Originally Published: Wednesday, 29 November 2000 Author: Brian Richardson
Published to: enhance_articles_hardware/Hardware Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Springboard

Are you the designated office Linux Geek? Brian Richardson, Linux.com's Hardware Project Manager, most definitely is. This is not your typical water-cooler 'Is this the right OS for me' banter. Brian discusses the future of Open Source device drivers with his co-workers. Read on!

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It started like most every other office conversation. I walked into my supervisor's office to ask a simple question, but had to wait for the person ahead of me. As usual, I was sucked into the conversation like a double-wide in the path of an on-coming twister.

One of our programmers was talking about Bluetooth and USB development. After some discussion about the Microsoft development tools, he asked what we should be doing about Linux development. That's when he and my supervisor turned, in unison, to look at me.

You see, at some point over the last year, I became "the Linux guy" at my company. My inability to hide an opinion somehow projects a giant, buzzing neon "Ask Me About Linux" sign over my head... that, and I have more Linux T-shirts than King Henry VIII had wives. So over the past few years, nearly every engineer in the company that knows my name has asked me a Linux-related question. It's my lot in life, which I graciously accept (at least they're not asking me how to get rid of excess ear wax).

The programmer asked me how we could make money writing drivers for Linux. After all, the driver we would try to sell to customers would be competing with somebody's open-source code.

My answer surprised him... or rather, he was surprised that I quickly formed an answer to such a question.

My company makes royalties from firmware attached to a device. Usually, this royalty covers the licensing of firmware attached to the hardware (keyboard controller, system BIOS, USB device). We often write drivers to make the device work better with a given operating system (example: Windows 9x USB driver for Sony CyberShot camera). But the profit is in the sale of the hardware.

If my company gets the customer's product to the market on time, we stand to make more money. If the customer can ship a product that utilizes a royalty-free operating system, the customer stands to make more money. We don't make money because we sold the driver, but because the driver allows the hardware to be sold.

For companies using Linux in new products, the code is just a springboard. The concept of selling software support for a standard doesn't work. The OS and drivers are just a way to facilitate functional hardware. It's not enough to make the gizmo, the software to run said gizmo with useful applications must exist.

For Linux to be hit the next level of success, it has to facilitate working hardware. Hardware vendors may start looking at Linux as one huge driver, flexible enough to be shaped and molded onto their products. This is important in the emerging market of appliance computers, and will be huge wireless Bluetooth devices. Vendors might not care if the driver source is open, as long as the hardware sells.

I may never know if my opinion struck a chord with our programmer. But I'm sure the giant neon "Ask Me About Linux" sign over my head hasn't gotten any dimmer. Maybe I should start wearing a hat...


Brian Richardson is working on his geek shopping tips. Stay tuned for hints on how shop for the geek in your life (or print it out to give to your loved ones, so they don't buy you a cheese log).




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