Novell's Linux Driver Project Is Back In The Saddle - InformationWeek

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10/4/2007
10:46 AM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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Novell's Linux Driver Project Is Back In The Saddle

Last month the big Linux hardware news was ATI (er, AMD) announcing it'd release full specs for its hardware for the sake of open-source drivers. Now Novell's kicked things up a notch in its own way: it has rebooted the Linux Driver Project.

Last month the big Linux hardware news was ATI (er, AMD) announcing it'd release full specs for its hardware for the sake of open-source drivers. Now Novell's kicked things up a notch in its own way: it has rebooted the Linux Driver Project.

So what exactly is the Linux Driver Project? It's more or less what it sounds like: a Novell-sponsored effort to create and actively maintain open-source Linux kernel drivers for every kind of hardware device out there. The drivers are licensed under the GPLv2, but the group leaves open the possibility of adding other licenses (depending on what they are) to any particular driver.

A big part of the reason for organizing this particular effort is to allow hardware companies to request that the LDP write Linux drivers for their particular device(s), so the hardware developers themselves don't have to do this in-house. I suspect this is a big part of the reason -- aside from any arguments about demand -- that Linux hardware-driver development has been spotty: some hardware makers just don't feel like they can justify the cost of having official Linux drivers written. Since the LDP already has a whole army of programmers ready, willing, and able to take up the task (according to their site, more than 200 programmers are on-staff), they can take the heavy lifting out of making sure a given device has proper Linux support.

One thing that's not quite clear yet is which projects are currently under development, and for what hardware devices and vendors. There's a project status page which looks rather skimpy at the moment, but I suspect at least some of this is due to the whole thing being relatively recently restarted. Another interesting element is how they offer to deal with "closed" hardware: "We are willing and able to sign NDAs with companies if they wish to keep their specifications closed," (reads their Web site) "as long as we are able to create a proper GPLv2 Linux kernel driver as an end result." I'm hoping this compels more hardware manufacturers to simply do the right thing from the git-go and adopt an open policy for their hardware -- something that would benefit not just Linux but every operating system out there.

Not everyone seems to be turning cartwheels, though. Folks who have criticized Novell for its Microsoft pact have singled out the fact that the drivers in question are licensed as GLPv2, not GPLv3. The latter license was developed to better protect the community from "Tivoization" and cross-licensing deals like the one between, you guessed it, Novell and Microsoft. I suspect this has more to do with the GPLv3 being as new as it is than anything else, but a lot of my feelings on this will depend on how Novell responds to pressure (if there is any) to use the new license terms. I also get the feeling the sheer amount of good this would do on the whole would make such worries nearly irrelevant. But I'm keeping my eyes open.

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