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Luc Verhaegen

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The beginning of the end of the RadeonHD driver. [Feb. 13th, 2017|11:08 am]
Luc Verhaegen
[Tags|, , , , , , , , ]
[Current Location |Rumpelkammer]
[mood |Tired]
[music |Toto - Africa]

Soon it will be a decade since we started the RadeonHD driver, where we pushed ATI to a point of no return, got a proper C coded graphics driver and freely accessible documentation out. We all know just what happened to this in the end, and i will make a rather complete write-up spanning multiple blog entries over the following months. But while i was digging out backed up home directories for information, i came across this...

It is a copy of the content of an email i sent to an executive manager at SuSE/Novell, a textfile called bridgmans_games.txt. This was written in July 2008, after the RadeonHD project gained what was called "Executive oversight". After the executive had first hand seen several of John Bridgmans games, he asked me to provide him with a timeline of some of the games he played with us. The below explanation covers only things that i knew that this executive was not aware of, and it covers a year of RadeonHD development^Wstruggle, from July 2007 until april 2007. It took me quite a while to compile this, and it was a pretty tough task mentally, as it finally showed, unequivocally, just how we had been played all along. After this email was read by this executive, he and my department lead took me to lunch and told me to let this die out slowly, and to not make a fuss. Apparently, I should've counted myself lucky to see these sort of games being played this early on in my career.

This is the raw copy, and only the names of some people, who are not in the public eye have been redacted out (you know who you are), some other names were clarified. All changes are marked with [].

These are:
SuSE Executive manager: [EXEC]
SuSE technical project manager: [TPM]
AMD manager (from a different department than ATI): [AMDMAN]
AMD liaison: [SANTA] (as he was the one who handed me and Egbert Eich a 1 cubic meter box full of graphics cards ;))

[EXEC], i made a rather extensive write-up about the goings-on throughout 
the whole project. I hope this will not intrude too much on your time, 
please have a quick read through it, mark what you think is significant and 
where you need actual facts (like emails that were sent around...) Of 
course, this is all very subjective, but for most of this emails can be 
provided to back things up (some things were said on the weekly technical 
call only).

First some things that happened beforehand...

Before we came around with the radeonhd driver, there were two projects 

One was Dave Airlie who claimed he had a working driver for ATI Radeon R500
hardware. This was something he wrote during 2006, from information under 
NDA, and this nda didn't allow publication. He spent a lot of time bashing 
ATI for it, but the code was never seen, even when the NDA was partially 
lifted later on.

The other was a project started in March 2007 by Nokia's Daniel Stone and
Ubuntu's [canonical's] Matthew Garreth. The avivo driver. This driver was a
driver separate from the -ati or -radeon drivers, under the GPL, and written
from scratch by tracing the BIOS and tracking register changes [(only the
latter was true)]. Matthew and Daniel were only active contributors for the
first few weeks and quickly lost interest. The bulk of the development was
taken over by Jerome Glisse after that.

Now... Here is where we encounter John [Bridgman]...

Halfway july, when we first got into contact with Bridgman, he suddenly 
started bringing up AtomBIOS. When then also we got the first lowlevel 
hardware spec, but when we asked for hardware details, how the different 
blocks fitted together, we never got an answer as that information was said 
to not be available. We also got our hands on some of the atombios 
interpreter code, and a rudimentary piece of documentation explaining how to 
handle the atombios bytecode. So Matthias [Hopf] created an atombios 
disassembler to help us write up all the code for the different bits. And 
while we got some further register information when we asked for it, 
bridgman kept pushing atombios relentlessly.

This whining went on and on, until we, late august, decided to write up a
report of what problems we were seeing with atombios, both from an interface 
as from an actual implementation point of view. We never got even a single 
reply to this report, and we billed AMD 10 or so mandays, and [with] 
bridgman apparently berated, as he never brought the issue up again for the 
next few months... But the story of course didn't end there of course.

At the same time, we wanted to implement one function from atomBIOS at the
time: ASICInit. This function brings the hardware into a state where
modesetting can happen. It replaces a full int10 POST, which is the 
standard, antique way of bringing up VGA on IBM hardware, and ASICInit 
seemed like a big step forward. John organised a call with the BIOS/fglrx 
people to explain to us what ASICInit offered and how we could use it. This 
is the only time that Bridgman put us in touch with any ATI people directly. 
The proceedings of the call were kind of amusing... After 10 minutes or so, 
one of the ATI people said "for fglrx, we don't bother with ASICInit, we 
just call the int10 POST". John then quickly stated that they might have to 
end the call because apparently other people were wanting to use this 
conference room. The call went on for at least half an hour longer, and john 
from time to time stated this again. So whether there was truth to this or 
not, we don't know, it was a rather amusing coincidence though, and we of 
course never gained anything from the call.

Late august and early september, we were working relentlessly towards 
getting our driver into a shape that could be exposed to the public. 
[AMDMAN] had warned us that there was a big marketing thing planned for the 
kernel summit in september, but we never were told any of this through our 
partner directly. So we were working like maniacs on getting the driver in a 
state so that we could present it at the X Developers Summit in Cambridge.

Early september, we were stuck on several issues because we didn't get any
relevant information from Bridgman. In a mail sent on september 3, [TPM] 
made the following statement: "I'm not willing to fall down to Mr. B.'s mode 
of working nor let us hold up by him. They might (or not) be trying to stop 
the train - they will fail." It was very very clear then already that things 
were not being played straight.

Bridgman at this point was begging to see the code, so we created a copy of 
a (for us) working version, and handed this over on september the 3rd as 
well. We got an extensive review of our driver on a very limited subset of 
the hardware, and we were mainly bashed for producing broken modes (monitor 
synced off). This had of course nothing to do with us using direct 
programming, as this was some hardware limits [PLL] that we eventually had 
to go and find ourselves. Bridgman never was able to help provide us with 
suitable information on what the issue could be or what the right limits 
were, but the fact that the issue wasn't to be found in atombios versus 
direct programming didn't make him very happy.

So on the 5th of september, ATI went ahead with its marketing campaign, the 
one which we weren't told about at all. They never really mentioned SUSE's 
role in this, and Dave Airlie even made a blog entry stating how he and Alex 
were the main actors on the X side. The SUSE role in all of this was 
severely downplayed everywhere, to the point where it became borderline 
insulting. It was also one of the first times where we really felt that 
Bridgman maybe was working more closely with Dave and Alex than with us.

We then had to rush off to the X Developers Summit in Cambridge. While we 
met ATIs Matthew Tippett and Bridgman beforehand, it was clear that our role 
in this whole thing was being actively downplayed, and the attitude towards 
egbert and me was predominantly hostile. The talk bridgman and Tippett gave 
at XDS once again fully downplayed our effort with the driver. During our 
introduction of the radeonHD driver, John Bridgman handed Dave Airlie a CD 
with the register specs that went around the world, further reducing our 
relevance there. John stated, quite noisily, in the middle of our 
presentation, that he wanted Dave to be the first to receive this 
documentation. Plus, it became clear that Bridgman was very close to Alex 

The fact that we didn't catch all supper/dinner events ourselves worked 
against us as well, as we were usually still hacking away feverishly at our 
driver. We also had to leave early on the night of the big dinner, as we had 
to come back to nürnberg so that we could catch the last two days of the 
Labs conference the day after. This apparently was a mistake... We later 
found a picture (http://flickr.com/photos/cysglyd/1371922101/) that has the 
caption "avivo de-magicifying party". This shows Bridgman, Tippett, Deucher, 
all the redhat and intel people in the same room, playing with the (then 
competing) avivo driver. This picture was taken while we were on the plane 
back to nürnberg. Another signal that, maybe, Mr Bridgman isn't every 
committed to the radeonhd driver. Remarkably though, the main developer 
behind the avivo driver, Jerome Glisse, is not included here. He was found 
to be quite fond of the radeonhd driver and immediately moved on to 
something else as his goal was being achieved by radeonhd now.

On monday the 17th, right before the release, ATI was throwing up hurdles... 
We suddenly had to put AMD copyright statements on all our code, a 
requirement never made for any AMD64 work which is as far as i understood 
things also invalid under german copyright law. This was a tough nut for me 
to swallow, as a lot of the code in radeonhd modesetting started life 5years 
earlier in my unichrome driver. Then there was the fact that the atombios 
header didn't come with an acceptable license and copyright statement, and a 
similar situation for the atombios interpreter. The latter two gave Egbert a 
few extra hours of work that night.

I contacted the phoronix.com owner (Michael Larabel) to talk to him about an 
imminent driver release, and this is what he stated: "I am well aware of the 
radeonHD driver release today through AMD and already have some articles in 
the work for posting later today." The main open source graphics site had 
already been given a story by some AMD people, and we were apparently not 
supposed to be involved here. We managed to turn this article around there 
and then, so that it painted a more correct picture of the situation. And 
since then, we have been working very closely with Larabel to make sure that 
our message gets out correctly.

