Nvidia takes first step toward open source Linux GPU drivers

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After years of hinting, Nvidia announced yesterday that it would be open-sourcing part of its Linux GPU driver, as both Intel and AMD have done for years now. Previously, Linux users who wanted to avoid Nvidia's proprietary driver had to rely on reverse-engineered software like the Nouveau project, which worked best on older hardware and offered incomplete support at best for all of Nvidia's GPU features.

"This release is a significant step toward improving the experience of using NVIDIA GPUs in Linux, for tighter integration with the OS, and for developers to debug, integrate, and contribute back," says a blog post attributed to several Nvidia employees. "For Linux distribution providers, the open source modules increase ease of use. They also improve the out-of-the-box user experience to sign and distribute the NVIDIA GPU driver. Canonical and SUSE are able to immediately package the open kernel modules with Ubuntu and SUSE Linux Enterprise Distributions."

Nvidia is specifically releasing an open source kernel driver under a dual MIT/GPL license and is not currently open-sourcing parts of the driver that run in user space. This includes drivers for OpenGL, Vulkan, OpenCL, and CUDA, which are still closed source, in addition to the firmware for the GPU System Processor (GSP). Nvidia says these drivers "will remain closed source and published with pre-built binaries," so it doesn't sound like there are immediate plans to release open source versions.

Nvidia is still behind both Intel and AMD when it comes to open source GPU drivers—both companies maintain open source kernel and user space drivers, along with closed-source firmware. But this is a first step toward open source parity for Nvidia's Linux driver packages.
 

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