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Re: Open/Closed Drivers - Ebens Answer from Maker Faire

Wed Sep 21, 2011 7:55 am

All the threads on the "openness" of drivers quickly turn into a religious war, and it's hard to find real information. Having just watched the video from Maker Faire, Eben provided a nice answer in the Q&A section and the real situation is a lot better than I think many realise.

Here's the transcript, with slight editing for readability.

Feel free to copy/paste it to the wiki/FAQ if you want.
OK, so the question was: "Are all of the drivers open?"

We classify bits of the chip into "multimedia side" and "ARM side". Everything on the ARM side is definitely open. So SD Card drivers, USB drivers, etc, all of that is open. On the multimedia side it's a little bit more complicated because we have a proprietary GPU design inside there that has a closed binary blob associated with it - not in ARM code but a closed blob of GPU firmware that runs on a proprietary RISC core. There are no compilers available [publicly] for that RISC core, so we're unlikely to ever release the source to that.

There's a sort-of middle ground which is what happens to the [linux components]. We have a kernel-side component that provides a tunnel between user-side OpenGL drivers and the closed GPU design. Obviously the kernel-side component is open as it's statically linked with the kernel so it has to be for GPL reasons. The userland component? I'm doing my very best to make that open. I think it would be interesting to make it open because I think it would be interesting for people to see what a commercial OpenGL state machine looks like. I'm doing my very best to make sure that's open. It's possible that in the initial release those will be closed ARM shared objects but we acknowledge that that's not ideal.

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Re: Open/Closed Drivers - Ebens Answer from Maker Faire

Wed Sep 21, 2011 8:07 am

So it's possible that actually everything run on the ARM will be open if Eben manages to convince Broadcom to make the userland GL stuff open. I'd love that to happen so I could play with some alt-os stuff with hardware 3D, but I think people should wait and see how successful Eben's efforts to open the userland GL driver are before directing all of this uncalled for vitriol at the project.

Perhaps when responding to posts on this topic, it would be more fruitful to point people at this so they have the facts first before getting drawn into the more religious aspects of the debate.

Cheers guys, can't wait to get my hands on a Pi (and will make a trip back to Cambridge for the launch party!)

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Re: Open/Closed Drivers - Ebens Answer from Maker Faire

Wed Sep 21, 2011 3:38 pm

Thank you tangobravo. People do not seem to understand that the videocore manufacturer (Broadcom) has the right to keep their code closed. They also do not understand that the Raspberry Pi foundation would be held lible if they open any of it without Broadcoms permission. That's supposing that they have it to open. Some of the Devs in this project work for Broadcom and would lose their jobs for opening any of the closed code, if they have access to it. And if Broadcom fires them for such an act they will not have good prospects in that industry ever again. There is a reason companies want to protect their stuff. As has been said before a company has a responsibility to make a profit for it's investors. If you open that code and an unscrupulous manufacturer copies it and sells it cheaper, then you can not give your share holders a return on their investment. I think they quoted around $100 million for the series of videocore development.

You spend months and thousands of dollars, that you borrowed from friends, to develop the ultimate widget. And in the spirit of openess you have published it all to the web. You have just spent the money towards starting manufacture. And while looking through your favorite techy magazine you see your ultimate widget is already in production. Now you could sue them but you just spent all of your money. And your friends really do not want to wait years to be repaid. It will not matter that you published under GNU or have GPL you will have to hire an attorney and fight, waste money, the company that stole your product. I am sorry but it is a fact that there is always someone looking to profit from your work. That's why we have the fight over openess! If everyone were totally honest there would never be this problem.
America: over one million lawyers. Only 340 (have not looked at the recent census yet) million people. Ratio less than 300 people for every lawyer. I have never had a need for a lawyer. Most of these are corporate lawyers. I have had a few run ins with lawyers though and most are not as smart as they think they are. I have a couple of good stories about these.
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Re: Open/Closed Drivers - Ebens Answer from Maker Faire

Wed Sep 21, 2011 6:56 pm

That's fantastic news, even if the OpenGL driver ends up being closed source - at least we have *some* documentation regarding how to talk to the GPU.

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Re: Open/Closed Drivers - Ebens Answer from Maker Faire

Wed Sep 21, 2011 8:14 pm

I'm going to lock this thread so that it continues to act as a useful reference and doesn't spiral into the same series of arguments and counter-arguments that have appeared in other threads. If you wish to discuss the merits of the Raspberry Pi open/closed drivers approach, please use one of those threads (see below). If you disagree with this rationale, please PM me privately.

* Broadcom BCM2835 SoC
* gpl proprietary

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