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VIA fouls up, seeks forgiveness on open source drivers

By Jay Lyman on August 04, 2005 (8:00:00 AM)

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Maybe it all started with an innocent mistake, but poor open source manners from graphics hardware maker VIA on its drivers seem to be more of a pattern and highlight potential infringement of open source copyrights, according to the open source developers who work with those opened drivers with the Unichrome Project.

A recent source code release from VIA, maker of graphics controllers popular with Linux users, curiously included a proprietary disclaimer, prompting many to assume the company had reverted to the old, closed license. However, it turned out the addition of the proprietary license was simply a mistake, as VIA Arena Editor and Web Media Liaison Fiona Gatt explained in an email last month.

"The source package released last week was prepared in March 2005, before VIA changed its policy regarding source code package releases," Gatt wrote. "It was an oversight and a mistake that the header was not changed before it was released."

However, to those in the open source community who deal with VIA and the opened drivers -- including Unichrome developers Ivor Hewitt and Luc Verhaegen -- the latest gaffe is indicative of a larger failure in strategy and support, and follows on previous questionable behavior interacting with Linux and open source developers.

Honest mistake, bad mistake, indicative

While the undead proprietary license can be chalked up as an honest mistake, it is a side effect of VIA's lack of a serious open source initiative, Hewitt said in an email.

"What it really shows is that there isn't any real open source development going on here," Hewitt wrote. "Where's the interaction with the community? Where's the release early, release often philosophy? We shouldn't need to be pointing these things out."

Hewitt also criticized VIA's use of the open source drivers in press releases, calling it basically a sham.

"For example, the current 'VIA releases new open source package' announcement is about a chunk of source code that predates their original 'VIA frees source' press release," Hewitt said. "This is not new, it's not news, it's just spin. It is indicative of the fact that at the moment this 'open source initiative' is just a bit of window dressing for marketing purposes."

In terms of what should be expected from VIA going forward, Hewitt thinks not much.

"It would be great if they got their act together and found out what they were doing wrong and what they could do better, but given their track record, I can't see that happening. I'm frequently, openly critical of VIA, and I'm sure I'm not their most favorite person, but I'm just so frustrated by what I see (or rather don't see). They could be doing so much. There are huge opportunities here and they're missing the boat completely."

Hewitt also referenced another ongoing issue dividing open source developers and VIA: copyrights. Hewitt said although the recent publication of the proprietary license with the source code was an honest error, he expressed concern over VIA's apparent removal of license headers from the Direct Rendering Manager (DRM) code, which was replaced with VIA copyrights.

"They have still stripped all of the pre-existing copyrights from all of the DRI/DRM code they've used, and they haven't addressed that issue yet," he said.

Unichrome woes

In addition to VIA-generated issues, there has been some conflict among the ranks of open source developers working on the Unichrome project and the open source drivers for VIA's products.

Ivor Hewitt said he had left the Unichrome Project, along with Thomas Hellstrom and Andreas Robinson, reportedly after having issues with fellow developer Luc Verhaegen's "confrontational style."

"However, both myself and Thomas are still actively working on the code and producing updated drivers, solving users' problems in the mailing lists, and getting the code into the mainline Xorg source," Hewitt said. "We're progressing nicely with the completely open source drivers, as of the next Xorg release, it will provide support for the Unichrome and Unichrome-Pro boards out of the box. Also providing full functionality MPEG acceleration are Xine, MPlayer, and MythTV."

For his part, Verhaegen said his involvement in the Unichrome project may also be ending.

"I'm not happy with this underhanded stuff, as I'm a pretty head-on sort of person," he said, referring to other Unichrome participants' continued representation of the project, despite having supposedly left.

Typical behavior, taking the bad code

"As far as I can tell, it's a typical VIA cock-up," Verhaegen said of the proprietary license. "Mistakes this bad can't be dishonest. VIA just doesn't seem to be able to get its act together. My guess is that at VIA, there is no one working exclusively on these drivers. It is all very random, uncohesive, sad really."

Verhaegen then described some of his dealings with VIA, indicating the company's clumsy connection to open source developers and code.

"Last time, VIA made a big press release about releasing source which it had been making more or less available before," he wrote. "The actual improvement then, for me, was the fact that they allowed me to change their MIT disclaimer to the OSI-defined one, which disclaims all authors and copyright holders, not just the original author or copyright holder (a common problem). [VIA engineer] Joseph Chan claimed that subsequent versions of their tree would carry that OSI-defined disclaimer. I was quite amused to see that they just dropped MIT on a large amount of files instead."

Verhaegen also detailed his concerns over VIA using code from the open source efforts and removing copyright statements.

"It is clear that VIA is slyly taking a look at what has been happening at," he said. "There are changes which unmistakably were written by me. Given the nature of these specific changes and their size, I'm not going to bother with claiming copyright. I have every right to do so though, as the most striking one is a plain copy of what can be implemented differently. In fact, I'm going to implement it differently, as I'm not happy with it. It has caused some minor problems in the past and there are way more elegant solutions for what it tries to solve. So apparently, even when VIA are taking stuff from us, they manage to pick just those things which are unclean.

