For some time now, Jean-Baptiste Queru, otherwise known as JBQ, has been helping to maintain the Android Open Source Project. Or rather, he was helping to maintain the AOSP; until yesterday. That’s when he finally snapped and resigned over what you and I might think is a trivial problem, but any open source maintainer knows it a huge issue for hardware tied to open source software.
What is this problem? Why, open source driver support, of course. Anyone who tried to use a Linux desktop in the middle 2000s know exactly what I’m talking about, but if you live in a close sourced OS world, allow me to explain.
Back in the early 2000’s, Linux users the world-round were excited to replace their desktop operating systems with powerful Linux distributions. There were a number of snags back in those days, though, and they typically reared their ugly heads on laptops and on desktop computers with decent graphics cards.
The problem was—and this has been deeply remediated by Greg Kroah-Hartman’s efforts on the Linux kernel—companies would release their hardware expecting only Windows users ever to touch it. As such, they’d never even considered releasing a GPL-compatible driver for Linux users. nVidia was exhibit A for the fight against such work: nVidia refused to release drivers for its graphics cards for years, and left Linux users with cobbled together half-drivers written by hackers in their spare time.
In the end, nVidia and ATI both released GPL-compatible drivers for their cards, or had something similar written by the community and thus lost their control of their own hardware on Linux. The upshot is that now, Linux users can finally play awesome games on their Linux computers because their graphics cards finally work.
Fast forward to today, and consider the Nexus 7, Google’s flagship tablet, running its newest distribution of Android. But there’s just one problem: Qualcomm won’t release an open source driver for its Adreno GPU.