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In response to points raised by the Unichrome developers, VIA Arena Editor Fiona Gatt said in an email to NewsForge the goal of the VIA VeMP and VeXP players -- described as "blindly forked to support binary nonsense" by Verhaegen -- was to produce players that could demonstrate software optimized for use with the MPEG-2/4 hardware acceleration in VIA's CLE266 and CN400 chipsets.
"Since then, due in part to the feedback from the open source community, the VeXP project leaders have recently contacted the Xine project to check in VIA's source code," Gatt wrote. "We are willing to discuss changes and requirements with those developers. We have listened to the feedback from developers in the Unichrome Project and users who use their software and we're making every effort to improve the way we work with them."
As for the disclaimer described and criticized by Verhaegen, Gatt said the disclaimer is being changed with the next release.
Responding to the criticism that VIA's open source efforts are missing the point, Gatt indicated overall response to the company's moves has been positive.
"Whilst there are still some improvements to be made, the open source community has in fact responded with great thanks and enthusiasm to recent efforts by VIA and changes to communications and types of support provided," she said. "There have been issues in the past, but we have listened to feedback and acted upon it and we will continue to do so."
Free development and opportunity
Gartner Research Vice President Martin Reynolds said VIA's move was made to leverage the free support that is taking place around the company's products.
"It makes it easier to get people to come and develop on your platform if the drivers are available, particularly VIA because they really go to peripheral applications and it's important to have access to modify or change them," he said.
Reynolds agreed that VIA and other companies typically assess the value of the intellectual property at stake and the potential support and market as a result of opening it.
"It makes it easier for VIA to keep these things going and keeping them bug free," he said. "It was a case where it was ideal for open sourcing, unlike Transmeta and their transaction layer. They won't open that because it doesn't help them. It's usually a goal to get more customers and the support of developers."
Reynolds said open source developers and users can look forward to such open source releases only when the company stands to gain from them.
"It's more for their convenience," he said. "There's not going to be this huge rush to open everything up. Only where it makes market sense."
Long Linux relationship, list of complaints
Mercury Research president and graphics chip industry analyst Dean McCarron said he did not see VIA's open source efforts as intended to help out open source developers using their products. Instead, the analyst said the company has seen the support it is getting from the open source community and when looking at what it had to lose in the intellectual property of the drivers, decided the move would be beneficial.
"They're getting what amounts to free support and they're saying, 'Let's not penalize these guys. Let's let them help us,'" McCarron said. "Having the hardware interfaces under cover is a challenge for open source groups like X.org and XFree86 to support. There's difficulty there."
The analyst said the open source driver effort and Linux market that VIA is trying to serve are really one in the same, and may have been underestimated by VIA. "The existence of the groups is indicative of the demand," he said. "In some cases, they were maybe not aware how much demand there was."
McCarron said the growth of open source operating systems such as Linux and FreeBSD will force more, similar open sourcing of drivers, but the trend is unlikely to reach the top of the market, where Nvidia and ATI support open source systems, but keep their solutions proprietary.
"What I suspect will happen is certain portions of the hardware interface will get exposed -- maybe the 2D interface, but for the hard core 3D, there's so much intellectual property wrapped up in that, it's very unlikely that piece will end up being open sourced."
Likening the situation to Intel's forced support for wireless Linux -- which has improved dramatically in the last year with open source driver programs supported by the chip giant -- McCarron said Linux users will get more support and more source code, but there will always be proprietary catches, particularly in cases where the company cannot divulge intellectual property based on contract, acquisition, or other stipulation.
"For the purists, there's the issue that you don't necessarily get a direct plug to established organizations like X.org," McCarron said.