ati says, "we like our proprietary drivers". this is in response to the intel announcement about open source drivers. well, ati, i hope you like lower sales too. because that's what you're going to get.
i read a comment online by someone saying that ati can't open their drivers because they are encumbered. the person then went on to confuse copyright and patent law, but even ignoring that it's a cop out. first off, intel is doing it so it is possible by at least some companies. the question is, could ati?
now, i take it as a given that open sourcing retroactively is a no-go for all sorts of reasons including simple financial ones, so let's talk about future chipset releases only.
ati has expressed the need to keep drm under the wraps of proprietary software. that's another huge discussion so i'll leap over it for now and just say that i feel drm is a broken concept in general and not particularly relevant to the conversation about video card drivers anyways. so, on to the potential reasons ati might feel they shouldn't open up their drivers:
what if ati using software written by someone else which they license? the solution is to write code that does that themselves for the next chipset they make. if they can't do that, they need better developers. seriously.
what if ati is legally using a patented technology? fine, release it under an open source license that allows for patents. there are more licenses out there than the gpl if they feel that it's too restrictive when it comes to patents. i have all sorts of patented devices in my house and none of them try and keep from looking at those patented parts. i'm simply prevented from recreating those patented parts for the market. i'm not sure where the idea of "patents are protected by not being able to be seen" meme came from that seems to float around.
what if ati is infringing on someone else's patents? well, then they are in trouble already. it's just a matter if they get caught or not. and really, no insignificant piece of software doesn't violate a patent somewhere because patents are completely out of control.
what if ati believes that their driver software is sooooooo special that if others could see the source code then ati would lose a competitive advantage as others go and use the same ideas? in that case i'd suggest the ati people give themselves a reality check: their drivers aren't the best things out there and few people are so amazingly brilliant that their ideas are so amazingly revolutionary that nobody else has also thought of them. we could probably find instances of it (i think some of einstein's thoughts were pretty unique in his time) but even calculus was discovered by two people at the same time. so really .. reality check time.
the above can be said for probably all the graphics cards manufacturers out there. and makers of most other types of hardware as well, most likely. and yes, there are also exceptions.
in general, i think what it comes down to is the hardware industry lagging behind in their thinking when it comes to software issues. it's not easy to challenge one's own conceptions or change the cultural viewpoint one holds due to their industry roots. but as some hardware vendors move more aggressively into the open source world, it may make such a reevaluation a requirement for companies to keep a competitive edge.
when hardware vendors are taught through market movement that you sell more when you open source, that your drivers get improved by others and that people in the development community are more likely to write software for your hardware when open drivers are available ..... then maybe the conventional wisdom in the industry will become "if you want to make it, you want to go open. it's value provided to the customer that outweighs any value provided through closed source software."