Opinion: The vendor mafia\'s Linux vendetta

By   |  October 28, 2005

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 “Linux command line executable”. 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 “Do we try and kill Linux again this year?” 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.

Comments

37 Responses to “Opinion: The vendor mafia\'s Linux vendetta”

  1. Bennie Kahler-Venter
    October 28th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    Most of the hardware vendors have two problems with Linux. One they fear Microsoft retaliation; and two they prefer not to code open drivers, since they do not yet use open source themselves.

  2. Mitch 74
    October 28th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    Yup, one has to make do with whatever driver is available on Linux; but now, consider this: an obscure piece of hardware you use has no more actively developed drivers, and the last released one is buggy as hell, preventing you from using the hardware\’s capabilities. On Windows: buy a new one. On Linux: roam the net looking for a FOSS driver, that one can tinker so as to activate unknown device capabilities, or deactivate proven unusable features without compromising the rest. Yes, Granny can\’t do that. But one cannot tinker with Windows drivers so if it doesn\’t work in Windows, it just doesn\’t work – at all.

  3. Antonio Guimaraes
    October 28th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    How about a global initiave demanding ONLY equipment Linux compliant?

    Not a database with the present community-based drivers BUT a database with ONLY the vendor-supported drivers.
    That way they are compeled to provide support!
    Anyone buying first consult that database and the vendors quickly found it as a way to promote their equipment.
    The bottom line is… ONLY vendor-supported Linux drivers!
    It\’s an easy way to creat competition between the vendors!!! 😉

  4. Birger Kollstrand
    October 28th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    It is not alway everybody elses fault.

    Please contatct your vendor each and every time you get a new piece of HW that does not work with Linux. Advise them on how thay can work with the community.

    Also consider asking the kernel devlopers to consider binary stability in the kernel interfaces amking it easier for companies to support binary drivers.

    Some companies use code that are non GPL or they can not release it due to regulations or similar.

    Regards Birger
    http://www.linar.no
    http://www.linær.no

  5. Robert Emil Berge
    October 28th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    I\’m not so sure that the best thing is to hand over the full responsebility of making drivers to the hardware producers. They are usually lousy at it. They think of their product as a separate entity on the computer. When people in the community that work on Linux start making a new driver, they look around at similar hardware and tries to make the new driver fit in to the system that\’s already there. These drivers are almost always open, so the programmers do their best to make the code work well and look good. And when a new kernel is released, someone makes sure that the driver still works. That doesn\’t happen much with the typical hardware vendor\’s driver.

    So, the real issue with drivers for Linux, isn\’t that there is a lack of support from the hardware vendors. The problem is that these vendors refuse to let the Linux community see the information about the hardware they need to make good drivers. As a rule, when a driver is missing for Linux, or it isn\’t as good as a Windows driver, the hardware is either very new, or there have already been lot\’s of people who have requested specifications for how to communicate with the hardware, which has not been given to them. I think there is something very wrong, when I buy a piece of hardware, and I\’m told that the information I need to programme and use this hardware, will not be made available to me, whatever I do.

  6. Guido S
    October 28th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    I think the story is exaggerating the actual situation a little.

    I\’ve been using SUSE-Linux for years now (from 7.0 till 10.0) on different desktops and laptops. And only occasionally hardware didn\’t work. A win-modem (which stopped working in Windows after a few months too) a memory-card reader in a laptop, and after the USB came out, I had to wait a little before SUSE could handle it. For the rest everything always worked, wifi-cards, printers, lcd-screens etc. I never had to search for drivers, except for the NVDIA-drivers in the past, but nowadays SUSE handels this automatically too.

    As for games, there are a lot of great games, whith native Linux clients nowadays. Not only Quake, but also Doom3, Unreal Tournament (2003 and 2004), RTC Wolfenstein, Wolfenstein ET, Neverwinternights, Robin Hood, just too name a few.

    Your\’re right it\’s a shame that the community has too take care of a lot of the drivers. But on that point there is a beginning of a change too. I actually see Linux drivers on some manufacturers driver-CD\’s.

    So let\’s not scare people off with exaggerations.

