We can’t recommend hardware that doesn’t support our freedom.

AMD owns ATI, a computer videocard manufacturer. Recent ATI videocards have no free software drivers. The proprietary ATI driver which works with a typical GNU/Linux system is poor quality and as a result many users have problems with it. At the Red Hat summit going on right now, an AMD representative discussed the situation and Tom Calloway blogged about it:

An executive VP from AMD gave a keynote this morning, and he talked up open source and committed to making the ATI driver “better”.

We don’t need the driver to be “better”, Mr. AMD, we need the driver to be “free”. You make it free. Free your specs. Free up a little of your manpower to answer technical queries from developers. Free Dave Airlie from his NDA restrictions. Free your existing code.

You make it free. We’ll make it better. Everyone will benefit.

Calloway has the right message; software freedom will lead to improved code quality. If ATI supported our freedom we could change our position from recommending against ATI hardware to telling people which ATI videocards to buy, just like we tell people which Intel hardware to look for in their next machines as a direct result of Intel’s stance supporting free software. On a related note, consider what ATI spokesperson Henri Richard is reported to have said and the skeptical reaction recorded on Christopher Blizzard’s blog.

The situation Calloway describes here bears an eerie similarity to something we’ve heard before.

From Why “Free Software” is better than “Open Source”:

At a trade show in late 1998, dedicated to the operating system often referred to as “Linux”, the featured speaker was an executive from a prominent software company. He was probably invited on account of his company’s decision to “support” that system. Unfortunately, their form of “support” consists of releasing non-free software that works with the system””in other words, using our community as a market but not contributing to it.

He said, “There is no way we will make our product open source, but perhaps we will make it ”˜internal’ open source. If we allow our customer support staff to have access to the source code, they could fix bugs for the customers, and we could provide a better product and better service.” (This is not an exact quote, as I did not write his words down, but it gets the gist.)

People in the audience afterward told me, “He just doesn’t get the point.” But is that so? Which point did he not get?

He did not miss the point of the Open Source movement. That movement does not say users should have freedom, only that allowing more people to look at the source code and help improve it makes for faster and better development. The executive grasped that point completely; unwilling to carry out that approach in full, users included, he was considering implementing it partially, within the company.

The point that he missed is the point that “open source” was designed not to raise: the point that users deserve freedom.