Why Broadcom's Release May be More Significant than Just Code

On September 9 the news of Broadcom's release of the code for some of its wireless Ethernet chip sets sent shockwaves throughout the Linux community. Broadcom owners, as well as distribution developers have a reason to celebrate.

In the past, Broadcom owners had to resort to NDISwrapper or rely upon the limited reversed engineered drivers. Neither was optimal. The release of the code by Broadcom should eventually mean a much better Wi-Fi experience for owners of systems with Broadcom chip sets. But for those that like to read between the lines there may also be a deeper significance to this move.

There are two trains of thought as to the "deeper" significance in this surprising move. Some say Linux installs / computers still make up only 1% of total computers in use. Others believe it's much higher. One well-respected writer believes it is probably about 10% while another estimates it is closer to 14%. So some see the Broadcom move as proof that the higher figures are the accurate figures. The thinking being that Broadcom wouldn't worry about a mere 1% share of the market but would be concerned about a double digit market share.

The second theory, while similar in nature, is that the move is due to the growing number of large industrial and commercial Wi-Fi hot-spot networks. Many of these are relying on Linux due to its security and reliability. Again the thinking is that this is a large enough market that Broadcom does not want to lose it to a competitor that has better native Linux support, such as Intel.

Whether it's due to pressure from users, loss of sales, or just a change in attitude, it's good news for Linux and that's all that matters. Most Linux users probably don't care why, they're just happy it happened - even if it does still leave many with older chips that still may need to rely upon b43 or NDISwrapper.


Susan Linton is a Linux writer and the owner of tuxmachines.org.


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Still frustrated

Anonymous's picture

When recovering a laptop's data I find Broadcom wireless hardware fails. I refuse to buy anything that uses Broadcom. My time is worth more to me that fusing with ndiswrapper and the right driver. It's hilarious how some Dell mini10v's work and some don't work with distros like Ubuntu 10.10. Why bother with congratulating Broadcom's decision? Their hardware is junk anyway.

There's a third possible reason to support Linux...

Jim March's picture

Let's assume for a sec that the installed desktop base for Linux is about 2% or so, and that Broadcom is making an effort to cater to that base.

Why would they do so?

Because that's an *influencial* 2%!

Among those 2% are hardcore geeks that influence a lot of other purchasing decisions, personally and in corporations.

If you're a hardware vendor, you don't want to piss off that 2% - no way, no how.

That's right!

godo's picture

I seriously doubt that there are only 1 or 2 %, but even if we are there are lot of people wants our opinion.
Look my example; all relatives, friends and neighbors ask me which laptop or hardware should they buy, which ISP is the best etc.

And I always told them to buy Linux friendly hardware even if they use Ms.

Two reasons for that:
1) In most case they switch to Linux under my influence.
2) I don't wont to support hardware manufacturer that don't support my favorite OS.

Linux friendly components

paulparker's picture

To buy Linux friendly hardware first need to know which is Linux friendly - even more important what is not.

Particularly NON-technicals likes self, need it be easier to avoid hardware packages and or components which do NOT suit Linux.

It should be

godo's picture

I will also get ecstasy attack in shop looking on some hardware with sticker "Works with Linux" :-)

And maybe one day all hardware will have stickers if in meantime we sand mails to hardware manufacturers "Thank you for open your driver and putting sticker 'Work with Linux'" or "I was your hardware user for years and I like it very much but now I switch to Linux and that is (almost) impossible. Do you have a plan to open your drivers or should I really change manufacturer?"

Maybe this looks like screaming into the wind but if nobody do it they will don't know that anybody care.

Until that day there is your favorite Linux forum.


Anonymous's picture

Business decline?

Anonymous's picture

I, for one, would immediately throw ANY hardware which contained a Broadcom chip off my purchase consideration lists.

low share is still market share.

Alejandro's picture

I don't know, but even 1% (i'm sure it's more)of market share mean some millions of people, so, if I was running a business and I could increase my client base by a few million people, I would definitely go for it.


It's open source, not

RMS's picture

It's open source, not free-as-in-freedom. BIG difference.



Jerry McBride's picture

I'm one of the lucky ones... I've got Broadcom chips is just about everything I own... Up until the latest few kernels, the b43 driver did not work with some of them... Now, with 2.6.35 the b43 driver not only works where id failed before, I'm even able to use some of the more desirable features, like setting transmit power levels, popping the chips into promiscuous mode, etc...

Now with Broadcome finally coming across with source code... Wow! It's only going to get better and better...

Thank you Broadcom.

---- Jerry McBride

I agree with the author...

JaseP's picture

I think the author is right, although I wouldn't put Linux desktop adoption at 14%, I think its more like 7-10%. But, with mobile devices, Linux is the way to go (small footprint, no royalties, scalable, vast repositories of software). With mobile devices, with Android gaining popularity, and Meego looming on the horizon, as well as tons of small footprint micro-distros (like OpenWRT), broadcom would be foolish not to open up its code and embrace the Linux community.

Besides, many of Broadcoms patents are probably due to expire, and what's not to like about the free community R&D that comes from open sourcing your firmware?!?!? So it makes perfect sense to open source their drivers, from a business standpoint. I think we will see more and more of this in the next couple of years.

Good grammar makes for a good read.

Anonymous's picture

It was most annoying to read Susan's article. If it was an attempt to lighten up a subject, then she failed. With Android, and Gartner's forecast that the Android will supplant the IPOD, that forecast will mean that broadcom's hardware will be in more linux devices than ever before.

If you include netbooks, etc. which are great linux products, then it only makes sense. Broadcom can greatly reduce it's software development costs, by going open source, as their profit is in the sale of their hardware.

design wins

Alex zungwungy's picture

They are also more likely to get designed into things if there chips are certain (as you can be) of being supported in Linux for years to come.

Nothing worse than having to hope that they will keep providing something up to date for future kernels; that's my experience anyway; wifi card works one week and after moving to a newer distribution you have to much about again (I've tried giving up that sort of time wasting).

angre emails

Anonymous's picture

I had a hp net book with a broad com wifi card after about 20 hours tiring to get the broad com wifi working I blasted there support email box and told them I was going to return the net book over there wifi card
I told them there was no excuse for them keeping there drivers closed source
after all atherous had opened sourced there drivers
I sennt almost the same email to HP telling them I liked the net book but that it's useless to a linux user with a broad com wifi card because there driver is closed source I also told them it went back to the store over this

I doubt I was the only one who biched out broad com and HP over this

so a bunch of pissed off linux users could also have had something to do with this

Broadcom is desperately trying to make allies

jordan's picture

Broadcom is simply looking for some good publicity, as many of its (windows) users are highly dissatisfied with their products. I for one, have had *better* performance on the linux driver than when I was using the windows driver on windows. (as this is anecdotal, YMMV)

I imagine that if a lot of people are having the same experience, then they will stop looking at machines which contain their cards, hence losing them business.

If they are losing business because of it, then they may simply be trying to find someway to appease their customer base. I tend to think that this is the case more so than anything else.

The fact that Broadcom is

Anonymous's picture

The fact that Broadcom is shipping in Android phones might be the reason for the movce.

Desktop or all devices?

Andrius Bentkus's picture

I think that the desktop share of linux has a small share, while the devices, on which is it installed, is huge compared to the competitors. I mean, almost every TV set sold nowadays has linux on it. A lot of wlan boxes have got linux too. So, are they taking all devices or just the desktop computer in their statistics into account?