Worthwhile Shift

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2004-06-03 Print this article Print

This isnt the only such problem with Linux and hardware. Sound cards, even the ordinary old Creative SoundBlaster, are infamous for not working well or not working at all. The best efforts of the ALSA (Advanced Linux Sound Architecture) group just havent been good enough.

Again, there has been progress made in this area. For the latest, check out the Sound Blaster Live! Linux Page. Another useful site for those whod like some sound with their Linux—or Unix, for that matter—is 4Front Technologies.

But why do we have to go through this, anyway? Its not all the hardware vendors fault for not providing drivers. Theyre caught in the classic chicken-and-egg problem of device support. The vendors dont want to spend time and money on drivers until there are enough customers to make it worth their while, and smart customers dont want to switch to Linux until theyre sure that their hardware will run on it.

Of course, if the hardware vendors would just release more information about their devices APIs (application programming interfaces) and ABIs (application binary interfaces), this wouldnt be such a problem. SoundBlaster has seen real progress, for example, since Creative finally released some of the necessary information required to make open-source drivers back in November 2003.

Ironically, you dont see as much of this kind of problem on the server side of life. For example, if I want to add an iSCSI-based SAN (storage area network) to my network, I can usually get the drivers and I dont have to sweat over getting it to work.

There are still holes, though. For example, Im one of those people who believe that InfiniBand—with its speeds of 20 Gbps and up—is going to revolutionize our servers, server farms and grids. Right now, Linux isnt really InfiniBand-ready. But just as I was writing this very story, I was told that Intel and other InfiniBand supporters will soon be announcing an effort to create a common Linux reference platform for it. This is great news.

Read more here about Intels shift toward Linux. Now, why cant we have this for the Linux desktop as well? Joe User doesnt want to—and he shouldnt have to—go to mailing lists and Web sites in search of compatibility answers for commonplace equipment.

I know, I know, I can already hear some of you saying, "Why not? Its easy. Anyone can do it." Oh, please. Linux isnt just for people whose idea of a good time is hand-coding device drivers. For Linux to make the next step in desktop popularity, it needs to be as hardware-friendly as Windows. Much as I hate to say it, thanks to a lack of device drives, Linux simply isnt there yet.

eWEEK.com Linux & Open-Source Center Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about operating systems since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.

Check out eWEEK.coms Linux & Open Source Center at http://linux.eweek.com for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.

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Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is editor at large for Ziff Davis Enterprise. Prior to becoming a technology journalist, Vaughan-Nichols worked at NASA and the Department of Defense on numerous major technological projects. Since then, he's focused on covering the technology and business issues that make a real difference to the people in the industry.

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