The next few months seemed somewhat uneventful again. We worked hard on 
making our users happy, on bringing our driver up from an initial 
implementation to a full featured modesetting driver. We had to 
painstakingly try to drag more information out of John, but mostly find 
things out for ourselves. At this time the fact that Dave Airlie was under 
NDA still was mentioned quite often in calls, and John explained that this 
NDA situation was about to change. Bridgman also brought up that he had 
started the procedure to hire somebody to help him with documentation work 
so that the flow of information could be streamlined. We kind of assumed 
that, from what we saw at XDS, this would be Alex Deucher, but we were never 
told anything.

Matthias got in touch with AMDs GPGPU people through [AMDMAN], and we were 
eventually (see later) able to get TCore code (which contains a lot of very
valuable information for us) out of this. Towards the end of oktober, i 
found an article online about AMDs upcoming Rv670, and i pasted the link in 
our radeonhd irc channel. John immediately fired off an email explaining 
about the chipset, apologising for not telling us earlier. He repeated some 
of his earlier promises of getting hardware sent out to us quicker. When the 
hardware release happened, John was the person making statements to the open 
source websites (messing up some things in the process), but [SANTA] was the 
person who eventually sent us a board.

Suddenly, around the 20th of november, things started moving in the radeon
driver. Apparently Alex Deucher and Dave Airlie had been working together 
since November 3rd to add support for r500 and r600 hardware to the radeon 
driver. I eventually dug out a statement on fedora devel, where redhat guys, 
on the last day of oktober, were actively refusing our driver from being 
accepted. Dave Airlie stated the following: "Red Hat and Fedora are 
contemplating the future wrt to AMD r5xx cards, all options are going to be 
looked at, there may even be options that you don't know about yet.."

They used chunks of code from the avivo driver, chunks of code from the
radeonhd driver (and the bits where we spent ages finding out what to do), 
and they implemented some parts of modesetting using AtomBIOS, just like 
Bridgman always wanted it. On the same day (20th) Alex posted a blog entry 
about being hired by ATI as an open source developer. Apparently, Bridgman 
mentioned that Dave had found something when doing AtomBIOS on the weekly 
phonecall beforehand. So Bridgman had been in close communication with Dave 
for quite a while already.

Our relative silence and safe working ground was shattered. Suddenly it was
completely clear that Bridgman was playing a double game. As some diversion
mechanisms, John now suddenly provided us with the TCore code, and suddenly
gave us access to the AMD NDA website, and also told us on the phone that 
Alex is not doing any Radeon work in his worktime and only does this in his 
spare time. Surely we could not be against this, as surely we too would like 
to see a stable and working radeon driver for r100-r400. He also suddenly 
provided those bits of information Dave had been using in the radeon driver, 
some of it we had been asking for before and never got an answer to then.

We quickly ramped up the development ourselves and got a 1.0.0 driver 
release out about a week later. John in the meantime was expanding his 
marketing horizon, he did an interview with the Beyond3D website (there is 
of course no mention about us), and he started doing some online forums 
(phoronix), replying to user posts there, providing his own views on 
"certain" situations (he has since massively increased his time on that 

One interesting result of the competing project is that suddenly we were
getting answers to questions we had been asking for a long time. An example 
of such an issue is the card internal view of where the cards own memory 
resides. We spent weeks asking around, not getting anywhere, and suddenly 
the registers were used in the competing driver, and within hours, we got 
the relevant information in emails from Mr Bridgman (November 17 and 20, 
"Odds and Ends"). Bridgman later explained that Dave Airlie knew these 
registers from his "previous r500 work", and that Dave asked Bridgman for 
clearance for release, which he got, after which we also got informed about 
these registers as well. The relevant commit message in the radeon driver 
predates the email we received with the related information by many hours.

[AMDMAN] had put us in touch with the GPGPU people from AMD, and matthias 
and one of the GPGPU people spent a lot of time emailing back and forth. But
suddenly, around the timeframe where everything else happened (competing
driver, alex getting hired), John suddenly conjured up the code that the 
GPGPU people had all along: TCore. This signalled to us that John had caught 
our plan to bypass him, and that he now took full control of the situation. 
It took about a month before John made big online promises about how this 
code could provide the basis for a DRM driver, and that it would become 
available to all soon. We managed to confirm, in a direct call with both the 
GPGPU people and Mr Bridgman that the GPGPU people had no idea about that 
John intended to make this code fully public straigth away. The GPGPU people 
assumed that Johns questions were fully aimed at handing us the code without 
us getting tainted, not that John intended to hand this out publically 
immediately. To this day, TCore has not surfaced publically, but we know 
that several people inside the Xorg community have this code, and i 
seriously doubt that all of those people are under NDA with AMD.

Bridgman also ramped up the marketing campaign. He did an interview with
Beyond3D.com on the 30th where he broadly smeared out the fact that a 
community member was just hired to work with the community. John of course 
completely overlooked the SUSE involvement in everything. An attempt to 
rectify this with an interview of our own to match never materialised due to 
the heavy time constraints we are under.

On the 4th of december, a user came to us asking what he should do with a
certain RS600 chipset he had. We had heard from John that this chip was not
relevant to us, as it was not supposed to be handled by our driver (the way 
we remember the situation), but when we reported this to John, he claimed 
that he thought that this hardware never shipped and that it therefor was 
not relevant. The hardware of course did ship, to three different vendors, 
and Egbert had to urgently add support for it in the I2C and memory 
controller subsystems when users started complaining.

One very notable story of this time is how the bring-up of new hardware was
handled. I mentioned the Rv670 before, we still didn't get this hardware at
this point, as [SANTA] was still trying to get his hands on this. What we 
did receive from [SANTA] on the 11th of december was the next generation 
hardware, which needed a lot of bring-up work: rv620/rv635. This made us 
hopeful that, for once, we could have at least basic support in our driver 
on the same day the hardware got announced. But a month and a half later, 
when this hardware was launched, John still hadn't provided any information. 
I had quite a revealing email exchange with [SANTA] about this too, where he 
wondered why John was stalling this. The first bit of information that was 
useful to us was given to us on February the 9th, and we had to drag a lot 
of the register level information out of John ourselves. Given the massive 
changes to the hardware, and the induced complications, it of course took us 
quite some time to get this work finished. And this fact was greedily abused 
by John during the bring-up time and afterwards. But what he always 
overlooks is that it took him close to two months to get us documentation to 
use even atombios successfully.

The week of december the 11th is also where Alex was fully assimilated into
ATI. He of course didn't do anything much in his first week at AMD, but in 
his second week he started working on the radeon driver again. In the weekly 
call then John re-assured us that Alex was doing this work purely in his 
spare time, that his task was helping us get the answers we needed. In all 
fairness, Alex did provide us with register descriptions more directly than 
John, but there was no way he was doing all this radeon driver work in his 
spare time. But it would take John another month to admit it, at which time 
he took Alex working on the radeon driver as an acquired right.

Bridgman now really started to spend a lot of time on phoronix.com. He 
posted what i personally see as rather biased comparisons of the different 
drivers out there, and he of course beat the drums heavily on atombios. This 
is also the time where he promised the TCore drop.

Then games continued as usual for the next month or so, most of which are
already encompassed in previous paragraphs.

One interesting sidenote is that both Alex and John were heavy on rebranding
AtomBIOS. They actively used the word scripts for the call tables inside
atombios, and were actively labelling C modesetting code as legacy. Both 
quite squarely go in against the nature of AtomBIOS versus C code.

Halfway february, discussions started to happen again about the RS690 
hardware. Users were having problems. After a while, it became clear that 
the RS690, all along, had a display block called DDIA capable of driving a 
DVI digital signal. RS690 was considered to be long and fully supported, and 
suddenly a major display block popped into life upon us. Bridgmans excuse 
was the same as with the RS600; he thought this never would be used in the 
first place and that therefor we weren't really supposed to know about this.

On the 23rd and 24th of February, we did FOSDEM. As usual, we had an X.org 
Developers Room there, for which i did most of the running around. We worked
with Michael Larabel from phoronix to get the talks taped and online. 
Bridgman gave us two surprises at FOSDEM... For one, he released 3D 
documentation to the public, we learned about this just a few days before, 
we even saw another phoronix statement about TCore being released there and 
then, but this never surfaced.

We also learned, on friday evening, that the radeon driver was about to gain
Xvideo support for R5xx and up, through textured video code that alex had 
been working on. Not only did they succeed in stealing the sunshine away 
from the actual hard work (organising fosdem, finding out and implementing 
bits that were never supposed to be used in the first place, etc), they gave 
the users something quick and bling and showy, something we today still 
think was provided by others inside AMD or generated by a shader compiler. 
And this to the competing project.

At FOSDEM itself Bridgman of course was full of stories. One of the most
remarkable ones, which i overheard when on my knees clearing up the 
developers room, was bridgman talking to the Phoronix guy and some community 
members, stating that people at ATI actually had bets running on how long it 
would take Dave Airlie to implement R5xx 3D support for the radeon driver. 
He said this loudly, openly and with a lot of panache. But when this support 
eventually took more than a month, i took this up with him on the phonecall, 
leading of course to his usual nervous laughing and making up a bit of a 
coverstory again.

