AMD has actually been pretty active in the Linux community in recent memory, though its open-source Linux drivers still lag behind its Windows drivers. Just a few months back, the company released a massive set of 165 kernel patches that enabled some key features in Linux Radeon drivers, such as dynamic power management and initial support for the “Sea Islands” family of GPUs.
AMD’s holding a GPU showcase in Hawaii on Wednesday. A new series of graphics cards are almost certainly going to be the stars of the show, but corporate VP Raja Koduri said there will also be news concerning Linux driver support, according to AnandTech. The AMD GPU showcase is expected to start around the same time that Valve unveils its second Steam-related announcement for the week.
Nvidia’s relationship with Linux has been a bit more, shall we say, tense.
In July 2012, after a woman at a group chat session described her frustrations trying to use Nvidia’s power-saving Optimus technology, Linux creator Linus Torvalds launched into an expletive-riddled tirade.
“Nvidia has been the single worst company we’ve dealt with,” he said, before turning towards the video camera and extending his middle finger. “Nvidia… F*** you!” he hissed, uttering the words slowly and sharply.
To be fair, Nvidia does a decent job of supplying basic (or better!) Linux drivers for its latest graphics cards, and the company took issue with the remarks. Nvidia’s drivers, however, are closed source, and unlike AMD, it hasn’t traditionally offered open source drivers or documentation, which doesn’t sit well with fanatical Linux lovers.
That changed on Monday—the same day SteamOS was announced.
That day, Nvidia’s Andy Ritger messaged members of Noveau—the group that reverse-engineers Nvidia’s closed-source Linux drivers to create an open-source alternative—and said Nvidia developers working on the closed-sourced Linux GPU drivers will start paying attention to the Noveau mailing group, offering assistance when possible. Additionally, Ritger said Nvidia will provide more official help:
NVIDIA is 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 .
ArsTechnica coaxed Torvalds out of his shell to comment.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that this is a real shift in how Nvidia perceives Linux,” the Linux creator said. “The actual docs released so far are fairly limited, and in themselves they wouldn’t be a big thing, but if Nvidia really does follow up and start opening up more, that would certainly be great.”
A sign of things to come?
Amittedly, these are baby steps down a long road. It’s still too soon to know if Valve’s new endeavor will be a success, and you definitely can’t call 2013 the oft-dreamed-for “Year of the Linux desktop” just yet, but one thing is for certain: SteamOS is already making an impact on Linux gaming, and AMD and Nvidia’s driver support will only get better if the Steam Box concept takes off in the living room. (Here’s how to make your own Steam Box if you’re interested.)