AMD and Nvidia bitchfight over open source support

Recently AMD waved its magic wand and managed to produce a few wisps of open sourcery for its Evergreen graphics line.

Unfortunately, for the firm however, members of the open source community were less than thrilled with the first batch, with Linux tech site Phoronix noting “the ATI kernel mode-setting support that we really care about these days is also about done, but it isn’t yet published. The open-source ATI driver currently offers no 2D (EXA) acceleration and the 3D support either through a classic Mesa driver or Gallium3D also is not yet available.”

Of course, many pertaining to the brotherhood of linux have long had a gripe with AMD over its perceived “lesser” support, an issue which really came to a head back in 2007, when things were possibly at their most dire in terms of AMD open source support.

When we contacted the firm to find out why it was that it had such a bad rep on the linux street, we were told by John Bridgman of the firm’s software development engineering group that the image was undeserved.

While admitting that AMD’s open source situation was rather dire several years ago, Bridgman told TechEye that things had improved dramatically since 2007. He also claimed that historically, way back in 2000, “ATI had the best support for open source GPUs in the industry.”

It all went a bit pear shaped in 2002, as digital rights management became a bigger and bigger issue, Bridgman told us, noting that ATI had then pulled out of the open source court and started working on a proprietary driver that it picked up when it acquired Fire GL. This, however, was targeted at workstation users rather than regular punters.

“For the next few years after that we didn’t really have solutions for consumer users,” admitted Bridgman, who admitted that the situation persisted in its awfulness until circa 2008.

“But around 2006 we started trying to change that,” he said, suddenly changing tack and shifting the conversation towards AMD’s main competitor, Nvidia.

“Nvidia’s focus is all around proprietary drivers,” enthused Bridgman, playing the familiar old AMD favourite card. “They [Nvidia] do NOTHING for the open source community,” he added, only to backtrack very slightly to say, “they do offer an open source driver called NV, but it’s very basic, and only really helps you get on the internet so you can download their proprietary drivers.”

On the other hand, Bridgman was full of praise for Intel, a firm he lauded as doing “a lot of work with the open source community on pen source drivers.”

“Intel doesn’t have proprietary drivers, only open source drivers,” he said, going on to say “but we’re really the only company that does both.”

“Our proprietary, out of the box drivers for Evergreen have been out from the beginning,” he said going on to say that “in addition to that, we’ve been working closely with the open source community to come out with a second set of drivers.”

Again returning to AMD’s much repeated chorus, Bridgman felt the urge to follow up by re-iterating, “Nvidia offers no support or collaboration to the open source community. In terms of open source, we’re in a totally different league to them [nvidia].”

Steering Bridgman back into his own league, TechEye asked when the open source community could expect to see 2D acceleration and 3D support. “If I had to guess, I’d say two to three months with 70 to 80 per cent confidence,” Bridgman declared, adding “probably not a lot more than that.”

“We’ve already published the documentation, so that’s already out there. It’s just a question of developers having the time to work on it, which they don’t, because they’re in the middle of re-architecting the stack,” he noted.

“I want to stress, in terms of proprietary drivers, 2d and 3d support is already there, it’s just the open source stuff we’re still working on now.”

“As soon as we get code that’s working, we push it out [to the open source community]. We push out the sample code and the documentation, we try to do it all out in the open,” he concluded.

When we contacted Nvidia to respond to some of Bridgman’s allegations, Nvidia spokesman Andrew Humber pointed out that “firstly, Nvidia’s proprietary driver has better performance and has more features than *either* AMD’s proprietary driver *or* AMD’s open-source driver,” and that despite AMD’s claims that it doesn’t have a real open source one, “the Nvidia Linux driver quite simply provides the best experience for Linux users.”

But why not just put out the driver code completely into the open for all and sundry to have a poke at? We didn’t get a completely straight answer, but Humber did say that whilst, “yes, there is IP in our drivers that we are protecting, our Linux customers use Nvidia because we provide the best experience and the professional customers we support want high quality, fast performing drivers.”

“Anyone who actually relies on Linux today for high end workstation graphics or GPU datacenter-class deployments is using Nvidia,” he went on.

Yes, but why not just put it out there for free?

 Well, because “this business model funds and enables us to produce better enterprise and mission critical class Linux support than our competition,” came Humbernator’s reply.

Then, taking the gloves off a bit, he added “we welcome the day when AMD is prepared to pit their best (open source or not) Linux driver against ours. There are hundreds of Open Source projects that Nvidia is working on and actively supporting so this is starting to sound like a very old scratched record from AMD isn’t it?”

On a roll, Humber ranted that AMD invested “extraordinary amounts of time trying to position Nvidia as closed/proprietary,” adding “we would personally love to see them invest as much time into delivering market leading features and support for Linux users. The same can be said for OpenCL, where we’ve seen a lot of protestation from AMD, but little execution.”

But more on that in a follow up post, we-thinks.