Right before FOSDEM, Egbert had a one-on-one phonecall with Bridgman, hoping 
to clear up some things. This is where we first learned that bridgman had 
sold atombios big time to redhat, but i think you now know this even better 
than i do, as i am pretty hazy on details there. Egbert, if i remember 
correctly, on the very same day, had a phonecall with redhat's Kevin Martin 
as well. But since nothing of this was put on mail and i was completely 
swamped with organising FOSDEM, i have no real recollection of what came out 
of that.

Alex then continued with his work on radeon, while being our only real 
point of contact for any information. There were several instances where our 
requests for information resulted in immediate commits to the radeon driver, 
where issues were fixed or bits of functionality were added. Alex also ended 
up adding RENDER acceleration to the radeon driver, and when Bridgman was in
Nuernberg, we clearly saw how Bridgman sold this to his management: alex was
working on bits that were meant to be ported directly to RadeonHD.

In march, we spent our time getting rv620/635 working, dragging information,
almost register per register out of our friends. We learned about the 
release of RS780 at CEBIT, meaning that we had missed yet another 
opportunity for same day support. John had clearly stated, at the time of 
the rv620/635 launch that "integrated parts are the only place where we are 
'officially' trying to have support in place at or very shortly after 

And with that, we pretty much hit the time frame when you, [EXEC], got

One interesting kind of new development is Kgrids. Kgrids is some code 
written by some ATI people that has some useful information for driver 
development, especially useful for the DRM. John Bridgman told the phoronix 
author 2-3 weeks ago already that he had this, and that he was planning to 
release this immediately. The phoronix author immediately informed me, but 
the release of this code never happened so far. Last thursday, Bridgman 
brought up Kgrids in the weekly technical phonecall already... When asked 
how long he knew about this, he admitted that they knew about this for 
several weeks already, which makes me wonder why we weren't informed 
earlier, and why we suddenly were informed then...

As said, the above, combined with what already was known to this executive, and the games he saw being played first hand from april 2008 throughout june 2008, marked the start of the end of the RadeonHD project.

I too more and more disconnected myself from development on this, with Egbert taking the brunt of the work. I instead spent more time on the next SuSE enterprise release, having fun doing something productive and with a future. Then, after FOSDEM 2009, when 24 people at the SuSE Nuernberg office were laid off, i was almost relieved to be amongst them.

Time flies.
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The value of writing code and instigating change. [Apr. 23rd, 2015|04:30 pm]
Luc Verhaegen
[Tags|, , , , , , , , , ]
[Current Location |Rumpelkammer.]
[mood |draineddrained]
[music |Groovesalad]

You probably saw this phoronix article which references the log of the #dri-devel channel on freenode. This was an attempt to trash my work on lima and tamil, using my inability to get much in the way of code done, and my unwillingness to throw hackish tamil code over the hedge, against me. Let me take some time to explain some of that from my point of view.

Yes, I have lost traction.

Yes, i am not too motivated to work on cleaning up code at this time. I haven't been too motivated for anything much since FOSDEM 2014. I still have my sunxi kms code to fix up/clean up, and the same is true for the lima driver for mesa. It is also pretty telling that i started to write this blog entry more than two months ago and only now managed to post it.

Under the circumstances, though, everyone else would've given up about 2 to 3 years ago.

Due to my usual combination of stubbornness and actually sitting down and doing the work, I have personally kickstarted the whole open ARM GPU movement. This is the third enormous paradigm shift in Linux graphics that i have caused these past almost 12 years (after modesetting, and pushing ATI to a point of no return with an open source driver). All open ARM GPU projects were at least inspired by this, some actually use some lima code, others would simply not have happened if I hadn't done Lima and/or had kept my mouth shut at important junctions. This was not without sacrifices. Quite the opposite.

From March 2011 on, I have spent an insane amount of time on this. Codethink paid, all-in-all, 6 weeks of my time when i was between customer projects. Some of the very early work was done on Nokia time, as, thanks to our good friend Stephen Elop, operations were winding down severely in late 2011 to the point where mostly constant availability was needed. However, I could've used that extra free time in many other useful ways. When I got a job offer at SuSE in november 2011 (basically getting my old job back due to Matthias Hopf taking up a professorship), I turned it down so I could work on the highly important Lima work instead.

When Codethink ran into a cashflow issue in Oktober 2012 (which apparently was resolved quite successfully, as codethink has grown a lot more since then), I was shown the door. This wasn't too unreasonable a decision given my increasing disappointment with how lima was being treated, the customer projects i was being sent on, and the assumption that a high profile developer like me would have an easy time getting another employer. During the phonecall announcing my dismissal, I did however get told that ARM had already been informed about my dismissal, so that business relations between ARM and codethink could be resumed. I rather doubt that that is standard procedure for dismissing people.

The time after this has been pretty meagre. If you expected at least one of linaro, canonical, mozilla or jolla to support lima, you'd be pretty wrong. Similarly, i have not seen any credible attempt to support lima driver development on a consulting basis. Then there is that fact that applying to companies which use mali and which have no interest in using an open source driver for mali is completely out, as that would mean working on the ARM binary driver, which in turn would mean that i would no longer be allowed to work on lima. All other companies have not gotten with the times with respect to hiring policies, this ranges from demanding that people relocate to interviewing solely about OpenGL spec corners for supposed driver development positions. There was one case in this whole time which had a proper first level interview, and where everything seemed to be working out, only to go dead without a proper explanation after a while. I have since learned from two independent sources that my hiring was stopped due to politics involving ARM. Lima has done wonders making me totally unhirable.

In May 2013 i wrote another proposal to ARM for an open source strategy for Mali (the first was done in Q2 2011 as part of codethink), hoping that in the meantime sentiments had shifted enough and that the absence of an in-between company would make the difference this time round. It got the unofficial backing of some people inside ARM, but they just ended up getting their heads chewed off, and I hope that they didn't suffer too much for trying to do the right thing. The speed with which this proposal was rejected by Jem Davies (ARM MPD VP of Technology), and the undertone of the email reply he sent me, suggests that his mind was made up beforehand and that he wasn't too happy about my actions this time either. This is quite amazing, as one would expect anyone at the VP level of a major company to at least keep his options open. Between the way in which this proposal was rejected and the political pressure ARM seems to apply against Lima, Mr Davies his claims that ARM simply has no customer demand and no budget, and nothing more, are very hard to believe.

So after the polite applause at the end of my FOSDEM2014 talks, it hit me. That applause was the only support i was going to ever get for my work, and i was just going to continue to hit walls everywhere, both with lima and in life. And it would take another year until the next applause, if at all. To be absolutely honest, given the way the modesetting and ATI stories worked out, i should be used to that by now, however hard it still is. But this time round i had been (and of course still am) living with my fantastic and amazingly understanding girlfriend for several years, and she ended up supporting me through Q4 2013 and most of 2014 when my unemployment benefit ran out. This time round, my trailblazing wasn't backfiring on me alone, i was dragging someone else down with me, someone who deserves much better.

I ended up being barely able to write code throughout most of 2014, and focused entirely on linux-sunxi. The best way to block things out was rewriting the linux-sunxi wiki, and that wiki is now lightyears ahead of everything else out there, and an example for everyone else (like linux-exynos and linux-rockchip) for years to come. The few code changes i did make were always tiny and trivial. In august Siarhei Siamashka convinced me that a small display driver for sunxi for u-boot would be a good quick project, and i hoped that it would wet my appetite for proper code again. Sadly though, the fact that sunxi doesn't hide all chip details like the Raspberry Pi does (this was the target device for simplefb) meant that simplefb had to be (generically) extended, and this proved once and for all that simplefb is a total misnomer and that people had been kidding themselves all along (i seem to always run into things like this). The resulting showdown had about 1.5 times the number of emails as simplefb has lines of C code. Needless to say, this did not help my mood either.

In June 2014, a very good friend of mine, who has been a Qt consultant for ages, convinced me to try consulting again. It took until October before something suited came along. This project was pretty hopeless from the start, but it reinstated my faith in my problem solving skills and how valuable those really could be, both for a project, and, for a change, for myself. While i wasn't able to afford traveling to Bordeaux for XDC2014, i was able to afford FOSDEM2015 and I am paying for my own upkeep for the first time in a few years. Finally replacing my incredibly worn and battered probook is still out of the question though.

When i was putting together the FOSDEM Graphics DevRoom schedule around christmas, I noticed that there was a inexcuseably low amount of talks, and my fingers became itchy again. The consulting job had boosted morale sufficiently to do some code again and showing off some initial renders on Mali T series seemed doable within the 5 or so weeks left. It gave the FOSDEM graphics devroom another nice scoop, and filled in one of the many many gaps in the schedule. This time round i didn't kid myself that it would change the world or help boost my profile or anything. This time round, i was just going to prove to myself that i have learned a lot since doing Lima, and that i can do these sort of things still, with ease, while having fun doing so and not exerting myself too much. And that's exactly what I did, nothing more and nothing less.