  7. Henry Keultjes
    October 28th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    I am totally unconvinced that Microsoft has nothing to do with this. Microsoft puts tremendous pressures on various partners not to support Linux.

    It\’s time to look into these situations. Don\’ go to the government. A private anti-trust suit, like AMD started against Intel, is much more effective.

  8. Steve McAtee
    October 28th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    Everyone constantly gripes about vendor support for Linux. What I can\’t figure out is why the Linux distro\’s (Novell, RedHat, Linspire) do not build a Pro-Linux Vendor list and direct all their customers to that list. You do not have Linux support because no one vendor has enough customers to justify the cost. If we all went to maybe one or two vendors, they would probably have enough funding to provide good solid support and service. But the Linux Distro\’s are probably going to have to lead the charge.

    Just my thoughts.

  9. Carla Schroder
    October 28th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    Do you really believe hardware vendors are deliberately cutting themselves off from selling more hardware for no good reason? feh. It\’s well-known that Microsoft pressures and punishes vendors who try to support other platforms. There is a whole huge volunteer community of Linux device driver writers who only need hardware specs- and most times they can\’t even get those.

  10. Vacendak
    October 28th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    The biggest problem is that we don\’t have a consistant base for them to write drivers for with 300+ plus distros that are all different, how many drivers would you expect them to write? Until we have a standard base that they can work with, we will continue to have this problem.

  11. rams
    October 28th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    Unreal Tournament 2004 demo works perfect on my Mandrake Linux machine.

    However, it has been impossible to buy it.

    There is revenue to be made out of Linux games nowadays, provided the game editors are willing to accept our money 😉

  12. vm
    October 28th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    Did the author know that IBM makes none of the h/w that they sell in thinkpads ?

    Drivers for the h/w that thinkpads use are also written by the community – MAYBE ibm had a link to those drivers somewhere on their site. The same h/w will work on ANY other laptop – people have had mixed luck running linux on laptops of ALL vendors, incl. IBM. Some toshiba laptops are well supported, some not and so on with dell and hp.

    Stop sucking up to ibm so much geek fools – they have done little for linux except bloat up and slow the kernel for everyday use and drag it through lawsuits in doing so.

  13. Anon E Mouse
    October 28th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    There\’s in the order of 12,000 projects listed under games/entertainment at sourceforge … lots of them are quite good. imho, you want these other titles \’cause their marketing has been a success!

  14. alex t
    October 28th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    The GPL is not a problem for them to distribute a driver as binary. It can even be included with a Linux distro. It just has to use the right API calls.

    Vendors are just lazy on the whole as the community does it for them. If one vendor started producing drivers for their products and bothered to let us Linux users hear about it the support they would get would be worth it. I would buy from them in preference to the gamble of will the card I buy be supported or will it be a later version with a different chip set!

  15. rico giove
    October 28th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    I agree that \”Cathedra\” (from the movie: The Net) software may not use the best practices to put it nicely. But do not use ethnic slurs to describe them. It is insulting to Italian-americans. Ironically the keeper of linux, I think is of italian descent. Long live linux.
    Goodbye little fish.

  16. Guido S
    October 28th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    Lol, the Linux client is included on the disc. you don\’t need to look for a special version (just like UT 2003 by the way). There even is a 64-bit Linux client.

    In general you can buy Linux games here :
    http://www.tuxgames.com/

    For the ID games (Doom3, Quake4) you can also buy the Windows version and download the Linux-client.

  17. FUD Detector
    October 29th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    If y\’all don\’t see that this is an anrticle written by an author with a shiny new silver dollar in his pocket, then y\’all need your eyes examined. Just more FUD that can in no way what so ever be traced back to the notorious B.G.

  18. chris
    October 29th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    …Why do deskto Linux users perpetually behave as if they can buy just any device and not have to cope with a driver-search or an unusable device when they get home?

    Smarten up! Don\’t buy until you know its compatble, then vendors will get the message. We must use the Hardware Compatability Lists to this end. A halfway decent one exists at linuxquestions.org (although it could do with a usability-revamp). Some distros like Xandros and SuSE also maintain HCLs.