"About the removed copyright statements, this is nothing new. They have done this before, but it is up to the respective copyright holders to do something about it. Back then, it was my understanding that these copyright holders were aware of the problem, but didn't bother doing anything about it. I haven't looked into this new claim myself, as this will probably not affect me directly."

Verhaegen indicated questions about the disclaimers from NewsForge may have prompted VIA to make some changes, which yet again fell short of the open source developer's expectations.

"Their recent FB release has suddenly fixed all MIT disclaimers," he said. "The Via Arena announcement of this release is quite telling towards VIA's attitude concerning licensing. Instead of boringly stating that the MIT disclaimer was changed to an OSI standard one on these files, Fiona copied a short part of the MIT license and then cut it short with ' ...etc etc :).' That last bit reads, to me, as, 'but who cares anyway.' It sems that they completely fail to grasp the importance of licensing, even when licenses are as liberal as MIT."

Changes and chances

VIA's Gatt said the company has listened to suggestions from "hobbyists and independent developers," and has made some changes concerning public access to driver source code.

"This decision was not entered into lightly," she wrote. "VIA does understand that the efforts so far do not completely satisfy the open source community. We have, however, received more positive comments and praise from the community than negative."

Although she did not respond to questions about the copyright concerns, Gatt did indicate VIA has a group devoted to the company's open source effort.

"We thank those people in the community who can forgive our mistakes and work with us with a friendly, positive attitude to continue to improve our efforts," she said. "VIA has a dedicated team to support the open source community. Both Windows and open source users are equally important to us."

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on VIA fouls up, seeks forgiveness on open source drivers

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Not the DRM you think it is

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 05, 2005 04:24 AM
In the context of DRI, DRM means "Direct Rendering Manager", not "Digital Rights Management".


Re:Not the DRM you think it is

Posted by: Jem Matzan on August 05, 2005 04:57 AM
The error has been fixed. Thanks for pointing it out. In the future, we can fix errors more quickly if you send an email to



Oh high and mighty ones who never make mistakes!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 05, 2005 04:28 AM
So, the next time Moz releases a version that breaks extensions (hint: 1.0.5), it can't be error, they're just don't have enough eyeballs. They're not serious in their open source, not "pure" enough.

Those quoted in the article need to get off their soapboxes.



Posted by: orv on August 05, 2005 04:46 AM
"Those quoted in the article need to get off their soapboxes"

You are so right.

They should get down off those soap boxes and do something useful, they ought to get writing their own fully open source working version of the driver.

oh hold on.


This Strikes Me as FUD Aimed at VIA

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 05, 2005 04:09 PM
This article seems to be trying to make a "bad intent" mountain, out of an "honest mistake" molehill.

And, along with the previous article, it strikes me as FUD, intended to undermine VIA's Open Source initiative.

To understand the motivation behind the FUD, consider the current situation surrounding PC hardware, and Linux.

Microsoft wants to undermine Linux. Two of the ways they can do that is by locking Linux users in, or by locking Linux out of commodity PC hardware.

But Open Source is preventing Microsoft from doing either of those things.

So Microsoft began a strategy to get Linux users hooked on closed source middleware, by getting them to accept closed source video drivers.

Thus, when Microsoft started the XBox, MS partnered with NVidia, following which NVidia hired up Open Source NVidia driver developers, stopped their work on the Open Source drivers, and released _closed_ source NVidia drivers for Linux.

Microsoft then partnered with ATI, following which ATI reduced their support for Open Source driver development, and released _closed_ source ATI drivers for Linux.

But Microsoft's whole scheme falls apart if Linux users go elsewhere for their video cards and Open Source drivers.

Hence the FUD. It's the same as the FUD against Linux, Mozilla, Red Hat, Java, or anything else that provides an alternative to Microsoft and their current partners-for-a-day.

That's why you will see articles and posts berating VIA, and questioning VIA's intentions, following any minor mistake, while other articles and posts heap unquestioning praise on NVidia, and their closed source Linux drivers.


Perhaps but

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 05, 2005 04:27 PM
Those making the criticisms here are the ones who produce their own version of the VIA driver as open source.
Perhaps they're just annoyed that VIA is not including them in the process?
Perhaps they think that VIA is trying to produce a closed source driver by stealth (the VIA open source driver includes closed source binary libraries)?

I'm sure there are many other possible reasons but I believe your Microsoft FUD theory is wrong.


Re:Perhaps but

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 05, 2005 05:21 PM
> Those making the criticisms here are the ones who produce their own version of the VIA driver as open source.

I didn't look into who wrote the article. I was reacting purely to the article's content, which struck me as FUD, and still does.

Your alternative theories for the article's tone are interesting, though I am not convinced that they can totally explain the article's negativity toward's VIA and its Open Source initiative.

Even with the additional information about the authors, we have to bear in mind another strategy for which Microsoft is infamous, that of sabotaging their opponents by providing "support."