The vultures are circling.

When Egbert Eich and I were brainstorming about freeing ATI back in April and May of 2007, I stated that I feared that certain "community" members would not accept me doing something this big, and I named 3 individuals by name. While I was initially alone with that view, we did decide that, in light of the shitthrowing contest around XGL and compiz, doing everything right for RadeonHD was absolutely paramount. This is why we did everything in the open, at least from the moment AMD allowed us to do so. Open docs, irc channel, public ml, as short a turn-around on patches as possible given our quality standards and the fact that ATI was not helping at all. I did have a really tough uphill battle convincing everyone that doing native C code was the only way, as, even with all the technical arguments for native code, I knew that my own reputation was at stake. I knew that if I had accepted AtomBIOS for basic modesetting, after only just having convinced the world that BIOS free modesetting was the only way forward, I would've personally been nailed to the cross by those same people.

From the start we knew that ATI was not going to go down without a fight on this one, and I feared that those "community" members would do many things to try to damage this project, but we did not anticipate AMD losing political control over ATI internally, nor did we anticipate the lack of scruples of those individuals. AMD needed this open source driver to be good, as the world hated fglrx to the extent that the ATI reputation was dragging AMDs chips and server market down, and AMD was initially very happy with our work on RadeonHD. Yet to our amazement, some ATI employees sided with those same "community" members, and together they worked on a fork of RadeonHD, but this time doing everything the ATI way, like fglrx.

The amount of misinformation and sometimes even downright slander in this whole story was amazing. Those individuals were actively working on remarketing RadeonHD as an evil Microsoft/Novell conspiracy and while the internet previously was shouting "death to fglrx", it ended up shouting "death to radeonhd". Everyone only seemed to want to join into the shouting, and nobody took a step back to analyze what was really going on. This was ATI & red hat vs AMD & SuSE, and it had absolutely nothing to do with creating the best possible open source driver for ATI hardware.

During all of this I was being internally reminded that SuSE is the good guy and that it doesn't stoop down to the level of the shitthrowers. Being who I am, I didn't always manage to restrain myself, but even today I feel that if I had been more vocal, i could've warded off some of the most inane nonsense that was spewed. When Novell clipped SuSEs wings even further after FOSDEM2009, i was up for the chop too, and I was relieved as i finally could get some distance between myself and this clusterfuck (that once was a free software dream). I also knew that my reputation was in tatters, and that if i had been more at liberty to debunk things, the damage there could've been limited.

The vultures had won, and no-one had called them out for their insidious and shameless behaviour. In fact, they felt empowered, free to use whatever nasty and underhand tactics against anything that doesn't suit them for political or egotistical reasons. This is why the hacking of the RadeonHD repository occured, and why the reaction of the X.org community was aimed against the messenger and victim, and not against the evil-doers (I was pretty certain before I sent that emial that it was either one or the other, i hadn't forseen that it would be both though).

So when the idea of Lima formed in March 2011, I no longer just feared that these people would react. I knew for a fact that they would be there, ready to pounce on the first misstep made. This fed my frustration with how Lima was being treated by Codethink, as I knew that, in the end, I would be the one paying the price again. Similarly, if my code was not good enough, these individuals would think nothing of it to step in, rewrite history, and then trash me for not having done corner X or Y, as that was part of their modus operandi when they destroyed RadeonHD.

So these last few years, i have been caught in a catch-22 situation. ARM GPUs are becoming free, and I have clearly achieved what i set out to achieve. The fact that I so badly misjudged both ARM and the level of support i would get should not take away from the fundamental changes that came from my labour. Logically and pragmatically, it should be pretty hard to fault me in this whole story, but this is not how this game works. No matter what fundamental difference I could've made with lima, no matter how large and clear my contributions and sacrifices would be, these people would still try to distort history and try their utmost best to defame me. And now that moment has come.

But there are a few fundamental differences this time round: I am able to respond as i see fit as there is no corporate structure to shut me up, and I truly have nothing left to lose.

What started this?

To put it short:
12:59 #dri-devel: < Jasper> the alternative is fund an open-source replacement, but touching
                  lima is not an option
Jasper St. Pierre is very vocal on #dri-devel, constantly coming up with questions and asking for help or guidance. But he and his employer Endless Mobile seem to have their mind set on using the ARM Mali DDK, ARMs binary driver. He is working on integrating the Mali DDK with things like wayland, and he is very active in getting help on doing so. He has been doing so for several months now.

The above irc quote is not what i initially responded to though, the following is however:
13:01 #dri-devel: < Jasper> lima is tainted
13:01 #dri-devel: < Jasper> there's still code somewhere on a certain person's hard disk he
                  won't release because he's mad about things and the other project contributors
                  all quit
13:01 #dri-devel: < Jasper> you know that
13:02 #dri-devel: < Jasper> i'm not touching lima with a ten foot pole.
This is pure unadulterated slander.

Lima is not in any way tainted. It is freshly written MIT code and I was never exposed to original ARM code. This statement is an outrageous lie, and it is amazing that anyone in the open source world would lie like that and expect to get away with it.

Secondly, I am not "mad about things". I am severely de-motivated, which is quite different. But even then, apart from me not producing much code, there had been no real indication to Jasper St Pierre until that point that this were the case. Also, "all" the contributors to Lima did not quit. I am still there, albeit not able to produce much in the way of code atm. Connor is in college now and just spent the summer interning for Intel writing a new IR for mesa (and was involved with Khronos SPIR-V). Ben Brewer only worked on Lima on codethink's time, and that was stopped halfway 2012. Those were the only major contributors to Lima. The second line Jasper said there was another baseless lie.

Here is another highly questionable statement from Mr. St Pierre:
13:05 #dri-devel: < Jasper> robclark, i think it's too late tbh -- any money we throw at lima
                  would be tainted i think
What Jasper probably meant is that HE is the one who is tainted by having worked with the ARM Mali DDK directly. But his quick fire statements at 13:01 definitely could've fooled anyone into something entirely different. Anyone who reads that sees "Lima is tainted because libv is a total asshole". This is how things worked during RadeonHD as well. Throw some halftruths out together, and let the internet noise machine do the rest.

Here is an example of what happens then:
13:11 #dri-devel: < EdB> Jasper: what about the open source driver that try to support the next
                  generation (I don't remember the name). Is it also tainted ?
13:19 #dri-devel: < EdB> I never heard of that lima tainted things before and I was surprised
Notice that Jasper made absolutely no effort to properly clarify his statements afterwards. This is where i came in to at least try to defuse this baseless shitthrowing.

When Jasper was confronted, his statements became even more, let's call it, varied. Suddenly, the reason for not using lima is stated here:
13:53 #dri-devel: < Jasper> Lima wasn't good enough in a performance evaluation and since it
                  showed no activity for a few years, we decided to pay for a DDK in order to 
                  ship a product instead of working on Lima instead.
To me, that sounds like a pretty complete reason as to why Endless Mobile chose not to use Lima at the time. It does however not exclude trying to help further Lima at the same time, or later on, like now. But then the following statements came out of Jasper...
13:56 #dri-devel: < Jasper> libv, if we want to contribute to Lima, how can we do so?
13:57 #dri-devel: < Jasper> We'd obviously love an active open-source driver for Mali.
13:58 #dri-devel: < Jasper> I didn't see any way to contribute money through http://limadriver.org/
13:58 #dri-devel: < Jasper> Or have consulting done
Good to know... But then...
13:58 #dri-devel: < libv> Jasper: you or your company could've asked.
13:59 #dri-devel: < Jasper> My understanding was that we did.
13:59 #dri-devel: < Jasper> But that happened before I arrived.
13:59 #dri-devel: < libv> definitely not true.
13:59 #dri-devel: < Jasper> I was told we tried to reach out to the Lima project with no response.
                  I don't know how or what happened.
14:00 #dri-devel: < libv> i would remember such an extremely rare event
The supposed reaching out from EndlessM to lima seems pretty weird when taking the earlier statements into account, like at 13:53 and especially at 13:01. Why would anyone make those statements and then turn around and offer to help. What is Jasper hiding?

After that I couldn't keep my mouth shut and voiced my own frustration with how demotivated i am on doing the cleanup and release, and whined about some possible reasons as to why that is so. And then, suddenly...
14:52 #dri-devel: < Jasper> libv, so the reason we didn't contribute to Lima was because we didn't
                  imagine anything would come of it.
14:53 #dri-devel: < Jasper> It seems we were correct.
It seems that now Jasper his memory was refreshed, again, and that EndlessM never did reach out for another reason altogether...

