August 9, 2006 3:21 PM PDT

Intel aims for open-source graphics advantage

Intel has released open-source software to give Linux full-fledged support for 3D graphics, a move that could give its graphics chips a leg up over rivals.

Right now, Linux users typically rely on proprietary driver software if they want to use graphics acceleration chips and hardware to improve graphics performance--to speed up displays of 3D tanks in a battle video game, for example.

But this proprietary approach poses ethical, legal and practical problems. Intel sees the open-source move as a way to attract customers to its graphics products--such as its upcoming 965 Express chipset--and give it an advantage over rivals ATI Technologies and Nvidia.

"Having open-source drivers gives us a big edge in this market," said Dirk Hohndel, chief technologist of Intel's Open Source Technology Center. The software, available at a new Web site, is already being integrated with relevant open-source projects, he said.

Intel's effort reflects the curious intersection of technological, legal, social and business motivations that operate in the open-source realm. By participating in the collaborative programming movement, Intel builds ties with outside developers and open-source fans. On the other hand, it relinquishes some control over the software and forgoes the possibility of keeping some coding secrets.

And one politically important ally, the Free Software Foundation, was delighted with Intel's move.

"It's a very important step in the evolution of the industry," said foundation attorney Eben Moglen, who is overseeing a revamp of the General Public License (GPL) that governs the Linux kernel. "The move that Intel has taken, toward making better interoperability with free operating systems by abandoning secrecy, is the sign of a new competitive approach."

More practically, Intel's move is well-timed to dovetail with Red Hat and Novell projects to build fancy graphical interfaces into Linux. The new interfaces, often referred to as "bling" and "eye candy," require 3D acceleration.

Although enthusiasts who favor the glitzy interfaces may benefit from Intel's move, it's not clear whether there will be a benefit for the chipmaker itself. For now, engineering customers using Linux for high-end graphics work, such as mechanical design, rely on add-in graphics cards, not on Intel's integrated graphics. And gaming--the big market for 3D graphics--uses Microsoft Windows almost exclusively.

Intel has a major part of the overall graphics market; it shipped the graphics chips for 40 percent of PCs in the second quarter of 2006. ATI's share was 28 percent, and Nvidia's, 20 percent, according to research analyst Jon Peddie.

Repercussions
Peddie thinks it unlikely ATI or Nvidia will release open-source drivers as a result of Intel's move. Details of the hardware interfaces for graphics chips are the "family jewels...and expose how the chip itself works," he said. "Nvidia doesn't want ATI to know that, and vice versa."

ATI didn't immediately comment on its plans, but Nvidia said it wouldn't change its approach as a result of Intel's move. "At this time, it does not make sense for us to open-source our graphics drivers," Nvidia spokesman Brian del Rizzo said. "We are confident in our ability to provide our customers with the best graphics solutions possible."

But Michael Larabel, who runs the Phoronix Linux graphics site, believes there could be repercussions.

"Intel's move may cause Nvidia and ATI to rethink open-sourcing some areas of their drivers, improving the level of support, or funneling more resources to their Linux department," Larabel said.

CONTINUED: What it means for AMD…
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16 comments

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Nice - very nice.
OTOH, proprietary or not, Nvidia has been more than a friend to Linux in the graphics department... I'm guessing that Intel may be doing this more as a move to keep their graphics division alive than anything else.
Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Exactly
NVidia produces solid drivers for linux, and only the most anal purist would care if it is OSS or not. Although if they open sourced it, I think that the drivers would be even more improved, and reduce some workload.

Do you know what projects RedHat and Novell are working on?

xgl is so frikken nice, it can give the 3D GUI stuff from OSX a run for its money and flat out beats the bloated joke that MS "innovated".
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
Link Flag
Some truth to that.
Intel's graphics division isn't doing too
poorly. Lots more systems come with on-board
video these days and lot of that is Intel.
However, it's still nothing like the high-end
market.

That said -- there's a pretty high demand for
Linux-based graphics these days, be it PVRs, or
more often for video work. With the bruha
related to closed-source drivers from other
vendors (which are infringing on copyright), now
is a great time.

But the real big deal is that for a long time,
the excuse for not open-sourcing accelerated 3D
video drivers was that of IP-related issues.
Namely, many have felt that the makers of GPUs
have been pilfering bits an pieces of each
other's technologies and that of 3rd parties for
years. Opening the source code might, therefore,
expose some of that infringement (they are
mostly worried about patent, more so than
copyright).

