September 6, 2007

It's official: ATI Radeon drivers to be open sourced

Author: Joe Barr

AMD briefed Linux.com this morning on a pending announcement regarding the open sourcing of drivers for ATI graphics cards. It's official -- AMD will make code and specifications for ATI graphics cards available on the Internet on September 10.

We spoke with Phil Hester, senior vice president and CTO at AMD, and Chris Schlaeger, director of AMD's Operating System Research Center, along with Jon Carvill, AMD's manager of public relations. They confirmed the rumors reported earlier on Slashdot, that everything necessary for community-driven and -maintained 2-D and 3-D drivers for ATI Radeon X1000 and HD 2000 graphics will be made available next week.

Hester and Schlaeger both stressed the point that the announced project is a work in progress. Even the licensing terms are not yet finalized. Hester says, "This has to be an open, collaborative process. This is not us just dumping a bunch of stuff on the table and saying, 'We're done.' To me, this is the beginning of a commitment to work with the open source community over a sustained period to do what we need to to make them happy in both the 2-D and the 3-D area."

As far as the licensing is concerned, Hester says, "I think with good certainty we know that the 2-D drivers will be a combination of MIT and GPL. We haven't figured out a bunch of things on the 3-D license yet."

The reason for the uncertainty on the 3-D side is two-fold, Hester explains. For one thing, there is code in the closed source version that does not belong to AMD, so they have to figure out how to provide the information needed by the open source community without giving away code they don't own. For another, the sheer complexity of the GPUs is enormous. Hester says, "There are 7,000 to 8,000 control registers in GPUs these days. The visible register set in a GPU is considerably more complex than the visible register set in a CPU." As a result, documenting those registers in a way that open source developers can understand is not a trivial task. Hester believes it will take several iterations of AMD presenting information, the community absorbing and commenting on it, followed by more information being delivered in an ongoing process in order to work all the way through to the point where everything needed for open source drivers to fully exercise the 3-D capabilities of the cards is available in an understandable form.

Work has already begun behind the scenes with developers at Novell. Why Novell? Prior work together and an existing contractual framework made it an easy place to start, but Hester says, "I wouldn't read anything into that. We are very open as to who we work with."

On the issue of maintainership, Schlaeger says, "We want to enable the open source community to carry the development forward. We won't let them alone. It's not something that we dump a bit of code, a bit of spec, and say, 'This is it. You asked for it, you have it. Feel free, and have fun.'" He noted that the company took a similar approach on the Linux port of Opteron. Initially, it contracted with Novell to bring the project along, then made it into a successful open source project.

A formal press release regarding the open sourcing of the ATI drivers is expected from AMD after market close today.

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