Speaker Dirk Hohndel, Intel
Time 2008-01-30 14:30
Conference LCA2008


Try to get Intel to understand this “open source” thing.

Hardware vendors tend not to understand software.

I am paid by Intel, but none of this is Intel’s opinion.

Billions of dollars of hardware is made specifically for open source software.

Big buyers: Google, Yahoo, Amazon, etc, all use open source software.

Exception: Microsoft data centre.

One third of all wireless access points run Linux.

Penalty for not doing open source; amount of money vendors lose for not doing open source is not big enough to justify change (its our IP), but large all the same.

Chicken and egg?

What is the incentive for doing open source?

  • binary drivers
  • people reverse engineering your code

What is the problem?

Get stuff working with working drivers.

Reputation is very important:

  • can damage reputation from going open source and doing it wrong
  • can damage reputation for not going open source

Chips are very easy to destroy. Easy to fry a chip.

Matrox Millenium - 2D only fast card, good signal quality. Programmable clock chip, but this wasn’t documented. Get it wrong, if clock frequency was too high, components run beyond specifications and would blow up, start fires, etc.

Matrox got fed up, and gave them the proper documentation. Employee who did this moved to Microsoft later.

ACPI - terrible abomination, not a single hardware vendor implements it correctly. If you boot a computer without ACPI, you are likely to run it beyond specifications, have it catch file, etc.

All companies are there to make money. Employees want companies to make money so they can get paid. Even OLPC wants money.

Silicon Vendor (A), sells component to B, who makes a card, passes it to OEM (C) who passes it to vendor, and sells to retailer, who sells it to consumer.

Vendor (A) is the company that must change to open source, but this company never sees the consumers money.

Market share. Who is the number 1 market share for desktops? Windows.

Linux is important enough for servers. High end storage controllers still might be a problem. Other manufacturers relatively easy to talk to.

Desktops different story.

Desktop/laptop usually comes with a copy of Windows that you normally don’t want to have, and OEM normally doesn’t hear this.

EEE PC - Linux preinstalled.

Buy hardware in such a way you signal to vendor you don’t want windows.

Message gets passed up chain to manufacturer, if it is loud enough (volume).

Linux 0.8% desktop market.

Megaphone - most of you work in organisations that can have influence. Very easy for a group to document how big you are, send letter to OEM for bulk purchase, but only on condition this is without Windows and open source.

voting with dollars


talk to component makers, and explain why open source is good

Helping vendors, especially in Taiwan, to write drivers for Linux and every flavour. They don’t understand, once you are in upstream kernel, then you are fine. Offer them help if they run into problems.

What doesn’t work: Public calls for boycotts. Managers don’t like being told “do or else?”

Always the same reasons why manufacturers don’t want to do it.

  • Cost too much - hence offer help might help
    • difficult argument to win.
  • Most chips, produced by small team, and do not have documentation.
    • driver author sets with card designer to get specifications.
    • Getting Intel to write manuals is an impressive challenge.
    • A lot of stuff inside Intel does not have documentation.
    • simple == buggy and broken.
  • Documentation by proxy. Write simple device driver, and publish source.
    • Hardware vendor does not have to drive the driver. Nobody expects high quality drivers from hardware vendor.
    • Allow people outside company access to key engineers to get hardware specifications.
    • Scary thought, might be easier to go via trusted proxy.
  • Company critical IP might be revealed by explaining to others how to use the card.
    • Car manufacturer: I am going to manufacturer car to prevent you turning wheel to the left.
    • Algorithms on chip do not need to be revealed by explaining how to use the device.
    • Usage instructions not the same as how-to-recreate the chip instructions.
    • Releasing usage instructions not infringement on IP.
    • patience
    • Don’t tell them they are stupid, I have tried, it doesn’t work.
    • Like small children, small simple sentences, repeat, repeat, repeat.
    • They want people to try out cool things with the hardware.
    • Very difficult argument to win.
    • hardware/software separate - isn’t it obvious?
    • people already reverse engineering cards, does it matter?
  • Regulatory concerns
    • How strong a single you can send in the 2.4GHz band, every country is very strict.
    • Combination of software and hardware. More and more functionality in software.
    • Top devices: Graphics card, and wireless devices.
    • Software radio. Any wireless device.
    • On one card, monitor two frequencies at the same time.
    • Apparently, not legal to implement this in open source.
    • Would not get permission to sell this as open source.
    • Trend more and more to write closed source code for Windows where this problem doesn’t exist.
  • Competitor will find out how we do these things.
    • Companies spend million of dollars working out for to optimise the graphics drivers.
    • Drivers have to be rewritten for Linux, and companies don’t want to give this up, especially for graphics.
    • Our code is special
    • Is this view really correct? Yes, there are things in the drivers that really are special, and we wouldn’t want competitors to see.
    • Use of public algorithms, code is 50% slower, as seen in benchmarks.
    • Algorithms that use to be in silicon, but no have been moved to drivers.
    • Still possible to write open source drivers for these.
    • Open source drivers are a lot slower then closed source drivers. Exceptions exist where the opposite is true.
    • perception of being better, even if it isn’t in reality.
    • Can’t keep perception of being better if it is open source.

Large graphics company releasing specifications for the graphics card, so open source community can write cards from scratch.

Most chips are started on DOS as the first OS, then moved to Windows.


Encourage right behaviour. More penalty to do the wrong thing. We are too willing to reverse engineer cards. This is stupid. We spend our own time to fix a problem with a vendor. This proves to the manufacturer that the manufacturer does not need to write the open source driver. Controversial issue:

  • Dirk Hohndel argued that reverse engineering hurts the open source community, because the manufacturer looks at the existing solution and says we don’t need to do anything different because everyone is already happy.

  • Dave Arlie argued that reverse engineering aided the open source community, because they get the solution faster, and we are telling the company “we want you to support the open source driver”.

  • Dirk Hohndel concluded that “we agree to disagree and this is my presentation!”

  • Dave Arlie has a presentation this Friday.

Companies not against us personally, or against FOSS, it is all about money. Money is the reality, money is the language, money is the way things work. Speak the language they understand.

Engage, and listen to what they tell you. They may be wrong, but you need to listen. Offer to help. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.