  19. John Bailo
    October 29th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    The common whine is that XP has \”all these drivers\” — yes, but when you really dig down, you find a few things.

    First, many of these drivers are poorly written and buggy. And if you criticize them, then Windows people will blame it on \”3rd parties\”.

    So much for Windows.

    ALso, many of these drivers don\’t fully exploit all the features — or else XP will just choose a generic driver. I have looked at some of the drivers selected by XP for my hardware, and found they often are not for that model specifically, but some generic driver.

    That\’s hardly \”having more drivers\”! In fact, I find that Linux drivers, written by competent engineers that really know hardware, are far more optimized — offering access to all the advanced and specific features.

    I bet if we did a full accounting of XP drivers, we\’d see they were very substandard.

    PS–to the comment above, I just finished playing UT2004 on Linux. But yes, I had to order it from a company in England!

    Check out tuxgames.com and linuxgames.com

  20. Michael
    October 29th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    As a former driver developer for a telephony platform, let me tell you about this wonderful world called \”reality\”. We had ZERO pressure from Microsoft and, indeed, had a Microsoft rep come begging to us, not the other way around. (They wanted us to support the NT platform.) We supported with drivers the following platforms: DOS, Windows(16), Windows 95+, Windows NT+, OS/2 1.x, OS/2 2.x and QNX.

    We did not support Linux and had no plans to ever support it. Why? Because there was no coherent documentation for writing drivers for Linux, nor was there a coherent driver model for Linux. Every two-bit distro had its own approach to things. Some drivers got compiled into the core. Others were loadable modules. The specifics changed from distro to distro and even from release to release of the same distro! The company had two driver developers. How much money, precisely, do you think Linux would have given us? I\’ll give you a hint: counting just the queries for Linux, OS/2 1.3 would have made an order of magnitude more cash than Linux — and Linux would have been two orders of magnitude more effort to support.

    The final choice? Very easy to make.

  21. towsonu2003
    October 29th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    Some people complain about \”too many distros\” (which I believe is part of the linux spirit). Now my winmodem is working thanks to a precompiled program written by linmodems.org. this thing works regardless of the distro you\’re using. why not something like that?
    or, just write the source and make it public. distro makers will use it for sure…
    or, just give the specs – that\’s it – not so hard.
    or, make a windows driver that can be emulated in linux (w. something like that famous ndiswrapper).
    I don\’t think hw makers are short of choices (or community help, for that matter). they are just afraid of changing the status quo…
    take care.

  22. Tux007
    October 29th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    The Linux-client is included with the Windows-game. As easy as it can get :)

  23. Eddy
    October 29th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    Visiting the pages you referred to on Haupauge\’s website is really no good example of a vendor supporting a Linux driver! They feature the RedHat 6.1 instructions, which was released in the previous century….

    More than that, the drivers are not developed by Haupauge, but by an open source project….on….sourceforge!

  24. Wolf N. Paul
    October 29th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    I say this as one who works with Linux and prefers it to Windows:

    If you really believe that Microsoft has nothing to do with the lack of vendor-supplied Linux drivers for most hardware devices you need to consider a few facts:
    (a) you mention that a Red Hat driver for some hardware did not work with your Ubuntu Linux. Well, whose fault is that? Do you really expect vendors to test and validate drivers with every Linux distro under the sun?
    (b)Vendors will expend effort based on the return they expect. Obviously, by comparison with Windows, they expect to make so few sales to Linux users that the effort to develop Linux drivers is not worth it. Wake up: that\’s THEIR choice, all you can do is not buy their products.
    If, on the other hand, Microsoft is indeed pressuring vendors not to support Linux, then let\’s go after Microsoft, not after the vendors who just try to survive in a market dominated by Microsoft. It\’s not really reasonable to expect them to fight our battles.

    Wanting freedom has to go both ways: my freedom to use Linux does not cancel some vendor\’s right to only support what HE thinks worth supporting.

  25. Joe
    October 29th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    The Linux installer has been included in every UT2004 CD set and DVD since it was first released, a fact that was well publicized on all the usual Linux boards. Just go buy a copy and install it — not impossible at all.

