Linux Community Offers Free Drivers to Hardware Firms

The Linux community is planning to improve the position of the open source operating system by addressing one of the more vexing barriers slowing mainstream adoption: Linux-compatible device drivers. Developers are now offering to provide hardware vendors with the necessary drivers for free.

Drivers create the necessary links between hardware devices and the operating system running the computer on which the devices reside or are connected.

The move is expected to help the OS make deeper inroads into a market wholly dominated by Microsoft’s ubiquitous Windows operating systems by encouraging companies to think twice before adopting Redmond’s recently released upgrade, Vista.

Driver Development

News of the offer came via a blog by Greg Kroah-Hartman, one of the Linux kernel subsystem maintainers in charge of USB (universal serial bus), PCI (peripheral component interconnect) and the driver core.

“That’s right, the Linux kernel community is offering all companies free Linux driver development,” wrote Kroah-Hartman.

“No longer do you have to suffer through all of the different examples in the Linux Device Driver Kit, or pick through the thousands of example drivers in the Linux kernel source tree trying to determine which one is the closest to what you need to do,” he pointed out.

Working with Vendors

Linux users have often complained that even though the vast majority of PC components and peripherals work with Linux, some don’t work at all. Some have suggested that opening the APIs (application programming interfaces) and ABIs (application binary interfaces) might be a solution.

Hardware vendors who submit specifications will now receive “a complete and working Linux driver that is added to the main Linux kernel source tree,” according to Kroah-Hartman.

Members of the Linux kernel developer community will write the driver code, which will then be automatically included in all Linux distributions.

Enough to Make a Difference?

It’s uncertain whether the move will be significant enough to alter the operating system landscape, however.

“I’m not sure the Linux community offering to work with businesses really changes anything,” said Gordon Haff, principal IT advisor at the research firm Illuminata.

“In many cases, the device drivers are proprietary because the hardware vendor doesn’t want them to be open source,” he told LinuxInsider, “or they are themselves constrained by licensing agreements.”

For those manufacturers that choose to submit specs to the Linux kernel community, developers will create a driver that can be shipped with the product or offered as a download. Companies will have to provide contact information for an engineer and may be asked to supply a few product samples for testing.

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