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SubjectRe: Portable binary drivers

On Sun, 5 Dec 1999, Kendall Bennett wrote:

> Binary portable modules != close source proprietry drivers

> I would rather see vendors release Open Source device drivers because
> they understand these benefits, than because they are forced to do
> so. Then Linux and the Open Source revolution will win because it is
> just plain technically superior.

why should Linux make it easier for anyone to hinder Linux development?
Closed-source drivers are definitely bad - not only for the hardware
vendor (it's their problem and they are free to create whatever additional
headache for themselves at will), but more for Linux users. Even if we had
an ideal driver API, which stayed constant over time. [which is impossible
btw. as it contradicts some of the fundamental properties of Linux] And
Linux is _not_ neutral towards constructs that hinder Linux development
and hurt Linux users. Linux _is_ neutral towards other binary-only
constructs, like user-space applications. But kernel space is much more

Linux could flatly refuse binary modules, do you see that? Binary modules
are allowed nevertheless (take this as a gift!), but we simply cannot
guarantee cross-kernel-branch compatibility without hindering Linux
development. Nevertheless as you might have noticed, we try to keep the
driver API constant within the 'stable kernel branch'. Sometimes we have
to break module compatibility, but we try to avoid it _in the stable,
production branch_ as much as possible. What is your problem with this?

why is it impossible to keep the module API constant? Because Linux
evolves so fast, and the goal of Linux is to integrate drivers into the OS
as much as possible. This is a constantly fluctuating process, APIs,
constants and frameworks change frequently (and without us knowing about
it advance). This is essential to Linux, it gives us speed and generic
drivers. i386 networking drivers worked almost out of box on other
architectures - this would be impossible with binary-only drivers. Because
we simply cannot guarantee '100% binary compatibility', we do not
guarantee it at all. It's not a clean concept.

sadly it's not possible to distinct between 'good' binary modules (which
are open-source), and 'bad' binary modules (which are closed-source) - but
this is not a problem! i'm sure you will understand the point: it's not
hard to create a 'module compilation package' that compiles the binary
module on the spot. We _do_ guarantee driver source-compatibility for the
stable branch. An on-the-spot driver compilation framework would be a
welcome addition to Linux (feel free to contribute it), as it can eg.
optimize for the given CPU and architecture.

-- mingo

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