  26. Bill Hart
    October 29th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    I just flushed another Linux distro off of my Sharp laptop because I don\’t have the time to find drivers for stuff that I need. Linux distros keep coming closer but I have yet to find one–Ubuntu, Suse 10, Fedora 4, ad infinitum–that will work out of the box. I won\’t do without wireless and Sharp chose to use Atheros. THere is supposed to be a driver out there but I don\’t have the time to devote to finding it, loading and figuring out why it won\’t compile. I have all I can do each day to pound statistics code. If I learn any new language, it will be Perl (see Using Perl for Statistics, Journal of Statistical Software, May 2004). I suppose I could buy a new laptop, even one with Linux installed, but how much time would I have to use it before my wife killed me for blowing up our budget. I love Linux and its concept, I think Bill has enough money already and I certainly am aggrevated with Windows often enough. But, until I can drop the install disk into my machine and go back to functioning just as I was before the install (only faster and with less BOD)I will remain in the Windows world.

    Sadly,

    A frustrated professor

  27. I R A Darth Aggie
    October 29th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    All the vendors need to do is make the specifications for their hardware available. If they *really* want to get their hardware a leg up, then provide reference devices to interested driver writes at no or low cost.

  28. Shuffling Buffalo
    October 29th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    Speaking as somebody who is directly involved in the development of closed source software for Linux. There are really two problems with trying to develop closed source software for it.

    Firstly there are a _lot_ of different linux distributions, each of them goes about doing it\’s own thing with different patched kernels, libraries, installation locations, package management etc etc.

    Secondly compatibility between versions of the same distribution is lamentable (compared to commercial OS\’s (both Windows & UNIX)).

    Both cases combine to make it almost impossible for commercial entities to provide good, well tested closed source software that the author of the original article was after, hence the only way is open source.

    Unfortunately open source is not an option for a fair number of pieces of software, because of things like NDA\’s, IP protection and the cost of open sourcing (code audit, legal review etc) relative to the size of the market.

    Personally I love linux, I\’ve used it for years (RH5.X) and this situation is one that really ticks me off. However, I\’d suggest that if anybody wants to see things improve you should direct critism at the linux distribution and kernel developers. After all would anybody thing that it was right and proper if you were developing software to run on windows, in order to get it to work properly, you had to hand the source code to Microsoft?

  29. Andi
    October 30th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    After having ended in 15 month long incomplete support for a PVR-350 which was said to be \”supported on Linux\”, I know I\’ll care better next time. Well, with OpenSUSE my card is eventually working in a way which fits my needs. But from now on, I will buy hardware only from vendors which are known to support Linux really well. (NVidea, IBM, Fujitsu/Siemens, …)

    If Linux users limit themself for a while and buy only reasonable supported hardware, some vendors will take the chance to get market leaders. Sure. See NVidia. Others will follow, we only need to guide them. 😉

  30. Armando
    October 30th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    I dual boot my Toshiba laptop with XP and Debian for two reasons.. one, my company doesn\’t support Linux in the slightest so for me to be able to VPN, I need XP. Fine, that\’s a work thing and unrelated. The other is that I have a built in SD card reader which is quite convenient for me not to have to carry around an extra cable when I want to take pictures from the SD card in my digital camera, copy them to my laptop, and burn them to a CD. Toshiba doesn\’t provide a Linux-based driver for the reader, and I don\’t know to this day if one is even available that\’s been written by the community.

    Some of my friends call me picky, and perhaps they\’re right, but only to a certain degree. The point is that I shouldn\’t HAVE to spend my time searching the web to find my own driver. A tier 1 company like Toshiba should be doing this by default, instead of forcing their customers to figure it out on their own, just because they happen to be running something other than Windows.

    And Guido, I don\’t believe this story is an exaggeration at all. The reason why SuSE works so well is because it takes a \”more is more\” approach to the distro. SuSE is packed with drivers (the majority of which I might add) that have been written by the community. Just because you don\’t see the pains of drivers not being available doesn\’t mean they don\’t exist. It\’s all dependant on how the distro is built. The point here is when you do run into the situation where you buy a spiffy new piece of hardware (or even have an old one like my SD reader) that there are no Linux-based drivers for, you shouldn\’t have to rely on the rest of the world to support it. Vendors should be doing it NOW. Linux and Linux distributions have matured by leaps and bounds since I started with it (Slackware 7) and there\’s no reason that vendors should NOT support it. Cheers.