For example, Microsoft is purported to have sabotaged OS/2 partly by contributing buggy assembler code (along with the anti-OS/2 FUD and astroturf). Plus, Microsoft is known to have sabotaged WordPerfect by supplying them with buggy Windows function calls, and to have sabotaged Java by supplying the polluted J++ JVM.

So, if I were Microsoft, and I wanted to ensure that there was poor 3D video support for Linux, one of the things I would do would be to have people infiltrate the video driver projects, introduce bugs, and act like jerks in order to slow things down and drive away the honest developers (this is basically what Microsoft did to OpenGL in the early days). And if a video card company started trying to provide their own Open Source support for Linux, I would become especially belligerent, in order to turn that company off of the idea.

Now I am not saying that I am right. In fact, I hope you are right.

But if you are right, and the authors of this article are actually trying to make an honest, and positive contribution to Linux, and Open Source video drivers, then they need to grow up and learn some diplomacy.


Re:Perhaps but

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 06, 2005 04:01 AM
Microsoft sabotaged OS/2 by releasing their own severly limited version of what they were supposed to be working on with IBM, and at the same time delaying the work on OS/2. Simple as that.

It worked, and now they are far bigger than IBM. They won despite what open source people claim, there's very little that can be done to change the status quo without government intervention.


Re:Perhaps but

Posted by: Sam Leathers on August 08, 2005 08:19 AM
government intervention is the last thing we need. We do need government limitation though (government preventing any organization funded by government taxes from using proprietary software). If it gets beyond government limitation, then a sour apple gets in the government, and since precedent is already there, they force everyone in the country to use proprietary software and outlaw open source software. However; whenever the government has a limitation on itself (even if proprietary software isn't completely done away with, just severely limited) it's always better for the citizens.


Another interesting point

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 06, 2005 04:19 AM
is that your viewpoint would fall right in line with the recent news articles about Microsoft's work to make video monitor manufacturers build DRM into their hardware so that the whole video path has to be encrypted and digitally signed by MS.

See> and similar articles.


Re:This Strikes Me as FUD Aimed at VIA

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 09, 2005 02:25 PM
Hit the nail on the head I think.



Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 05, 2005 04:21 PM
"We have, however, received more positive comments and praise from the community than negative."

Ah statistics. More people who have user accounts on the viaarena 'support' website have said "Thank you this is a good first step" rather than "No don't try and release code"<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:)

That doesn't mean you are doing everything right does it?



Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 07, 2005 04:34 AM
That doesn't mean you are doing everything right does it?

  If you're a marketing spokesperson, it sure does!


VIA...I'm done with your crap.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 07, 2005 03:34 AM
I've effectively given up on the Unichrome video on my EPIA...I turned my EPIA into an open-source based firewall/router. Its a waste of time screwing around with a product that offers piss-poor video performance to begin with.

The only useful thing VIA has made is the encryption ability on their C3 and upcoming C7 CPUs (on EPIA, Mini-ITX platform). Other than that, I'm not gonna bother with another VIA product...Unless I'm building a VPN firewall or some low power home fileserver. (Anything that doesn't require onboard video developed by VIA).


Re:VIA...I'm done with your crap.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 07, 2005 07:05 PM
The other useful thing the EPIA boards have is lots of I/O capability including 8 pins of multipurpose digitial I/O coming off the vt1211 chip.

Oh, but vt1211 chip is another bit of hardware that VIA haven't provided public documentation for and the lm-sensors driver doesn't support fan PWM properly (even though the chip is advertised as being able to support fan PWM) and those 8 I/O pins are completely useless unless you can figure out how to program them.

VIA make some great hardware but their thick skulls don't seem perceptive to the simple problem that people can't use the hardware if they can't program for it... so VIA would actually sell more gear and make more money by providing real documentation.


Re:VIA...I'm done with your crap.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 07, 2005 07:15 PM
That's just how it is in China -- the Boss Man is right, by definition. If that doesn't mesh with reality then reality must be wrong. It's what you get when find anyone who asks questions or thinks independently and you take them out and kill them. Repeat process for several generations.

Fortunately, that means I.T. jobs (and any creative intellectual activity) in the West are safe from Chinese takeover for as long as they are determined to keep their "brute force applied without smart leadership" strategy.


Re:VIA...I'm done with your crap.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 08, 2005 02:30 AM
I agree. I bought a mobo last year that had a VIA chipset with integrated video (Unichrome), and I would be a lot happier with it if it just had drivers that worked properly, it was however the only one that had all the features I wanted in my price range. I ended up using a cheap PCI Nvidia card for the video which I bought for an older machine and that works a lot better and unlike the Unichrome has drivers which don't exhibit any obvious bugs. Although trying the drivers on a laptop I recently installed linux on, the Unichrome drivers have improved and the bugs are just slightly annoying but I can live with them. Just to make it clear, I do appreciate the work that has been done by the developers working on the Unichrome drivers, but just wish VIA had done the work themselves to provide decent drivers for hardware they have made.

To sum up, I have no intention of buying any more VIA hardware, until the situation with the quality of their drivers improves and they make more of an effort to help and work with people that want to improve their opensource drivers.


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