Why open source drivers and modules are important

From the “10 years too late” files:

A group of 135 Linux developers have issued a joint statement on the Linux Foundation site calling for open source drivers and modules for Linux. Though there are plenty of open source Linux kernel drivers and modules, there are also plenty of closed source ones. That’s where the problem lies.

According to the statement:

Vendors that provide closed-source kernel modules force their customers
to give up key Linux advantages or choose new vendors. Therefore, to take full advantage of the cost savings and shared support
benefits open source has to offer, we urge vendors to adopt a policy of
supporting their customers on Linux with open source kernel code.

I think the call for open source drivers is a GREAT idea — but it’s an idea that’s not new. Drivers and specifically open source drivers for LInux have been an issue since the creation of Linux.  In a Q&A on how the Linux Foundation is helping this renewed call for open source drivers now, they write:

Nothing has changed, we have just been receiving a constant stream of
questions from companies asking how the Linux kernel developers feel
about closed source modules over the past year or so. This statement
should be the definite answer for how a large majority of them feel with
regards to this topic.

Kernel developer Greg Kroah-Hartman (literally a giant in kernel development) has had an open driver effort ongoing since January 2007 and has been active ever since.

Considering that proprietary driver have been available for Linux for years, this is an issue that will be difficult (though not impossible) to resolve. I strongly believe that Kroah-Hartman’s effort to build an open source driver IS the answer.

A call from the broader community for open drivers is all fine and nice, but it is the Kroah-Hartman effort that is actually helping to build the drivers that will fix the problem.

Now to be fair the Linux Foundation statement is broader than just drivers. They address kernel modules in general.

A module is a chunk of code that can be loaded into the Linux kernel
while it is running. It is often the same thing as a driver, but they
can provide other things. Examples of non-driver Linux kernel modules
are filesystems and security frameworks.

Again this is a great idea — taking leadership here is certainly necessary, and on the broad issue of modules it’s one that has not been front and center. Hopefully this renewed effort from the Linux Foundation will get some action on the module issue overall. It’s been a long time coming.

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