Why FreeBSD not popular on hardware vendors

Chad Perrin perrin at apotheon.com
Fri Dec 12 13:26:16 PST 2008

On Fri, Dec 12, 2008 at 03:02:28PM -0500, Jerry wrote:
> On Fri, 12 Dec 2008 20:32:59 +0100 (CET)
> Wojciech Puchar <wojtek at wojtek.tensor.gdynia.pl> wrote:
> >NVidia MUST INCLUDE full documentation of their hardware.
> >this is normal - hardware manufacturer produces hardware, programmers
> >do make support for it.
> >
> >what is common today isn't normal.
> I honestly have no idea what you are trying to communicate here.

I think he's trying to say that open source drivers would be preferable,
and to develop them we'd need the hardware specs so we'd have a target
toward which to develop drivers.  Of course, "preferable" is my choice of
term -- he seems to be more of the opinion that anything that isn't
strictly open source should just be shunned, out of hand.  While it would
be nice if that was a practical option, it isn't really, at this point.

> NVidia produces both the hardware and drivers for same. It requested
> additions/changes to the basic FBSD system to enable their product to be
> fully functional. Changes that it seems other manufacturers would also
> need.

At least four things need to be clarified:

  1. Would the requested changes have a negative effect on system design
  in some way?

  2. Would working on making those changes divert important resources
  from other, perhaps more important, projects?

  3. Are the changes the same as what other hardware vendors would need
  before they could fully support FreeBSD, or are they different --
  possibly even contradictory?  If the latter, we need to consider
  whether such contradictions can be worked around without degrading the
  stability and performance characteristics of the system, and see what
  impact such work-arounds would have on the answer to question 2.

  4. Is there any way we can talk them into helping us work on fully
  functional open source drivers, as AMD (which bought ATI) has promised
  to do for the Linux community?

I don't know the answers to any of those four questions -- in part
because discussion never gets past the "No!  You'll destroy FreeBSD if
you try to support that hardware!" stage of discussion.

> Now, if FBSD has no intention of working with other hardware and/or
> software manufacturers/authors, maybe it should just post a big "KEEP
> OUT" sign on its web page.
> I seriously doubt that NVidia, or any other manufacturer is about to
> divulge trade secrets or patented information. What point would there
> be in that anyway? It is certainly not necessary. What developer in
> his/her right mind would be interested in making their product usable
> on a FBSD system if they knew that they would have to divulge all of
> their trade secrets, etc.

Actually, patents are publicly documented by definition -- we're just not
*allowed* to use it, once it has been patented, without permission.  The
sort of thing they don't want to divulge is trade secrets, which you
meantioned -- not patents, which you also mentioned.  For some reason,
though, some hardware vendors seem inclined to use patents as an excuse
for keeping secrets, which never made much sense to me.

IANAL, though I read about the law from time to time.

> Market share increases by making your product more accessible and usable
> by a larger group of users. If FBSD wants to remain a 'niche' product
> with limited support for third party products, then the question of why
> FBSD is not more popular with hardware vendors has been answered.

That's exactly what some people want -- though it's not a universal
FreeBSD goal, obviously.

Quoth Reginald Braithwaite: "Nor is it as easy as piling more features
on regardless of how well they fit or whether people will actually use
them. Otherwise Windows would have 97% of the market and OS X 3%. (Oh
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