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The surprising (to me) state of F/LOSS graphics, as presented by Alyssa Rosenzweig


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I came across these recently and found several interesting things within, so thought I would share them.


I debated posting this in Development, but wanted anyone to be able to see and reply to the thread.


Anyway some parts I felt were important enough that I actually took down some notes and quotations, which I will include.


Open drivers for Arm GPUs

This looks like it was presentation LVC21-318 at  Linaro Connect '21 on 2021-03-25.


Video is available at above page, and also on ThemTube here.


I found this a fascinating presentation.  Alyssa contrasts the (proprietary) 'before times' with current situation which is apparently quite different.  In fact, I was quite surprised to learn that:



Open graphics is not disrupting the status quo...


...we are the status quo.


She then goes on to give 3 case studies, one of which was VideoCore, where I was more than a little surprised to learn that Broadcom at some point actually hired someone to work on their F/LOSS driver.  Now this was only after that guy was well into his own (night and weekend) reverse engineering effort, followed by a lot of public pressure, but still.  End result apparently is that this driver is now shipping in production RPi 4.


Next case study was about Freedreno.  I will quote my favorite part from here:



It's hard for me to understate the importance of this, the fact is that Google believed so strongly in the need for open source drivers for this hardware that they were willing to invest in a reverse engineering effort, over Qualcomm's own proprietary stack.

There has been a stereotype -- a myth I dare say -- about open source drivers (including graphics drivers), that it's only for 'us looney Free Software types' [...] but the fact is that open source graphics drivers are wanted by such 'loonies' and 'fringe types' as, I dunno, Google, Valve, Broadcom...  The biggest players in the graphics industry 'get it', do you?"


Of course being firmly in the camp with the 'looney Free Software types' myself, this comment warmed my heart quite a bit.  :D


Finally she gives the Panfrost case study, where she points out that things are apparently moving away from the 'reverse-engineering underdog' model, and:



Arm are now working together with Collabora to provide us with... documentation


And so reverse engineering is apparently no longer needed.


Apparently this is the driver that ships in PineBook Pro for example.


Of course I must admit to being more than a little bit (pleasantly!) surprised at all of this.  And also starting to soften my stance towards Broadcom (just a little though, lol).  :D


If you are the least bit interested in any of this, I can highly recommend watching the full presentation.  It's only 19 minutes long, anyway, but I personally was riveted the entire time.


The Open Graphics Stack

I think this presentation was given at Embedded Linux Conference '21 on 2021-09-29.  So, about 6 months after the above.


But honestly I came across it on ThemTube here.


In the beginning, she makes a good point about the tension between embedded devices with perhaps 20 year life cycles, and devices with proprietary drivers which may be EoL in 5 years, and how this tension can be alleviated by using F/LOSS drivers.


But what got my attention the most was:



We have to ask then, are open source drivers here?  Are they ready?  Can we use them in our products today?  Can end users go use them?

And the answer is an affirmative YES!

I'm happy to say yes, because so many of these open source graphics talks over the years have been 'coming soon'(tm) and this year, all the talks I'm doing, I'm giving a bold yes and I feel confident with that answer and I feel very glad that we've got to this point.


She then goes on about details of particular platforms (including x86, ARM, etc.) and then finally:



The bottom line is that Open source graphics is the status quo.


Which is a quite bold (and again, pleasantly surprising) statement IMO, but then again I do consider her an authority on the subject.


After that she goes into quite some detail about the nuts and bolts of all the various parts of the stack, which you may or may not be interested in watching as much.



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