Dear nVidia Sales Team,
Does nVidia have any plans to release an open source version of their proprietary Linux driver in the near future?
I will likely be purchasing a new laptop sometime in the next couple of months, and my choice of video card will be strongly influenced by the availability of open source drivers for that card.
I have had good experiences with nVidia hardware in the past. However, the proprietary drivers you currently provide for Linux systems have historically been buggy and out-of-date with the core Linux graphics infrastructure. For instance, nVidia has yet to release Xorg 7.1-compatible drivers, despite the fact that 7.1 has been considered stable for at least 4 months now. Intel's open-source Linux drivers had this support almost from day one.
Furthermore, your Linux driver team has not been particularly responsive to bug reports. Not one of the 8xxx series drivers can properly detect my current laptop's display. I have raised this issue on the NVNews forums multiple times, and been brushed off or ignored each time. I recognize that the driver developers' time is limited, but this is still unacceptable from a company that claims to "support" Linux.
I am no longer willing to take a risk solely on nVidia's (or any company's) stated intent to provide stable, up-to-date Linux drivers. When I find a bug or a problem, if I am using a proprietary driver, my support options are limited to the one company that wrote the driver. However, if I am using open-source drivers, I can speak to anyone knowledgeable in the community and get a fix. The fix does not have to come from the original author, so turnaround time is much faster (and more likely to happen). Given nVidia's (and other companies') track record with proprietary drivers, I feel my graphics card investment would be much safer if the card has open source drivers.
While I recognize that nVidia produces superior graphics hardware, that hardware is useless to me if I cannot get it to perform to its full potential under Linux. For obvious reasons, I hope that I can continue to enjoy nVidia's high-performance graphics hardware. But I simply cannot justify the added expense without open source drivers available to protect my investment.
Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
nVidia's website contains the following gem (emphasis mine):
Why aren't the NVIDIA Linux drivers open source?
One of the biggest growth areas for Linux is in the workstation market, where NVIDIA's enterprise customers are using custom deployed OpenGL applications under Linux with our Quadro GPUs. Most of these companies require NVIDIA to provide an end-to-end solution which stipulates that NVIDIA be wholly responsible for product delivery and support, including the drivers. This is the primary reason why NVIDIA has decided to retain source code control for our 3D graphics engine.
There's just one problem with that: open source is entirely orthogonal to retaining control of your source. (Yes, that sounds contradictory, but it's true.) You can be proprietary and have a bad internal process, maintaining little or no control. Or you can be open source, and have a very stringent review process for deciding what you will and will not accept into your main source tree. You can even PGP-sign your source distribution to certify the source your customers are downloading did, in fact, come from you.
There are likely many other ways to maintain strong control over your source without locking it up.
Yes, people may fork, and there may be multiple versions of your driver out there. So what? You still only have to support your version, and since you have a business relationship with your workstation customers anyway, you can make sure they get the right one. I would bet (as many companies have) the economic value of the bugfixes and updates you'll get from the community, for free, will far outweigh the cost of dealing with the additional noise you get from letting others see, modify and redistribute your code. (Besides, the community generally helps with that, too.)
To my mind, nVidia's answer belies a lack of understanding of the open source process, at least, as far as I have seen it. I wish they would pay a bit more attention.