A bit further down, Jasper lets the following slip:
14:57 #dri-devel: < Jasper> libv, I know about the radeonhd story. jrb has told me quite a lot.
14:58 #dri-devel: < Jasper> Jonathan Blandford. My boss at Endless, and my former boss at Red Hat.
And suddenly the whole thing becomes clear. In the private conversation that ensued Jasper explained that he is good friends with exactly the 3 persons named before, and that those 3 persons told him all he wanted to know about the RadeonHD project. It also seems that Jonathan Blandford was, in some way, involved with Red Hats decision to sign a pact with the ATI devil to produce a fork of a proper open source driver for AMD. These people simply never will go near anything I do, and would rather spend their time slandering yours truly than to actually contribute or provide support, and this is exactly what has been happening here too.

This brings us straight back to what was stated before anything else i quoted so far:
12:57 #dri-devel: < EdB> Jasper: I guess lima is to be avoided
12:58 #dri-devel: < Jasper> EdB, yeah, but that's not for legal reasons
Not for legal reasons indeed.

But the lies didn't end there. Next to coming up with more reasons to not contribute to lima, in that same private conversation Jasper "kindly" suggested that he'd continue Lima if only i throw my code over the wall. Didn't he state previously that Lima was tainted, with which i think he meant that he was tainted and couldn't work on lima?


At the time, i knew i was being played and bullshitted, but I couldn't make it stick on a single statement alone in the maelstrom that is IRC. It is only after rereading the irc log and putting Jaspers statements next to eachother that the real story becomes clear. You might feel that i am reading too much into this, and that i have deliberately taken Jaspers statements out of context to make him look bad. But I implore you to verify the above with the irc log, and you will see that i have left very little necessary context out. The above is Jaspers statements, with my commentary, put closely together, removing the noise (which is a really bad description for the rest of the irc discussion that went on at that time) and boosting the signal. Jasper statements are highly erratic, they make no sense when they are considered collectively as truths, and some are plain lies when considered individually.

Jasper has been spending a lot of time asking for help for supporting a binary driver. Nobody in the business does that. I guess that (former) red hat people are special. I still have not understood why it is that Red Hat is able to get away with so much while companies like canonical and SuSE get trashed so easily. But that is besides the point here; no-one questioned why Jasper is wasting so much time of open source developers on a binary driver. Jasper was indirectly asked why he was not using Lima, nothing more.

If Jasper had just stated that Endless Mobile decided to not use Lima because Endless Mobile thought Lima was not far enough along yet, and that Endless Mobile did not have the resources to do or fund all the necessary work still, then i think that that would've been an acceptable answer for EdB. It's not something i like hearing, but i am quite used to this by now. Crucially though, i would not have been in a position to complain.

Jasper instead went straight to trashing me and my work, with statements that can only be described as slander. When questioned, he then gave a series of mutually exclusive statements, which can only be explained as "making things up as he goes along", working very hard to mask the original reasons for not supporting Lima at all.

This is more than just "Lima is not ready", otherwise Jasper would have been comfortable sticking to that story. Jasper, his boss and Endless Mobile did not decide against Lima on any technical or logistical basis. This whole story never was about code at all. These people simply would do anything but support something that involves me, no matter how groundbreaking, necessary or worthy my work is. They would much rather trash and re-invent, and then trash some more...

It of course did not take long for the other vultures to join the frenzy... When the discussion on irc was long over, Daniel Stone made one attempt to revive it, to no avail. Then, a day later, someone anonymously informed phoronix, and Dave Airlie could then clearly be seen to try to stoke the fire, again, with limited success. I guess the fact that most of the phoronix users still only care about desktop hardware played to my advantage here (for once). It does very clearly show how these people work though, and I know that they will continue to try to play this card, trying hard to trigger another misstep from me or a cause a proper shitstorm on the web.

So what now.

Now I have a choice. I can wait until i am in the mood to clean up this code and produce something useful for public consumption, and in the meantime see my name and my work slandered. Or... If i throw my (nasty) code over the wall, someone will rename/rewrite it, mess up a lot of things, and trash me for not having done corner X or Y, so essentially slander me and my work and probably even erase my achievements from history, by using more of my work against me... And in the latter case i give people like Jasper and companies like Endless Mobile what they want, in spite of their contemptible actions and statements. Logically, there is only one conclusion possible in that constellation.

At the end of the day, i am still the author of this code and it was my time that I burned on it, my life that i wasted on it. I have no obligations to anyone, and am free to do with my code what i want. I cannot be forced into anything. I will therefor release my work, under my own terms, when i want to and when i feel ok doing so.

This whole incident did not exactly motivate me to spend time on cleaning code up and releasing it. At best, it confirmed my views on open source software and certain parts of the X.org community.

This game never was about code or about doing The Right Thing, and never will be.
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FOSDEM and early Tamil driver work. [Feb. 18th, 2015|09:22 am]
Luc Verhaegen
[Tags|, , , , , , , , , , , ]
[Current Location |Rumpelkammer.]
[mood |Tired.]
[music |Dr. Toast - So Loud The Noise Of Stars]


It was another great FOSDEM this year. Even with their 5-10.000 attendants, the formula of being absolutely free, with limited sponsorship, and while only making small changes each year is an absolute winner. There is just no conference which comes even close to FOSDEM.

For those on ICE14 on Friday, the highspeed train from Frankfurt to Brussels south at 14:00, who were so nice to participate in my ad-hoc visitor count: 66. I counted 66 people, but i might have skipped a few as people were sometimes too engrossed in their laptops to hear me over their headphones. On a ~400 seat train, that's a pretty high number, and i never see the same level of geekiness on the Frankfurt to Brussels trains as on the Friday before FOSDEM. If it didn't sound like an organizational nightmare, it might have been a good idea to talk to DB and get a whole carriage reserved especially for FOSDEM goers.

With the Graphics DevRoom we returned to the K building this year, and i absolutely love the cozy 80 people classrooms we have there. With good airflow, freely movable tables, and an easy way to put in my powersockets, i have an easy time as a devroom organizer. While some speakers probably prefer bigger rooms to have a higher number of attendants, there is nothing like the more direct interaction of the rooms in the K buildings. With us sitting on the top floor, we also only had people who were very actively interested in the topics of the graphics devroom.

Despite the fact that FOSDEM has no equal, and anyone who does anything with open source software in the European Union should attend, i always have a very difficult time recruiting a full set of speakers for the graphics DevRoom. Perhaps the biggest reason for this is the fact that it is a free conference, and it lacks the elitarian status of a paid-for conference. Everyone can attend your talk, even people who do not work on the kernel or on graphics drivers, and the potential speaker might feel as if he needs to waste his time on people who are below his own perceived station. Another reason may be that it is harder to convince the beancounters to sponsor a visit to a free conference. In that case, if you live in the European Union and when you are paid to do open source software, you should be able to afford going to the must-visit FOSDEM by yourself.

As for next year, i am not sure whether there will be a graphics devroom again. Speaker count really was too low and perhaps it is time for another hiatus. Perhaps it is once again time to show people that talking in a devroom at FOSDEM truly is a privilege, and not to be taken for granted.

Tamil "Driver" talk.

My talk this year, or rather, my incoherent mumble finished off with a demo, was about showing my work on the ARM Mali Midgard GPUs. For those who had to endure it, my apologies for my ill-preparedness; i poured all my efforts into the demo (which was finished on Wednesday), and spent too much time doing devroom stuff (which ate Thursday) and of course in drinking up, ahem, the event that is FOSDEM (which ate the rest of the weekend). I will try to make up for it now in this blog post.

Current Tamil Status.

As some might remember, in September and October 2013, i did some preliminary work on the Mali T-series. I spent about 3 to 3.5 weeks building the infrastructure to capture the command stream and replay it. At the same time I also dug deep into the Mali binary driver to expose the binary shader compiler. These two feats gave me all the prerequisites for doing the job of reverse engineering the command stream of the Mali Midgard.

During the Christmas holidays of 2014 and in January 2015, i spent my time building a command stream parser. This is a huge improvement over my work on lima, where i only ended doing so later on in the process (while bringing up Q3A). As i built up the capabilities of this parser, i threw ever more complex GLES2 programs at it. A week before FOSDEM, my parser was correctly handling multiple draws and frames, uniforms, attributes, varyings and textures. Instead of having raw blobs of memory, i had C structs and tables, allowing me to easily see the differences between streams.

I then took the parsed result of my most complex test and slowly turned that into actual C code, using the shader binary produced by the binary compiler, and adding a trivial sequential memory allocator. I then added rotation into the mix, and this is the demo as seen on FOSDEM (and now uploaded to youtube).

All the big things are known.

For textures. I only have simple texture support at this time, no mipmapping nor cubemapping yet, and only RGB565 and RGBA32 are supported at this time. I also still have not figured out how to disable swizzling, instead i re-use the texture swizzling code from lima, the only place where I was able to re-use code in tamil. This missing knowledge is just some busywork, and a bit of coding away.

As for programs, while both the Mali Utgard (M-series) and Midgard (T-series) binary compilers output in a format called MBS (Mali Binary Shader), the contents of each file is significantly different. I had no option but to rewrite the MBS parser for tamil.

