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Via frees Chrome graphics driver source

Sep 2, 2008 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

Via has released an open source Linux “Xorg” driver for its integrated graphics chips. Announced in a blog by open source leader and new Via consultant Harald Welte, the “chrome” driver release follows up on Via's vow to start opening up its chipsets to the open source development community.

Harald Welte
(Click for details)

According to Welte, the open source driver lacks support for 3D, hardware video codecs, or TV encoders. In addition, he cautions that this simple “code drop” is only a first step. “There is a lot to be done to harmonize the current FOSS driver landscape for Via's graphics products, from the old Via driver in the Xorg git tree, over the Unichrome and Openchrome and now this new driver,” Welte writes in his blog. “Nevertheless, it is a big step ahead. It's one more step that Via has been working on to improve and show their support for Free Software and Linux.”

The code release follows through on Via's April announcement that it would start opening up its chipsets to the open source community. The company started out by launching a Via Linux Portal, where it has posted drivers, technical documentation, source code, and other information for the Via CN700, CX700/M, and CN896 chipsets. The company plans to add forums, bug tracking, and support for more chipsets.

To help Via migrate its technology toward open source, the company hired Welte in a contract role to act as Via's Open Source Liaison. Welte is also OpenMoko Lead System Architect, responsible for furnishing software for OpenMoko's Neo FreeRunner phone. He previously founded the OpenEZX project, with the goal of creating an open Linux stack for Motorola phones. In addition, Welte founded, a German group that has prevailed in lawsuits over violations of the GNU GPL (GNU General Public License).

Via also offers a proprietary, binary-only Xorg driver for Linux. That driver supports 3D and MPEG-2 acceleration features, but is only released for specific kernel versions, such as those associated with major new releases of popular desktop distributions.

Closed, binary-only Linux drivers have long been common, if not the norm, in the graphics chip market, with NVidia, ATI, and Via and its S3 graphics processor division all keeping their source code hidden — likely to avoid patent infringement litigation, according to industry lore. Still, most of the functionality in Via graphics chipsets and peripherals is already supported by open source drivers. The “vesa” driver distributed by the Xorg and XFree86 projects supports basic operation, and users interested in higher performance 2D graphics and MPEG-2 acceleration can patch in software from the UniChrome and OpenChrome projects, respectively. However, a Via driver, especially one that would eventually support the currently inaccessible (via open source) 3D functionality, would likely prove far more useful to developers.


Via has posted the free Xorg driver, called Chrome.83-242-2D-SRC.tar.gz, on its Linux development portal, here. Welte's blog posting can be found here.

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