Yesterday NVIDIA announced that they are supporting Nouveau development by providing documentation on certain aspects of their GPUs. This is good for the Open Source community – but their competitors still provide much more.
If you look on Linux on the desktop the out-of-the-box graphics experience is still grubby and highly depends on the hardware. Most Intel cards are very well supported right out of the box, the default drivers are the best. But AMD and NVIDIA both do have proprietary drivers which are much better than the open source ones. AMD though improved the situation years ago by releasing many technical specs to the public and thus many developers had a chance to improve the drivers. NVIDIA however in the end did nothing to improve the situation on the open source side. In the meantime the pretty well working driver Nouveau came up, but they didn’t even support the development there.
Until yesterday: NVIDIA’s Andy Ritger offered to help the development by actively monitoring the Nouveau discussion lists, by providing an e-mail address to ask questions about the GPUs and, which is most important, by
releasing public documentation on certain aspects of our GPUs, with the intent to address areas that impact the out-of-the-box usability of NVIDIA GPUs with Nouveau. We intend to provide more documentation over time, and guidance in additional areas as we are able.
That is good news! Finally the developers of the open source driver have at least some support from the company they help anyway. As a result the out-of-the-box experience of NVIDIA backed machines might improve over time. But for modest 3D graphics performance they would have to release more technical details, probably on level with what AMD released.
In any way, NVIDIA’s commitment is a good step in the right direction. But there are still huge problems and dark spots in the Linux graphics world: the OpenGL support is outdated, and hybrid graphics support is far, far away from working seamlessly on Linux.
But there is also hope for rapid improvement on the situation due to suddenly many more users: with the new Steam Box building on top of Linux, Linux gaming might get quite some momentum – and thus much better drivers.