Instead of rewriting the vertex shaders binaries like ARMs binary driver does, i reorder the entries in the attribute descriptor table to match the order as described by the shader compiler output. This avoids adding a whole lot of logic to handle this correctly, even though MBS now describes which bits to alter in the binary. I still lay uniforms, attributes and varyings out by hand though, i similarly have only limited knowledge of typing at this point. This mostly is a bit of busywork of writing up the actual logic, and trying out a few different things.

I know only very few things about most of the GL state. Again, mostly busywork with a bit of testing and coding up the results. And while many values left and right are still magic, nothing big is hiding any more.

Unlike lima, i am refraining from building up more infrastructure (than necessary to show the demo) outside of Mesa. The next step really is writing up a mesa driver. Since my lima driver for mesa was already pretty advanced, i should be able to re-use a lot of the knowledge gained there, and perhaps some code.

The demo

The demo was shown on a Samsung ARM Chromebook, with a kernel and linux installation from september 2013 (when i brought up cs capture and exposed the shader compiler). The exynos KMS driver on this 3.4.0 kernel is terrible. It only accepts a few fixed resolutions (as if I never existed and modesetting wasn't a thing), and then panics when you even look at it. Try to leave X while using HDMI: panic. Try to use a KMS plane to display the resulting render: panic.

In the end, i used fbdev and memcpy the rendered frame over to the console. On this kernel, i cannot even disable the console, so some of the visible flashing is the console either being overwritten by or overwriting the copied render.

The youtube video shows a capture of the Chromebooks built in LCD, at 1280x720 on a 1366x768 display. At FOSDEM, i was lucky that the projector accepted the 1280x720 mode the exynos hdmi driver produced. My dumb HDMI->VGA converter (which makes the image darker) was willing to pass this through directly. I have a more intelligent HDMI->VGA adapter which also does scaling and which keeps colours nice, but that one just refused the output of the exynos driver. The video that was captured in our devroom probably does not show the demo correctly, as that should've been at 1024x768.

The demo shows 3 cubes rotating in front of the milky way. It is 4 different draws, using 3 different textures, and 3 different programs. These cubes currently rotate at 47fps, with the memcpy. During the talk, the chromebook slowed down progressively down to 26fps and even 21fps at one point, but i have not seen that behaviour before or since. I do know of an issue that makes the demo fail at frame 79530, which is 100% reproducible. I still need to track this down, it probably is an issue with my job handling code.


With Lima and Tamil i am in a very unique position. Unlike on adreno, tegra or Videocore, i have to deal with many different SoCs. Apart from the difference in kernel GPU drivers, i also have to deal with differences in display drivers and run into a whole new world of hurts every time i move over to a new target device. The information for doing a proper linux installation on an android or chrome device is usually dispersed, not up to date, and not too good, and i get to do a lot of the legwork for myself every time, knowing full well that a lot of others have done so already but couldn't be bothered to document things (hence my role in the linux-sunxi community).

The ARM chromebook and its broken kms driver is much of the same. Last FOSDEM i complained how badly supported and documented the Samsung ARM chromebook is, despite its popularity, and appealed for more linux-sunxi style, SoC specific communities, especially since I, as a graphics driver developer, cannot go and spend as much time in each and every of the SoC projects as i have done with sunxi.

During the questions round of this talk, one guy in the audience asked what needed to be done to fix the SoC pain. At first i completely missed the question, upon which he went and rephrased his question. My answer was: provide the infrastructure, make some honest noise and people will come. Usually, when some asks such a question, nothing ever comes from it. But Merlijn "Wizzup" Wajer and his buddy S.J.R. "Swabbles" van Schaik really came through.

Today there is the linux-exynos.org wiki, the linux-exynos mailinglist, and the #linux-exynos irc channel. While the community is not as large as linux-sunxi, it is steadily growing. So if you own exynos based hardware, or if your company is basing a product on the exynos chipset, head to linux-exynos.org and help these guys out. Linux-exynos deserves your support.
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PowerVR SGX code leaked. [Nov. 21st, 2014|11:22 pm]
Luc Verhaegen
[Tags|, , , , , , , , , ]
[Current Location |Rumpelkammer again, finally.]
[mood |Appalled at people, but hopeful.]
[music |Foo Fighters - The colour and the shape - Monkey wrench]

So someone leaked 2011 era PowerVR SGX microcode and user space... And now everyone is pissing themselves like a bunch of overexcited puppies...

I've been fed links from several sides now, and i cannot believe how short-sighted and irresponsible people are, including a few people who should know better.


Having gotten that out of the way, I am writing this blog to put everyone straight and stop the nonsense, and to calmly explain why this leak is not a good thing.

Before i go any further, IANAL, but i clearly do seem to tread much more carefully on these issues than most. As always, feel free to debunk what i write here in the comments, especially you actual lawyers, especially those lawyers in the .EU.

LIBV and the PVR.

Let me just, once again, state my position towards the PowerVR.

I have worked on the Nokia N9, primarily on the SGX kernel side (which is of course GPLed), but i also touched both the microcode and userspace. So I have seen the code, worked with and i am very much burned on it. Unless IMG itself gives me permission to do so, i am not allowed to contribute to any open source driver for the PowerVR. I personally also include the RGX, and not just SGX, in that list, as i believe that some things do remain the same. The same is true for Rob Clark, who worked with PowerVR when at Texas Instruments.

This is, however, not why i try to keep people from REing the PowerVR.

The reason why i tell people to stay away is because of the design of the PowerVR and its driver stack: PVR is heavily microcode driven, and this microcode is loaded through the kernel from userspace. The microcode communicates directly with the kernel through some shared structs, which change depending on build options. There are sometimes extensive changes to both the microcode, kernel and userspace code depending on the revision of the SGX, customer project and build options, and sometimes the whole stack is affected, from microcode to userspace. This makes the powervr a very unstable platform: change one component, and the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. A nightmare for system integrators, but also bad news for people looking to provide a free driver for this platform. As if the murderous release cycle of mobile hardware wasn't bad enough of a moving target already.

The logic behind me attempting to keep people away from REing the PowerVR is, at one end, the attempt to focus the available decent developers on more rewarding GPUs and to keep people from burning out on something as shaky as the PowerVR. On the other hand, by getting everyone working on the other GPUs, we are slowly forcing the whole market open, singling out Imagination Technologies. At one point, IMG will be forced to either do this work itself, and/or to directly support open sourcing themselves, or to remain the black sheep forever.

None of the above means that I am against an open source driver for PVR, quite the opposite, I just find it more productive to work on the other GPUs amd wait this one out.

Given their bad reputation with system integrators, their shaky driver/microcode design, and the fact that they are in a cut throat competition with ARM, Imagination Technologies actually has the most to gain from an open source driver. It would at least take some of the pain out of that shaky microcode/kernel/userspace combination, and make a lot of peoples lives a lot easier.

This is not open source software.

Just because someone leaked this code, it has not magically become free software.

It is still just as proprietary as before. You cannot use this code in any open source project, or at all, the license on it applies just as strongly as before. If you download it, or distribute it, or whatever other actions forbidden in the license, you are just as accountable as the other parties in the chain.

So for all you kiddies who now think "Great, finally an open driver for PowerVR, let's go hack our way into celebrity", you couldn't be more wrong. At best, you just tainted yourself.

But the repercussion go further than that. The simple fact that this code has been leaked has cast a very dark shadow on any future open source project that might involve the powervr. So be glad that we have been pretty good at dissuading people from wasting their time on powervr, and that this leak didn't end up spoiling many man-years of work.

Why? Well, let's say that there was an advanced and active PowerVR reverse engineering project. Naturally, the contributors would not be able to look at the leaked code. But it goes further than that. Say that you are the project maintainer of such a reverse engineered driver, how do you deal with patches that come in from now on? Are you sure that they are not taken more or less directly from the leaked driver? How do you prove this?

Your fun project just turned from a relatively straightforward REing project to a project where patches absolutely need to be signed-off, and where you need to establish some severe trust into your contributors. That's going to slow you down massively.

But even if you can manage to keep your code clean, the stigma will remain. Even if lawyers do not get involved, you will spend a lot of time preparing yourself for such an eventuality. Not a fun position to be in.

The manpower issue.

I know that any clued and motivated individual can achieve anything. I also know that really clued people, who are dedicated and can work structuredly are extremely rare and that their time is unbelievably valuable.

With the exception of Rob, who is allowed to spend some of his redhat time on the freedreno driver, none of the people working on the open ARM GPU drivers have any support. Working on such a long haul project without support either limits the amount of time available for it, or severely reduces the living standard of the person doing so, or anywhere between those extremes. If you then factor in that there are only a handful of people working on a handful of drivers, you get individuals spending several man-years mostly on their own for themselves.

If you are wondering why ARM GPU drivers are not moving faster, then this is why. There are just a limited few clued individuals who are doing this, and they are on their own, and they have been at it for years by now. Think of that the next time you want to ask "Is it done yet?".

This is why I tried to keep people from REing the powerVR, what little talent and stamina there is can be better put to use on more straightforward GPUs. We have a hard enough time as it is already.

Less work? More work!

