Linux community offers free drivers to hardware makers

The Linux community has stepped up to address one of the bigger barriers to mainstream Linux adoption: device drivers.

Linux community offers free drivers to hardware makers

Greg Kroah-Hartman posted in his blog earlier this week that the community will take on all comers to develop Linux drivers for products free of charge.

‘You will receive a complete and working Linux driver that is added to the main Linux kernel source tree. The driver will be written by some of the members of the Linux kernel developer community (over 1500 strong and growing). This driver will then be automatically included in all Linux distributions, including the “enterprise” ones. It will be automatically kept up to date and working through all Linux kernel API changes. This driver will work with all of the different CPU types supported by Linux, the largest number of CPU types supported by any operating system ever before in the history of computing,’ he writes.

Companies whose products are under non-disclosure agreements (NDA) can still take up the offer by using the legal framework provided by the Linux Foundation – erstwhile Open Source Development Labs – so that they can accommodate those provisions.

Kroah-Hartman, who is employed by Novell and is one of the Linux kernel subsystem maintainers, in charge of USB, PCI, and the driver core, told us that this legal framework provided the impetus for making the announcement, as it allowed the participation many more hardware makers.

He said the community would also try and stick to existing schedules for products.

‘We work to try to fulfil any time requirements that companies have,’ he said. ‘So far no one has asked us for any deadlines, but if that happens we will work with it as best as we can.’

Now, there is no excuse for [companies] to not have Linux drivers,’ he said.

He told us the industry has responded positively to the announcement.

‘[The response has been] very good so far, I have numerous companies interested in taking us up on the offer and am just starting to work with them on the needed details,’ he said.

Kroah-Hartman said the Linux community would need a specification for the product, contact information of an engineer and potentially a few product samples for testing.

Up until recently, device drivers have been an issue to Linux adoption, particularly on the desktop, where consumers would expect to be able to plug in a host of peripherals and have them recognised and work just like in Windows.

Last April, the OSDL announced a renewed focus on drivers for printers and wireless devices, while in May Novell implemented a process so that its customers could get drivers through third parties rather than solely through its own update channels.

Even so, Linux has come a long way. ‘You do realise that already Linux supports more devices than any other operating system?,’ asked Kroah-Hartman. ‘We are doing this to ensure that we remain ahead and keep growing.’

‘Expanding the availability of quality, supported drivers will help accelerate the adoption of Linux in general and on the desktop in particular,’ said Tom Hanrahan, director of engineering, The Linux Foundation. ‘The Linux Foundation’s Non-Disclosure Agreement Program contributes to that expansion by facilitating collaboration between open-source developers and the hardware and software engineers who design and manufacture hardware devices.’

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