Intel's move lays down the gauntlet, sort to
speak. They're accepting the risk (perhaps they
feel they are perfectly clean), in exchange for
wider acceptance and adoption, and some free
tech development. If the move further pushes
other vendors to open up their drivers, perhaps
it will broker a truce and stave off mutually
destructive cycles of litigation.
Posted by Zymurgist (397 comments )
Link Flag
You can not count Intel as real graphics solution!
what graphics? The onboard video barely works! OK -I am gamer!
Posted by dragonsprayer (16 comments )
Link Flag
You can not count Intel as real graphics solution!
what graphics? The onboard video barely works! OK -I am gamer!
Posted by dragonsprayer (16 comments )
Link Flag
Desperate acts?
Tell me, when when a person askes for a high powered graphics chip, what brands come to mind Nvidia & ATI. Sorry, not Intel.

Just sounds like they are trying to get their third rate graphics cards some publicity.

While both ATI have propritary driver, they both have Linux versions of them, so Linux users can take full advantage of them.

Sounds to me like Intel knows they have cruddy graphics chips compaired to Nvidia and ATI, so they appearently don't mind people picking the drivers. Guess they figure they have nothing worth protecting.

That, or they are hoping that open drivers will give some body a reason to buy their cards.... Not likely.
Posted by startiger (50 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Did you read the article?
Intel owns a majority of the graphics chip market.
That does not imply it is an act of desperation.
Rather it is a chance for Intel to improve its
graphics sub-system by using the vast resources of
the open-source movement while also increasing its
market share. A sound engineering as well as
marketing approach.
Posted by Johnny Mnemonic (374 comments )
Link Flag
ATI Sucks On Linux
Do you know how crappy ATI's Linux drivers are? I used them for a while; after a combination of crashes, releases that weren't even tested, and breakage, I went back to the defaults, without hardware acceleration. ATI's closed drivers don't take advantage of their new features; in fact, they have a single Linux driver for the entire Radeon line, which means users of the high end Radeons can expect not to be able to use the full features of their graphics cards.

Honestly, the real reason the Linux gaming market is so bad is not because developers don't care, but because the graphics hardware vendors are so disinterested in any operating system but Windows that it becomes a huge crapshoot to design a Linux game that uses anything but the most basic of graphics subsystems.
Posted by DarkPhoenixFF4 (206 comments )
Link Flag
Intel Graphics?
What graphics? Intel's stuff is too basic to consider for gamers or anyone doing graphics work. When (or if) Vista comes out it won't even work for businesses any more. Maybe that's why they're targeting Linux?
Posted by Michael Grogan (308 comments )
Reply Link Flag
But do people use them?
Sure there may be a high percentage of people that own integrated intel graphics chips, but what percentage of people actually use them (other than strictly business users)?

I'm sure many people probably have the intel chips disabled and are using a graphics card.
Posted by PCsRfun (64 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Good - Because Software Drives are the Wrong Business Motivator
I can see where this might benefit even soft modem companies. The chipsets used are the real engineering marvels and can remain closed, however, it makes no sense to keep the drivers closed-source because that's not where the real money goes to - it's the hardware and what it does that makes money for video card/chipset companies. Opening up the source for video cards opens up lots of opportunities where there weren't any before.

Intel's resources are better put to hardware manufacturing, not software engineering. Letting the source loose upon the world to the kernel developers or even to other video card driver developers can also improve other video card useage.

Intel gets my props for this move. When AMD follows suit, I'll be quite a happy camper. Nvidia isn't likely to change its spots anytime soon, I'm afraid...
Posted by `WarpKat (275 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Is this a joke or a crime to compare Intel with ATI and Nvidia!
What a joke! Let me get this right, you are telling me that you count the onboard video that ships on mobos as Intel's 40%+ market share??? O man come on! Maybe I am missing something and Intel makes graphics cards that runs DOOM3 at ultra mode at 100 FPS - i think not!

Sure, I will pay a little extra for onboard video or the Intel graphics, (i.e. asus P5GDC vs. P5GDC-V (includes video)) but just to tech computers. I want make that clear, it appears this article states when a buy a mobo with onboard graphics that counts as part of the so called 40%+ market share?

Not only that, but how many people who are part of the so called 40% upgrade to real video? That is, even an eMachine buyer will upgrade the poor Intel graphics?

Intel graphics will not even work with vista - so what happens to the 40% who upgrade to a real GPU - do you still count intels onboard chip as market share?

I must have misunderstood this article - intel graphics are not much better then cpu graphics - it takes a little heat off the over heated P4's. To even compare Intels onboard video with real GPU's made by Nvidia and ATI is either a joke or a crime - I am no sure which.
Posted by dragonsprayer (16 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Exactly!!! What graphics!
They will not even work with vista then does the so called 40% count? How do you compare a $5 chip with real GPU card?
Posted by dragonsprayer (16 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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