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ARM GPU non-free drivers

In another thread, Luke Kenneth Casson Leighton [2010-11-21 21:11 +0000]:
> >Luke Kenneth Casson Leighton wrote:
> >
> >> apologies for making a copy of the post which was made at
> >> forums.arm.com but the last message asking ARM to state their position
> >> clearly regarding proprietary and NDA-encumbered supply of critical
> >> system libraries was censored.
> >
> > Sorry I seem to be missing something obvious, but what does this
> > have to do with porting Debian to ARM and other embedded processors?
>  excellent question - j. i'm removing your name from the message in
> case you wanted to remain anonymous, and bcc'ing you, but i'm
> reinstating the cc to the lists because i feel that it's important.

Luke - you are quite right that free GPU drivers is important, in the
same way that free software in general is important, and that
currently the whole ARM embedded graphics area is a disaster area with
5 competing implementations _all_ of which are non-free.

However posting your rant as the first mail after the announcement of
this kind sponsorship in the embedded/ARM Sprint therad was just rude.
One should at the very least pause to say 'thank you', before
launching into a diatribe otherwise one tends not to get invited

So I've moved this discussion to a new thread. I hope people will
reply here rather than there.

> I couldn't pass up the opportunity to raise this with ARM.

Sure, but the debian-arm list is not 'raising this with ARM' - it's
raising it with the Debian arm porters. Are you coming to the Sprint?
Thre will certaqinly be people there you can talk to about it, but
you'll find they all agree already - not much to argue about. The
people who are the problem won't be there - they are lawyers and
managers and marketing types who definately don't read this list. 

And the other thing you need to understand is that we have a huge pile
of work to do to deal with arm architecture variants in binary
distributions which has just about _nothing_ to do with GPUs. So there
is no danger of us polluting ourselves with non-free drivers in order
to work on the arch. Debian principles in this area are well
established and well understood. 

ARM is a big enough outfit that there is a nice Free-Software-oriented
bit which does helpful things like provide us with a nice place to run
this event, and there are nasty proprietary bits that make all sorts
of proprietary stuff, along with a huge legal dept that issues
unreasonable edicts, and does its best to prevent even fair
competition, and has in the past aquired some very embarassing
software patents (they promise they've stopped doing this now by
explicitly restriciting their patents to hardware implementations - I
have yet to see an example confirming this).

You'll find that most of the people in the 'right thinking' bits of
ARM agree with you about MALI, and rest assured that there is
significant pressure to free it up, both externally and internally:
every time there is an internal presentation about how cool it is,
what they mostly get in response is complaining about how it's a fat
lot of use in Linux with only proprietary drivers, and I see signs of
definite (if slow) progress here. People understand that it's deeply
unpopular in some quarters and there there is potential competitive
advantage in opening up. But there is also legal risk, and those
lawyers are nothing if not risk averse.

I see strong hints that at least one GPU vendor will provide design
info soon so that 3rd party drivers can be written. They are too
scared to hand over their own code, but seem OK with 3rd-party free
drivers being written.

Principal hats:  Linaro, Emdebian, Wookware, Balloonboard, ARM

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