Proprietary Hardware Vendors, Misbehaving

Right, so I’m frustrated. Why am I frustrated? So kind of you to ask. It’s because I was suckered into buying an HP laptop with an ATI Radeon 200m graphics card, and an ATI IXP sound card. Why is that bad? A good question. It’s because ATI doesn’t know how to write drivers, and won’t let anybody else learn how to. ATI’s IXP sound card keeps locking up. I try to `rmmod -f atiixp` and I get nothing but trouble from the kernel. When it goes stupid, I have no choice but to reboot.
Let’s imagine a world where hardware vendors actually gave a hoot about their customers, shall we? We’d have specs available, we’d have drivers that gave us freedom as well as nifty 3D functionality, and we certainly wouldn’t have sound cards locking up on us while the manufacturer gives us the finger.
Is ATI the only naughty little boy on this one? I think not. Broadcom and nVidia have both been engaging in the exact same practice. In non-proprietary operating systems, you have to utilize dirty hacks like driverloader or ndiswrapper in order to use a Broadcom wireless card. You have to use proprietary drivers for nVidia which it has been proven can cause security problems and ACPI stability problems.
There are people on all sides of this camp. Some argue that it’s okay that vendors don’t release specs as long as they put out quality drivers. I first heard that argument in 1997. It’s now 2007, and I still haven’t seen a single hardware manufacturer make good on that one. The solution? Support Free software projects that reverse engineer these drivers. Older Radeon cards have a high degree of success thanks to the DRI and radeon projects, no thanks to ATI or AMD. ATI can’t even write stable drivers for their “supported” operating systems, good luck waiting for them to support people who like the freedom to choose.
Freedom is the only way that we will ever achieve stable drivers for any operating system is if we have the freedom to debug and tinker.
The Free Software Foundation has a very nice list of hardware that is supported by Free software. I encourage you to consider these products next time you go out to buy hardware. Let’s support freedom and those who enable it.

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