Brought to You by Windows Seven

Instead of writing about something more interesting, a short rant about hardware compatibility and computing.

People often complain about driver availability on GNU/Linux, but the situation can be far worse for the Microsoft Windows systems.

On Linux, when you need a driver, the only real problem you run into is the case where a driver was never created for it.  Almost all of the divers on Linux are Free (as in speech), meaning that once a driver was written, it can live forever.  If the systems change, it can be updated.  The bulk of the work’s been done, and the old source has most of what’s needed if an update is required.

On Windows, you have the opposite problem.  A driver was almost undoubtedly created, because the hardware vendors are in the business of selling Windows-compatible hardware.  But at some point they don’t want to maintain drivers for their old hardware, so they stop.

That’s a problem you can run into for Windows Seven for at least some vendors.  Some vendors keep updating, but others just drop support and you can have a perfectly functional computer without valid drivers.  The source is closed, and the vendors simply care not.

This is one of the ways that Free Software is undeniably superior to Closed Software.  Microsoft has no control over the situation, because they don’t require any source to be available.  While they may partner with specific vendors for specific hardware drivers, they can’t possibly do that for the whole ecosystem.  They’re just as stuck as you are for devices that have been orphaned by the manufacturer.

Unless Microsoft and that community decide to shift toward freedom, the long-term situation will be one of an ever-growing pile of completely useless-to-Windows hardware.  That’s not an environmental boon, that’s not a way to spread the technology to the poor, and it’s not a way to build the technology economy as high as we can.

It’s bad business, and it’s bad citizenship.

The other side of the situation is where Linux could conceivably help.  There’s likely a Linux driver for some of the hardware that people can’t get to run on Windows.  It’s at least possible that some of the information from the Linux drivers could be used to create free drivers for the orphaned hardware for Windows.

While I don’t have a Windows computer around and don’t have much driver experience, it would be interesting to know if that hunch is correct, and whether the free software community could use that as an inroad to spread freedom to Windows users.