If you think that this leaked driver takes away much of the hard work of reverse engineering and makes writing an open source driver easy, you couldn't be more wrong.

This leak means that here is no other option left apart from doing a full clean room. And there need to be very visible and fully transparent processes in place in a case like this. Your one man memory dumper/bit-poker/driver writer just became at least two persons. One of them gets to spend his time ogling bad code (which proprietary code usually ends up being), trying to make sense of it, and then trying to write extensive documentation about it (without being able to test his findings much). The other gets to write code from that documentation, but also little more. Both sides are very much forbidden to go back and forth between those two positions.

As if we ARM GPU driver developers didn't have enough frustration to deal with, and the PVR stack isn't bad enough already, the whole situation just got much much worse.

So for all those who think that now the floodgates are open for PowerVR, don't hold your breath. And to those who now suddenly want to create an open source driver for the powervr, i ask: you and what army?

For all those who are rinsing out their shoes ask yourself how many unsupported man-years you will honestly be able to dedicate to this, and whether there will be enough individuals who can honestly claim the same. Then pick your boring task, and then stick to it. Forever. And hope that the others also stick to their side of this bargain.

LOL, http://goo.gl/kbBEPX

What have we come to?

The leaked source code of a proprietary graphics driver is not something you should be spreading amongst your friends for "Lolz", especially not amongst your open source graphics driver developing friends.

I personally am not too bothered about the actual content of this one, the link names were clear about what it was, and I had seen it before. I was burned before, so i quickly delved in to verify that this was indeed SGX userspace. In some cases, with the links being posted publicly, i then quickly moved on to dissuade people from looking at it, for what limited success that could have had.

But what would i have done if this were Mali code, and the content was not clear from the link name? I got lucky here.

I am horrified about the lack of responsibility of a lot of people. These are not some cat pictures, or some nude celebrities. This is code that forbids people from writing graphics drivers.

But even if you haven't looked at this code yet, most of the damage has been done. A reverse engineered driver for powervr SGX will now probably never happen. Heck, i just got told that someone even went and posted the links to the powerVR REing mailinglist (which luckily has never seen much traffic). I wonder how that went:
Are you the guys doing the open source driver for PowerVR SGX?
I have some proprietary code here that could help you speed things along.
Good luck!

So for the person who put this up on github: thank you so much. I hope that you at least didn't use your real name. I cannot imagine that any employer would want to hire anyone who acts this irresponsibly. Your inability to read licenses means that you cannot be trusted with either proprietary code or open source code, as you seem unable to distinguish between them. Well done.

The real culprit is of course LG, for crazily sticking the GPL on this. But because one party "accidentally" sticks a GPL on that doesn't make it GPL, and that doesn't suddenly give you the right to repeat the mistake.

Last months ISA release.

And now for something slightly different...

Just over a month ago, there was the announcement about Imagination Technologies' new SDK. Supposedly, at least according to the phoronix article, Imagination Technologies made the ISA (instruction set architecture) of the RGX available in it.

This was not true.

What was released was the assembly language for the PowerVR shaders, which then needs to be assembled by the IMG RGX assembler to provide the actual shader binaries. This is definitely not the ISA, and I do not know whether it was Alexandru Voica (an Imagination marketing guy who suddenly became active on the phoronix forums, and who i believe to be the originator of this story) or the author of the article on Phoronix who made this error. I do not think that this was bad intent though, just that something got lost in translation.

The release of the assembly language is very nice though. It makes it relatively straightforward to match the assembly to the machine code, and takes away most of the pain of ISA REing.

Despite the botched message, this was a big step forwards for ARM GPU makers; Imagination delivered what its customers need (in this case, the ability to manually tune some shaders), and in the process it also made it easier for potential REers to create an open source driver.

Looking forward.

Between the leak, the assembly release, and the market position Imagination Technologies is in, things are looking up though.

Whereas the leak made a credible open source reverse engineering project horribly impractical and very unlikely, it did remove some of the incentive for IMG to not support an open source project themselves. I doubt that IMG will now try to bullshit us with the inane patent excuse. The (not too credible) potential damage has been done here already now.

With the assembly language release, a lot of the inner workings and the optimization of the RGX shaders was also made public. So there too the barrier has disappeared.

Given the structure of the IMG graphics driver stack, system integrators have a limited level of satisfaction with IMG. I really doubt that this has improved too much since my Nokia days. Going open source now, by actively supporting some clued open source developers and by providing extensive NDA-free documentation, should not pose much of a legal or political challenge anymore, and could massively improve the perception of Imagination Technologies, and their hardware.

So go for it, IMG. No-one else is going to do this for you, and you can only gain from it!
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ARM Mali Midgard, as featured on Anandtech. [Jul. 16th, 2014|12:40 pm]
Luc Verhaegen
[Tags|, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ]
[Current Location |Rumpelkammer]
[music |Arms and Sleepers - Antwerp]

Anandtech recently went all out on the ARM midgard architecture (Mali T series). This was quite astounding, as ARM MPD tends to be a pretty closed shop. The Anandtech coverage included an in-depth view of the Mali Midgard GPU, a (short) Q&A session with Jem Davies (the head honcho of ARM MPD, ARMs Media Processing Division, the part of ARM that develops the Mali and display and video engines) and a google hangout with Jem Davies a week later.

This set of articles does not seem like the sort of thing that ARM MPD would have initiated itself. Since both Imagination Technologies and NVidia did something similar months earlier, my feeling is that this was either initiated by Anand Lal Shimpi himself, or that this was requested by ARM marketing in response to the other articles.

Several interesting observations can be made from this though, especially from the answers (or sometimes, lack thereof) to the Q&A and google hangout sessions.

Hiding behind Linaro.

First off, Mr Davies still does not see an open source driver as a worthwhile endeavour for ARM MPD, and this is a position that hasn't changed since i started the lima driver, when my former employer went and talked to ARM management. Rumour has it that most of ARMs engineers both in MPD and other departments would like this to be different, and that Mr Davies is mostly alone with his views, but that's currently just hearsay. He himself states that there are only business reasons against an open source driver for the mali.

To give some weight to this, Mr Davies stated that he contributed to the linux kernel, and i called him out on that one, as i couldn't find any mention of him in a kernel git tree. It seems however that his contributions are from during the Bitkeeper days, and that the author trail on those changes probably got lost. But, having contributed to a project at one point or another is, to me, not proof that one actively supports the idea of open source software, at best it proves that adding support to the kernel for a given ARM device or subsystem was simply necessary at one point.

Mr Davies also talked about how ARM is investing a lot in linaro, as a proof of ARMs support of open source software. Linaro is a consortium to further linux on ARM, so per definition ARM plays a very big role in it. But it is not ARM MPD that drives linaro, it is ARM itself. So this is not proof of ARM MPD actively supporting open source software. Mr Davies did not claim differently, but this distinction should be made very clear in this context.

Then, linaro can be described as an industry consortium. For non-founding members of a consortium, such a construction is often used to park some less useful people while gaining the priviledge to claim involvement as and when desired. The difference to other consortiums is that most of the members come from a deeply embedded background, where the word "open" never was spoken before, and, magically, simply by having joined linaro, those deeply embedded companies now feel like they succesfully ticked the "open source" box on their marketing checklist. Several of linaros members are still having severe difficulty conforming to the GPL, but they still proudly wear the linaro badge as proof of their open source...ness?

As a prominent member of the sunxi community, I am most familiar with Allwinner, a small chinese cheap SoC designer. At the start of the year, we were seeing some solid signs of Allwinner opening up to our community directly. In March however, Allwinner joined linaro and people were hopeful that this meant that a new era of openness had started for Allwinner. As usual, I was the only cynical voice and i warned that this could mean that Allwinner now wouldn't see the need to further engage with us. Ever since, we haven't been able to reach our contacts inside Allwinner anymore, and even our requests for compliance with the GPL get ignored.

Linaro membership does not absolve from limited open source involvement or downright license violation, but for many members, this is exactly how it is used. Linaro seems to be a get-out-of-jail-free card for several of its members. Linaro membership does not need to prove anything, linaro membership even seems to have the opposite effect in several cases.

ARM driving linaro is simply no proof that ARM MPD supports open source software.

The patent excuse.

I am amazed that people still attempt to use this as an argument against open source graphics drivers.

Usually this is combined with the claim that open source drivers are exposing too much of the inner workings of the hardware. But this logic in itself states that the hardware is the problem, not the software. The hardware itself might or might not have patent issues, and it is just a matter of time before the owner of said breached patents will come a-knocking. At best, an open source driver might speed up the discovery of said issues, but the driver itself never is the cause, as the problems will have been there all along.

One would actually think that the Anandtech article about the midgard architecture would reveal more about the hardware, and trigger more litigation, than the lima driver could ever do, especially given how neatly packaged an in depth anandtech article is. Yet ARM MPD seemed to have had no issue with exposing this much information in their marketing blitz.

I also do not believe that patents are such a big issue. If graphics hardware patents were such big business, you would expect that an industry expert in graphics, especially one who is a dab hand at reverse engineering, would be contacted all the time to help expose potential patent issues. Yet i never have been contacted, and i know of no-one who ever has been.

