[Desktop_printing] Future of Linux drivers

Giuseppe Ghibò ghibo at mandriva.com
Wed May 24 05:47:52 PDT 2006

Since I see in this mailing list are subscribed many with address from
printer vendor, I'd like to know your opinion about what follows.

Currently if one goes to the linuxprinting.org site (or also the SANE
site for Scanners, or madwifi for wireless card) will see that the
number of supported printers, scanners, and wireless card/chipset has
been greately improved. But if we go in details and try to find a
printer or scanners or wireless card one can buy for new from a store,
has been dramatically dropped in the last few monts. You seek for
instance for a certain printer, you see it supported, but such printer
is for instance no longer available in stores, because gone "out of
sales", and the newer model replacing the old one is not
supported. The second problem which is arising is that the number of
cheapo printer (but this applies also to scanners and wireless cards)
supported by free and opensource drivers is falling back. Basically
what now most vendor do is to remove the EEPROM of the device and
replace with a plain RAM (I don't have to accept an EULA for his
firmware when I power up a device). At this point the end-user should
go to the vendor site, accept the EULA (see for instance the ipfw2200
Intel drivers for wireless), and download the firmware which should be
uploaded to the device RAM. In most case such firmware is not even
directly available, but should be "stolen" from the Windows
drivers. In all this situatuation, since the firmware is not
opensource (and most of firmware can't be even redistributed) it can't
be bundled directly with a typical free distro (at least those which
have a free tree public downloadable). Sometimes (e.g. for some
madwifi drivers) is it even possible to link the closed source
firmware with open source drivers (for this reason resulting binaries
cannot be even distributed under a free license).

This seems to be considered almost normal in a Linux, bust basically
has a few side effects. The first is that they want to transform Linux
in a poor copy of a Windows-like environment where one has to go in
the vendor site, download a driver or a piece of driver and install it
(generally the provided vendor files are not well packaged for a
specific distro) messing up the cleaness of a distro which is based on
PACKAGES and where each file is owned by a PACKAGE (this is the
technical aspect).

What vendor are doing to avoid this situation? Why for instance
developer should spent a lot of time developing drivers which they
can't even use and distribute themselves?


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