A constant thorn in the eye of many Linux kernel developers is the existence of closed-source kernel modules, most notably those by Nvidia and Ati, but also some file system drivers and other elements. Most of the Linux developers have been against these modules ever since they were first used, and in fact, bug reports originating from a tainted kernel are often disregarded and ignored. The kernel developers have now rallied together by issuing a statement urging vendors to release open source Linux kernel modules and drivers.The statement is fairly clear, and provides little new information to people even remotely familiar with the Linux world. It reads:
We, the undersigned Linux kernel developers, consider any closed-source Linux kernel module or driver to be harmful and undesirable. We have repeatedly found them to be detrimental to Linux users, businesses, and the greater Linux ecosystem. Such modules negate the openness, stability, flexibility, and maintainability of the Linux development model and shut their users off from the expertise of the Linux community. Vendors that provide closed-source kernel modules force their customers to give up key Linux advantages or choose new vendors. Therefore, in order 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.
The statement has been signed so far by more than 135 kernel developers. The FAQ accompanying the statement explains that “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.”
The statement will most likely do little to force vendors to write open source kernel modules, since effectively, this statement changes nothing about the situation as it was – it just sort of formalises the whole thing. We already knew the kernel developers don’t like closed source modules and drivers, and we already knew that some vendors simply don’t care about being open source. They just want their drivers to work, and seeing many end users are just fine with using these closed source modules, vendors have little incentive to change anything about it.
I find that a sad thing, but it is the way it is. I’m too practical to give up my closed source Nvidia driver, and in addition, it would be quite hypocritical too [just to note: I’m referring to myself here, not anyone else!]. I can be all noble by disabling closed source modules and even software from my Linux install, but then I’d go to bed at night and load up my PowerBook running Apple’s Mac OS X to check the web just before I go to bed. I’d wake up the next morning, and boot into Windows Vista to work on university projects using Microsoft Office, while I check my Windows Mobile phone for text messages.
It would be like being a part-time vegetarian. I’m a part-time vegetarian too; I never eat meat, except at 6pm when it’s dinnertime.
Perhaps I’m being a dunderhead but where’s Linus ?