  31. morbuxx de buxman
    October 30th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    I am an accountant and I\’ve been using Linux for 5 good years, I have 4 flavors of linux and 2 BSDs on my laptop. All we need to do is \”finetuning\” to get all the hardware running , and thats what make linux a fun thing. There are two types of computer users,
    1. a resourceful bunch and
    2. a lazy bunch

    Linux users are normally associated with group #1. It has been that way for ages, and Linux has been growing from strength to strength all along, because people are getting smarter, thats all.

  32. Nikolay
    October 31st, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    Jason, I think you should do little bit more research on the topic before flaming everyone.

    FYI the iBurst modem comes with no drivers for Windows either. You have to download them from third party web site, exactly as with the Linux ones.

    Although I agree with you about the fact that the lack of drivers and some specialised software is probably the main reason why Linux is not going to get very popular any time soon, I think there is a very good explanation for that and I won\’t rush into blaming the equipment manufacturers or any other companies for it.

    The reason is obvious: lack of standards and documentation compounded by the number of different Linux distributions. Developing something that will work under all distros, in all configurations etc., require in order of magnitude more time that doing the same for Windows. So I bet that the Windows users won\’t be happy to share the cost of such huge development because few people want to use Linux. What about if your nice new game cost R200 for Windows and R500 for Linux, so the Windows users cost is not affected by the development for Linux? Would you pay for the Linux version? Would you pay for your TV tuner card 50% extra just because it comes with Linux drivers? I doubt.

    Taking into consideration how fast everything is changing in the Linux world, giving support for Linux is nearly impossible for a company. There are probably thousands of distributions out there, just imagine what would be for a company to be able to test every product release on each and every distribution. It is virtually impossible!

    So before blaming all the companies, please do some proper research, speak to some people involved in the area and then do the conclusions!

  33. Guido S
    October 31st, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    You should try SUSE 10.0. Try the live DVD first if you want.

    Atheros wifi-cards were supported in SuSE 9.1 allready, see : http://new.linuxjournal.com/article/7845 In 9.1 they had too set the DHCP-options manually (point and click in Yast). Most probably configuration will be automatically now too.

  34. Guido S
    October 31st, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    The argument of the \”thousand distros\” is nonsense. First of all, they\’re not that different. The kernel is the kernel. Distros mainly differ in the included software packages.

    And if specific changes too a generic driver have too be made for a distro, you can count on the community. They write the whole driver for you, if you give them the hardware specs.

  35. Dave
    October 31st, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    Nikolay,

    While i agree that having the thousands of distrobutions out there may deter companies from developing linux drivers, Remember Linux is a kernel, NOT a distribution. If the module can be inserted in to the standard kernel, then it is the distro\’s responsability to make it interact with the specifics of the distro.

  36. james
    November 2nd, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    you shouldn\’t be asking for drivers, you should be asking for specifications or open source reference drivers. Linux advocates seem loath to advocate for open source drivers and seem happy to include binary only drivers and sign NDAs to get device support (and lets not forget \”ndiswrapper\”)

    Specifications for communicating with hardware shouldn\’t be IP or NDA worthy, IP code should live in hardware roms or firmware so that is a weak excuse.

    If Linux vendors actually pulled their weight they could use their significant influence to get many more open source drivers, this would benefit users of other operating systems, including non-free ones, but they seem content to give vendors a pass. Smaller open source projects have succeeded with this strategy (e.g., OpenBSD).

  37. John
    March 20th, 2006 @ 12:00 am

    OK but does linux help itself? I have a samsung printer. It came with linux support. Will linux install it though? No it\’s not open source so it has to be installed through the back door. If a manufacturer decides to offer support but doesn\’t want to disclose the source why not welcome them?
    In this case they spent a lot of time developing code to cope with cups etc. Just why should they have to tell everybody how they do it?

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