Lack of Linux support is … lacking

Greg KH just released the Linux Driver Project Status Report as of April 2008. The executive summary:

The Linux Driver Project (LDP) is alive and well, with over 300 developers wanting to participate, many drivers already written and accepted into the Linux kernel tree, and many more being currently developed. The main problem is a lack of projects. It turns out that there really isn’t much hardware that Linux doesn’t already support. Almost all new hardware produced is coming with a Linux driver already written by the company, or by the community with help from the company.

There are two main classes of hardware, video input devices and wireless network cards, that is not well supported by Linux, but large efforts are already underway to resolve this issue, with the wireless driver issue pretty much taken care of already, however there are a few notable exceptions.

Because of this, our main effort has turned into one of education. Educating vendors of how to become members of the Linux kernel community, proper coding standards and procedures, and how to get their code into the kernel tree. Much of our recent effort has been in code cleanup and shepherding into the kernel.org releases.

In the future, we are open to any new devices that need drivers to be written for them, and our procedure for handling projects is going to be changing to reflect the lessons learned in the past year to make things easier for vendors to participate, and for the community to easily detect what is going on and be able to help out in easier ways.

The 451 Group has a nice summary:

But now comes word from Kroah-Hartman that there is actually a dearth of devices that are not supported by Linux. Similar to a recent kernel development study, news on the lack of hardware support issues comes with a status report on the Linux Driver Project. It now has driver code in the kernel and the interest of more than 300 Linux developers. But the real story is that, as Kroah-Hartman says, ‘It turns out that there really isn’t much hardware that Linux doesn’t already support.’ More importantly, he adds, ‘Almost all new hardware produced is coming with a Linux driver already written by the company, or by the community with help from the company.’

This says a lot about how far Linux has come, and it also tells us that the future for Linux looks bright because the open source OS is emerging as just another checklist item for OEMs, device makers, ISVs and others. Given the overwhelming support of hundreds of Linux developers and the underwhelming vendor response, Kroah-Hartman searched for the reason(s) that the great Linux support shortage appeared to be a myth. Having already pointed out that Linux supports more different devices than any other OS in the world, Kroah-Hartman reports he found that nobody seemed to know why this was ranked as a big concern for Linux. Fast forward to today, and we see the Linux Foundation no longer has driver support among its top things to be addressed.

I’d guess it ranked as such a big concern because the two main classes of hardware that aren’t well supported are both high profile and fairly annoying. These days, a computer in many contexts is useless without the Internet and much of that connectivity comes via wifi. While I’m not a gamer, many people are and current 3D video situation is still far from ideal. Those two issues aside though, I can’t remember the last time I plugged a device into a Linux machine without it “just working”. On the server side, many devices are supported in Linux before any other OS.

It’s great to see the project turn their attention to educating vendors, which should result not only in more driver but better drivers.

–jeremy

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