Opinion: The vendor mafia\'s Linux vendetta
I\’ve just written a little script that finds all the television channels for a TV card on Linux. It uses the ivtv driver, which is a community-written open source device driver that supports the Hauppage range of cards.
When I finished my script, it dawned on me that this wouldn\’t happen to a Windows user. If the Hauppage card came without Windows drivers, without a tuner and without an automatic channel finder, absolutely no-one would buy it.
Just about every device on my machine is running on a driver written by the community. My video driver, my disk driver, my sound driver … the list goes on and on.
I downloaded the drivers for iBurst from Sourceforge — just think about that for a second. Imagine how enraged Windows users would be if they got their new iBurst modem and were told that iBurst doesn\’t provide drivers — they\’d have to download them from the Web from some third party that bothered to create them. How, exactly, are you meant to do that with no Internet connection?
For all the arguments against Microsoft and its anti-competitive practices, the one thing that really holds Linux back is the complete, embarrassing and possibly negligent support for it by vendors. Microsoft really has nothing to do with it.
Windows rules the desktop because my mother can walk into Incredible Connection and buy any device in the shop, take it home, pop in the driver disk, and it will work. For Linux, there may or may not be a community-written driver for whatever software I want to install. If there isn\’t, the argument is that I can write my own. All I have to do is learn C (and possibly assembler), reverse engineer the device, write a low-level piece of software, compile, debug, start an open source project on SourceForge, and maintain the driver for the rest of my natural life. I can see my mother getting into that.
News flash! It is not the consumer\’s job to write drivers for hardware. Whenever I buy hardware, the cost of driver development is built into the price of the hardware. So I get to pay a premium for services I cannot use.
The same applies for software. My CellC invoice comes via email, encoded by a program called Keymail, which is developed by Striata. Keymail Decoder is available for Windows, Mac, Redhat 6.2, Redhat 7.2, and a nebulously named â€œLinux command line executableâ€. I\’ve tried all of the Linux versions — none of them worked on Ubuntu Hoary or Breezy.
I filled out the feedback form, describing my problem and the various tactics I had tried to bypass it about two weeks ago. I have not heard a word from Striata.
Once again, back at Incredible Connection, I can look lustingly at all those game titles, but I know they won\’t run on Linux (except maybe under the community-built WineX emulator). Quake bothered to port its gaming engine over to Linux — why can\’t anyone else do it?
There are some exceptions to the rule. IBM is one — you know your Thinkpad will work with Linux. So will your xSeries server, your IBM software (not everything is ported yet but they\’re working on it), and IBM services and support.
And Hauppauge, whom I tore in to earlier, is making an effort. They have some limited support for Linux on their web site, primarily for Redhat and Suse.
Now we just need the other vendors to come to the party. The community has written most of the drivers for you, you lazy sods. At the next secret vendor mafia convention, I would appreciate it if you would vote in favour of Linux when the question of â€œDo we try and kill Linux again this year?â€ comes up. And maybe, just maybe, you can start doing your jobs and provide working hardware and software for Linux instead of relying on us to do it for you.