Keeping the Kernel Klean

Operating systems drive devices. Linux is driven by open-source imperatives. So, naturally, Linux's kernel developers have a problem with closed-source kernel modules. And, just as naturally, they've hacked up a statement they hope will discourage the closed and encourage the open.

On his blog, Greg Kroah-Hartman explained, “As part of the Linux Foundation Technical board...we wanted to do something that could be seen as a general 'public statement' about them that is easy to understand and point to when people have questions”. Here it is:

Position Statement on Linux Kernel Modules, June 2008

We, the undersigned Linux kernel developers, consider any closed-source Linux kernel module or driver to be harmful and undesirable. We have repeatedly found them to be detrimental to Linux users, businesses and the greater Linux ecosystem. Such modules negate the openness, stability, flexibility and maintainability of the Linux development model and shut their users off from the expertise of the Linux community. Vendors that provide closed-source kernel modules force their customers to give up key Linux advantages or choose new vendors. Therefore, in order to take full advantage of the cost savings and shared support benefits open source has to offer, we urge vendors to adopt a policy of supporting their customers on Linux with open-source kernel code.

We speak only for ourselves, and not for any company we might work for today, have in the past or will in the future.

Below that are 176 names.

The Linux Foundation has a slightly broader statement:

The Linux Foundation recommends that hardware manufacturers provide open-source kernel modules. The open-source nature of Linux is intrinsic to its success. We encourage manufacturers to work with the kernel community to provide open-source kernel modules in order to enable their users and themselves to take advantage of the considerable benefits that Linux makes possible. We agree with the Linux kernel developers that vendors who provide closed-source kernel modules force their customers to give up these key Linux advantages. We urge all vendors to adopt a policy of supporting their customers on Linux with open-source kernel modules.

Either way the message is clear.


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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The problem isn't....

Alex Stone's picture

The problem isn't with the timing of the statement, or the desire of the Linux Community to keep things clean and open, but the continued closed minded business model of the commercial operators who cling to the desperate hope that they can lock up their goodies to create some degree of enforced exclusivity, instead of operating from a position of letting a good product sell itself, and back that up with great customer service and software support.

We've seen the same monolithic approach from the music industry, and their desire to avoid at all costs the death of the stranglehold they've had over distribution. The notion of distribution as a profitable means of chaining a customer into subservience is dead in the water, as more choice is being offered in an open capacity.

I for one support the statements, even if they are yesterday's news or a re-iteration, and hope that linux users support this view, both with their enthusiasm, and support for those who work so hard on our behalf, including those who have financially invested in linux as a new standard of use. (Stand up and be counted Mark Shuttleworth).

In other words, and as a full time composer using linux as a default workstation, the first HW company who sells a firewire audio component and actively supports and works with those in the FFADO project to produce great opensourced modules that work well, gets my cash. Not only for the use of the product, but as a thank you, and support, for practically recognising the worth of linux users as a viable and profitable demographic group within the wider marketplace.

Multiply the above example across other spheres of work, and entertainment, and it makes for a sizable chunk of the market, not to be ignored lightly.

So, imho, well done to the Kernel team for continuing the message. Count me in.

Alex Stone.

Maybe I'm a bit slow, but

Anonymous's picture

Maybe I'm a bit slow, but where's the news in this? The kernel developers' statement came out in June, and the other statement doesn't add a whole lot to it. And there's very little analysis. What makes this news?

ATI drivers maybe open but

Anonymous's picture

In an ideal world all drivers would be free AND work but in the case of ATI this is not so. Nvidia while non-free 'just works' on all of my hardware. I'd love to love ATI but they just don't make it easy. I think Nvidia has been given the message that the FOSS world would love to see some free drivers but that just hasn't happened for any number of reasons. At least Broadcom has just recently opened up some of their drivers which would seem to be testament to the fact that enough people calling for the same thing can get results! We'll just keep begging as always.

Vendors Who support me will receive my support

no more nvidia's picture

I used to buy nvidia in the past, but with the opening of spec and drivers by ATI I will be switching to their equipment. It is important to me to support those who support me.
Thanks ATI !

It's true

wigo's picture

ATI gives great support for linux

Awesome homepage with news updates and links

ATI drivers maybe open but

Anonymous's picture

ATI drivers maybe open but they are certainly horrible. Just yesterday I bought a Dell with ATI Radeon HD 2400 and installed their latest version of Catalyst on 64bit CentOS 5.2. Everything is soooooooooo choppy including but not limited to choppy firefox scrolls and moving any window from one monitor to the other is even worse.
When I contacted ATI support they told me that their drivers for Linux come as is and for support I should go to the xorg community.
I never had such issues with NVidia. I moved to ATI for the same reason as you are about to move, but be forewarned.

ATI Catalyst drivers *not* open

Terrell Prude' Jr.'s picture

ATI's Catalyst drivers are closed binary blobs. They have never been open.

Perhaps you were referring to the open-source drivers included in They work, but they don't yet have 3-D acceleration. This is being quite actively worked on by the team now (RadeonHD driver project).


speaking of open

Anonymous's picture

speaking of open drivers:
what about the xorg drivers: radeon and radeonhd?

i have a notebook with a radeon x1400 and use radeonhd vor about 6 months now with no problems (and no 3D)

Why all the K's?

error27's picture

Doc of course we like you and all, but why all the K's? It weirds me out every time I see something like that.

The last time I saw something with three K's was in a Kid's club. And I'm sure those guys didn't know what that means to an American... It's a real turn off.

Probably a non american KDE user

Anonymous's picture

The author is either not American, a KDE user, or younger than 30 (the klan dosn't have the same marketing they used to). Take this as a sign that they are dying out, just like binary only kernel modules.