It’s not often the “F-word” figures prominently in any major debate here in the Linux blogosphere, however frequently it may pop up on the sidelines.
Recently, however, it was catapulted into a starring role when it was uttered by none other than Linus Torvalds himself during a talk at the Aalto Centre for Entrepreneurship in Finland earlier this month.
The topic was Nvidia, to be precise — specifically, its longstanding lackluster approach to Linux.
‘Nvidia, F**K You!’
Torvalds wasn’t shy about expressing his thoughts.
“Nvidia has been one of the worst trouble spots we’ve had with hardware manufacturers,” Torvalds said. “That is really sad because Nvidia tries to sell chips into the Android market, and Nvidia has been the single worst company we’ve ever dealt with. So Nvidia, f**k you!”
To make his point crystal clear, Torvalds followed his comments with the prominent display of his middle finger.
The enthusiasm with which Linux bloggers seized on the topic was a sight to behold, and there were soon more than 650 comments on Slashdot alone.
‘You Have to Appreciate Linus’s Passion’
Word on the streets of the Linux blogosphere has tended to suggest that it was Nvidia with egg on its face as a result of the interaction. Of course, this being the Linux blogosphere, that sentiment was by no means unanimous.
“You have to appreciate Linus’s passion about the issue,” Google+ blogger Linux Rants told Linux Girl over a fresh round of Peppermint Penguins down at the Google+ Grill. “And he’s right. The kind of support that Nvidia gives to Linux is deserving of Linus’s comment.”
Nvidia, in fact, “gave Linus basically the same response — they just were more diplomatic in their wording,” Linux Rants pointed out. “Their response basically said, ‘We got your message but we’re not changing anything’.”
‘Shame On Nvidia’
Indeed, “Linus really doesn’t pull his punches,” offered blogger Robert Pogson. “He must have a solid contract with The Linux Foundation. An ordinary employee would have been fired for offending a ‘silver’ member.”
In any case, “I agree with Linus,” Pogson opined. “A corporation intending to be a major part of IT should support Linux well with everything needed to make great FLOSS drivers.
“Of all the hardware that has bothered me on Linux over the years, WinModems and Nvidia’s chips were the worst,” he added. “I have often used the Vesa driver to get away from Nvidia to the extent possible. Shame on Nvidia.”
Similarly, “I greatly prefer open source drivers where I can find them,” agreed Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project. “It means they play better across distros than the closed source ones.”
Nvidia “may not be legally able to provide the documentation requested, but for them to pretend that this is in the customer’s best interest is plain wrong,” Travers opined.”Currently most of my systems use Intel graphics cards,” he added. “They aren’t the best technically, but the drivers are open source and this makes upgrades a bit more manageable.”
‘Somewhere in Between’
Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza took a more measured view.
“Linus: ‘F**k you’; Nvidia: ‘Don’t bother me, kid.’ I think the truth is somewhere in between,” Espinoza offered.
“Sure, I’d like Nvidia to give everyone every piece of information they’ve got,” Espinoza added. “But what I really like is having a working video driver, and that’s something ATI has never given me.
“I own a machine whose core is too old to be supported by fglrx but which is too new or too weird to work with the ati driver,” he explained. “Nvidia’s official driver supports new cards fairly quickly and old cards for practically forever.”
Torvalds, however, “would apparently prefer graphics that don’t work,” Espinoza concluded. “I would prefer graphics that do. I am not willing to drop back to graphics my *ss to get there, and besides, some of those designs are licensed and not fully open anyway.”
‘It Is the Price of Freedom’
Some felt Torvalds’s outburst was too much.
“Linus Torvalds has to stop these public tirades,” opined Roberto Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor, for example. “A piece of hardware does not work well with Linux, or a Linux machine is having trouble accessing a network printer? Learn to live with it. It is the price of freedom.”
In fact, “remember what Linus Torvalds said about people contributing to open source for selfish reasons?” Lim pointed out. “If Nvidia does not want anything from the open source community for its Optimus Drivers, why open it up to the Open Source community?”
In short, “I think there is a need for both proprietary software and open source,” he concluded.
‘That Is Linus Torvalds’s Fault’
Similarly, “it’s Linus’s ego that has made things the way they are, so why should we listen to him?” wondered Slashdot blogger hairyfeet.
“Every. Single. OS. of any import OTHER than Linux has an ABI,” hairyfeet pointed out. “Why? Because they WORK.
“Look at how things are now — Nvidia and AMD have to keep writing drivers for hardware they haven’t sold in years because without it then they DO NOT WORK,” he added. “That is 100 percent Linus Torvalds’s fault!”
‘They Need to Be Dragged the Rest of the Way’
Not everyone saw it that way, however.
“Having to hunt down drivers is something I don’t miss about Windows, and Nvidia is now the only hardware maker I still have to download drivers for,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told Linux Girl.
“The best part is that they used to be even worse, since you used to have to download a driver to run something as simple as their network chipset,” he recalled. “The only reason they stopped doing that is because some of the Linux kernel people realized it was based on the AMD chipset and then managed to reverse engineer a driver that ended up being better-performing.”
Nvidia “got dragged kicking and screaming into the FOSS world,” in other words, “and now they need to be dragged the rest of the way,” Mack opined.
“At the very least they should release the specs for their cards and let their own customers choose between the resulting FOSS driver and their own closed source,” Mack suggested. “Such a move could even help them, since their chipset could more easily be used for platforms they don’t expect rather than being married to X86 like they are now.”