Ever order a new model of a computer or server only to find that Linux doesn’t yet have a driver to support the chipsets? This can even happen when there isn’t a new model or a substantial engineering change. A simple rev of a network chip or graphics processor can send your Google browser search bar a’ humming, looking for any news of a driver update. Sometimes it’s no problem. Or you may have to use a beta driver or just wait until one emerges.
Intel Chief Linux and Open Source Technologies, Dirk Hohndel, disclosed during a presentation that a major OEM customer (Dell, IBM, HP? We’ll just have to guess) is requiring an open source driver be available within 12 months of a new chip. That may sound like a long time but 12 months would be the longest they’ll wait. And, chips don’t make into boxes right away. Suppliers have to exhaust existing inventory or exchange with others who can use their inventory in order to take a new chip. Manufactures also have engineering, QA, testing processes and manufacturing specs and verification processes to go through in order to replace or introduce a new chip.
The good news for us is that either the chip makers will need to release an open source version of their drivers, or otherwise seed creation of open source drivers. Hopefully this means we’ll have both; choice of drivers to use, and drivers available to more quickly test and use. Either way, it’s a bell weather moment of one customer saying to their supplier, we require be open source software be available to help our products get into customers’ hands. That’s good news for all of us.
Note: Slides are available here if you are interested.