINARY DRIVERS.
Posted by jambarama (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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