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AMD partners with Novell to open source ATI graphic drivers


AMD announced on Sept. 7 a major strategic change in open-source graphic processors support.

The company announced it would provide open-source information and a development package supporting the ATI RadeonHD 2000 series ATI Radeon X1000 series of graphics processing units on Linux desktops.

Beginning the week of Sept. 10, AMD and Novell‘s SUSE Linux engineering team will join forces to release the needed source code and hardware specifications to create open-source 2D graphics drivers for the Radeon chip family. Over the following months, AMD will continue to work with the open-source community to enable 2D, 3D and video playback acceleration to provide the best possible experience on the Linux desktop.

At the same time, AMD will continue to work on ATI’s proprietary, high-performance Catalyst drivers. With the forthcoming Catalyst 7.9 software release in September, AMD will add Linux support for the ATI Radeon HD 2000 series of graphics processors. In addition to expanded GPU support, Catalyst 7.9 is designed to improve performance across the board. In Q4 2007, AMD’s Catalyst software package for Linux will add support for AIGLX (Accelerated Indirect GLX). AIGLX is an enabling technology that allows Linux users to enjoy a rich visual 3D user interface with the 3D Compiz Linux desktop.

An early preview of this driver by the reviews site Phoronix showed that even in beta the AMD fglrx 8.41 driver gives Linux users “truly a new experience on the ATI Linux front. The new driver delivers massive performance improvements.”

“AMD has a proven track record of collaboration with the software ecosystem to support the needs of the open-source community,” said Phil Hester, AMD’s senior vice president and CTO at AMD, in a statement. “With this announcement we’re demonstrating our commitment to respond to the needs of the open-source community and adopt a consistent approach across CPU and GPU technologies. By supporting open-source drivers on our industry-leading ATI Radeon graphics processors, we accelerate innovation across the entire AMD platform.”

Ever since AMD, an open-source supporter, bought ATI in July 2006, there has been speculation that AMD would open source ATI’s proprietary graphics drivers.

As John Cherry, the Linux Foundation’s global initiative manager, blogged recently, “During the state of the Linux round-table discussion on the first day of the Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit, James Bottomley [Linux kernel developer] had asked the panelists what are the top two things each panelist would like from the Linux community. Among the panelists was Google’s Chris DiBona, who is the open-source program manager at Google. His response was interesting when he had said the following: ‘I would love to get either NVIDIA and ATI to actually give us the specs on the drivers we want or let’s just reverse engineer everything and do it ourselves.'”

AMD, with these moves, seems to be actually delivering more than the minimum that DiBona had requested. Novell and AMD have worked closely together for a number of years to bring technology to the open-source market.

“The lack of open-source drivers for graphics hardware has long been a major obstacle for Linux developers and Linux desktop users,” said Nat Friedman, chief technology and strategy officer for open source at Novell. “Our ultimate goal is complete, high-quality, open-source drivers for all video hardware. Today’s announcement brings us one major step closer. Novell is pleased to have extended our collaboration with AMD to deliver the initial drivers that will allow open-source developers to make the Linux experience even better on desktops, laptops and workstations, and we look forward to contributing this initial code to X.Org.”

As part of opening up the ATI drivers, AMD consulted with leading members of the open-source community and the X.Org community to ensure that the driver addressed the needs of both open-source developers and Linux users. AMD hopes that the release of these specifications will allow the development community to partner with AMD to drive new innovations for the Linux desktop.

AMD will provide on-going support for this project with an in-house development team.

“AMD announced its intention to extend support of open source ATI drivers at Red Hat’s Summit conference in May of this year, so we are delighted that the work necessary to achieve this has come to fruition,” said Brian Stevens, Red Hat’s CTO, in a statement. “This action affirms AMD’s commitment to Linux and the open-source community and will greatly improve the ‘out-of-box’ experience for users. AMD’s decision has a strong supporting business case, demonstrating that Linux clients represent a significant market opportunity. It is a bold
decision for AMD, and they deserve full credit.”

Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu’s founder, added, “The combination of AMD’s graphics hardware and open-source innovation will accelerate the emergence of new desktop computing technologies. AMD’s timing is excellent, given the surge in Linux desktop adoption and the focus now in the open-source community on next-generation visualization and desktop interaction models.”

A version of this story first appeared in DesktopLinux.

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