Last week, Broadcom announced they have open sourced the drivers for their latest 802.11n chipsets. This is significant because as closed source drivers, their chipsets were basically non-functional with Linux. By open sourcing these drivers, they can now be included in the Linux kernel. Broadcom joins virtually all other chipset suppliers who have made their drivers open source and compatible with Linux for some time. This driver is now in the staging kernel tree and should be mainlined in a future version of Linux, most likely 2.6.37.
We are extremely happy to see this change for multiple reasons. One: it’s obviously good to have more technology available to use; we want technology to “just work” with Linux and since Broadcom is a major technology supplier their absence from the mainline kernel was significant. Two: we have been working with our Technical Advisory Board on this issue for the last few years to educate vendors on Linux’ model and why it’s in their interest to open source their drivers. (For more detail on Linux’ approach to driver inclusion support, you can read our publication explaining the model here.)
A few years ago there was some hesitation from a few vendors, usually resulting from misunderstanding of legal and technical issues more than anything real. Gradually, those objections have all been erased, and we are now seeing unprecedented support of the open source development way of driver development. Broadcom was one of the last holdouts, so it’s very gratifying to see this change.
As Katherine Noyes says in this PC World article, “Every major 802.11 wireless driver has now been open sourced, effectively removing wireless as a point of potential concern for businesses and individuals considering moving to Linux. The move also signifies Broadcom’s long-awaited recognition that Linux users are now so numerous as to constitute a force to be reckoned with and a market to be served.”
Make no mistake: Broadcom didn’t open source this driver to support peace, love and Linux. Companies who have included their drivers in the mainline Linux kernel do so because it benefits them. Once the driver is included in the mainline, the maintenance costs associated with keeping up with kernel changes drop considerably. Also, as Katherine points out, they undertook this work because they see a market and realize that many of their competitors, like Intel, have been enjoying an advantage their open-ness affords them.
In short, mainlining works and we’re extremely pleased to see Broadcom’s effort and look forward to collaborating with them on future drivers.