Similarly. the first bits of lima code were made available 2.5 years ago, with bits trickling out slowly (much to my regret), and there are still several unknowns today. If lima played any role in patent disputes, you would again expect that i would be asked to support those looking to assert their patents. Again, nothing.

GPU Patents are just an excuse, nothing more.

When I was at SuSE, we freed ATI for AMD, and we never did hear that excuse. AMD wanted a solid open source strategy for ATI as ATI was not playing ball after the merger, and the bad publicity was hurting server (CPU) sales. Once the decision was made to go the open source route, patents suddenly were not an issue anymore. We did however have to deal with IP issues (or actually, AMD did - we made very sure we didn't get anything that wasn't supposed to be free), such as HDCP and media decoding, which ATI was not at liberty to make public. Given the very heated war that ATI and Nvidia fought at the time, and the huge amount of revenue in this market, you would think that ATI would be a very likely candidate for patent litigation, yet this never stood in the way of an open source driver.

There is another reason as to why patents are that popular an excuse. The words "troll" and "legal wrangling" are often sprinkled around as well so that images of shady deals being made by lawyers in smokey backrooms usually come to mind. Yet we never get to hear the details of patent cases, as even Mr Davies himself states that ARM is not making details available of ongoing cases. I also do not know of any public details on cases that have been closed already (not that i have actively looked - feel free to enlighten me). Patents are a perfect blanket excuse where proof apparently does not seem to be required.

We open source developers are very much aware of the damage that software patents do, and this makes the patent weapon perfect for deployment against those who support open source software. But there is a difference between software patents and the patent cases that ARM potentially has to deal with on the Mali. Yet we seem to have made patents our own kryptonite, and are way too easily lulled into backing off at the first mention of the word patent.

Patents are a poor excuse, as there is no direct relationship between an open source driver and the patent litigation around the hardware.

The Resources discussion.

As a hardware vendor (or IP provider) doing a free software driver never is for free. A lot of developer time does need to be invested, and this is an ongoing commitment. So yes, a viable open source driver for the Mali will consume some amount of resources.

Mr Davies states that MPD would have to incur this cost on its own, as MPD seems to be a completely separate unit and that further investment can only come from profit made within this group. In light of that information, I must apologize for ever having treated ARM and ARM MPD as one and the same with respect to this topic. I will from now on make it very clear that it is ARM MPD, and ARM MPD alone, that doesn't want an open source mali driver.

I do believe that Mr Davies his cost versus gain calculations are too direct and do not allow for secondary effects.

I also believe that an ongoing refusal to support an open source strategy for Mali will reflect badly on the sale of ARM processors and other IP, especially with ARM now pushing into the server market and getting into intel territory. The actions of ARM MPD do affect ARM itself, and vice versa. Admittedly, not as much as some with those that more closely tie the in-house GPU with the rest of the system, but that's far from an absolute lack of shared dependency and responsibility.

The Mali binary problem.

One person in the Q&A section asked why ARM isn't doing redistributable drivers like Nvidia does for the Tegra. Mr Davies answered that this was a good idea, and that linaro was doing something along those lines.

Today, ironically, I am the canonical source for mali-400 binaries. At the sunxi project, we got some binaries from the Cubietech people, built from code they received from allwinner, and the legal terms they were under did not prevent them from releasing the built binaries to the public. Around them (or at least, using the binaries as a separate git module) I built a small make based installation system which integrates with ARMs open source memory manager (UMP) and even included a quick GLES test from the lima tests. I stopped just short of debian packaging. The sunxi-mali repository, and the wiki tutorial that goes with it, now is used by many other projects (like for instance linux-rockchip) as their canonical source for (halfway usable) GPU support.

There are several severe problems with these binaries, which we have either fixed directly, have been working around or just have to live with. Direct fixes include adding missing library dependencies, and hollowing out a destructor function which made X complain. These are binary hacks. The xf86-video-fbturbo driver from Siarhei Siamashka works around the broken DRI2 buffer management, but it has to try to autodetect how to work around the issues, as it is differently broken on the different versions of the X11 binaries we have. Then there is the flaky coverage, as we only have binaries for a handful of kernel APIs, making it impossible to match them against all vendor provided SoC/device kernels. We also only have binaries for fbdev or X11, and sometimes for android, mostly for armhf, but not always... It's just one big mess, only slightly better than having nothing at all.

Much to our surprise, in oktober of last year, ARM MPD published a howto entry about setting up a working driver for mali midgard on the chromebook. It was a step in the right direction, but involved quite a bit off faff, and Connor Abbott (the brilliant teenager REing the mali shaders) had to go and pour things into a proper git repository so that it would be more immediately useful. Another bout of insane irony, as this laudable step in the right direction by ARM MPD ultimately left something to be desired.

ARM MPD is not like ATI, Nvidia, or even intel, qualcomm or broadcom. The Mali is built into many very different SoC families, and needs to be integrated with different display engines, 2D engines, media engines and memory/cache subsystems.

Even the distribution of drivers is different. From what i understand, mali drivers are handled as follows. The Mali licensees get the relevant and/or latest mali driver source code and access to some support from ARM MPD. The device makers, however, only rarely get their hands on source code themselves and usually have to make do with the binaries provided by the SoC vendor. Similarly, the device maker only rarely gets to deal with ARM MPD directly, and usually needs to deal with some proxy at the SoC vendor. This setup puts the responsibility of SoC integration squarely at the SoC vendor, and is well suited for the current mobile market: one image per device at release, and then almost no updates. But that market is changing with the likes of Cyanogenmod, and other markets are opening or are actively being opened by ARM, and those require a completely different mode of operation.

There is gap in Mali driver support that ARM MPDs model of driver delivery does not cater for today, and ARM MPD knows about this. But MPD is going to be fighting an upbill battle to try to correct this properly.

Binary solutions?

So how can ARM MPD try to tackle this problem?

Would ARM MPD keep the burden of making suitable binaries available solely with SoC vendors or device makers? Not likely as that is a pretty shakey affair that's actively hurting the mali ecosystem. SoCs for the mobile market have incredibly short lives, and SoC and device software support is so fragmented that these vendors would be responsible for backporting bugfixes to a very wide array of kernels and SoC versions. On top of that, those vendors would only support a limited subset of windowing systems, possibly even only android as this is their primary market. Then, they would have to set up the support infrastructure to appropriately deal with user queries and bug reports. Only very few vendors will end up even attempting to do this, and none are doing so today. In the end, any improvement at this end will bring no advantages to the mali brand or ARM MPD. If this path is kept, we will not move on from the abysmal situation we are in today, and the Mali will remain to be seen as a very fragmented product.

ARM MPD has little other option but to try to tackle this itself, directly, and it should do so more proactively than by hiding behind linaro. Unfortunately, to make any real headway here, this means providing binaries for every kernel driver interface, and the SoC vendor changes to those interfaces, on top of other bits of SoC specific integration. But this also means dealing with user support directly, and these users will of course spend half their time asking questions which should be aimed at the SoC vendor. How is ARM MPD going to convince SoC vendors to participate here? Or is ARM MPD going to maintain most of the SoC integration work themselves? Surely it will not keep the burden only at linaro, wasting the resources of the rest of ARM and of linaro partners?

ARM MPD just is in a totally different position than the ATIs and Nvidias of this world. Providing binaries that will satisfy a sufficient part of the need is going to be a huge drain on resources. Sure, MPD is not spending the same amount of resources on optimizing for specific setups and specific games like ATI or Nvidia are doing, but they will instead have to spend it on the different SoCs and devices out there. And that's before we start talking about different windowing infrastructure, beyond surfaceflinger, fbdev or X11. Think wayland, mir, even directFB, or any other special requirements that people tend to have for their embedded hardware.

At best, ARM MPD itself will manage to support surfaceflinger, fbdev and X11 on just a handful of popular devices. But how will ARM MPD know beforehand which devices are going to be popular? How will ARM MPD keep on making sure that the binaries match the available vendor or device kernel trees? Would MPD take the insane route of maintaining their own kernel repositories with a suitable mali kernel driver for those few chosen devices, and backporting changes from the real vendor trees instead? No way.

Attempting to solve this very MPD specific problem with only binaries, to any degree of success, is going to be a huge drain on MPD resources, and in the end, people will still not be satisfied. The problem will remain.

The only fitting solution is an open source driver. Of course, the Samsungs of this world will not ship their flagship phones with just an open source GPU driver in the next few years. But an open source driver will fundamentally solve the issues people currently have with Mali, the issues which fuel both the demand for fitting distributable binaries and for an open source driver. Only an open source driver can be flexible and cost-effective enough to fill that gap. Only an open source driver can get silicon vendors, device makers, solution creators and users chipping in, satisfying their own, very varied, needs.

Change is coming.

The ARM world is rapidly changing. Hardware review sites, which used to only review PC hardware, are more and more taking notice of what is happening in the mobile space. Companies that are still mostly stuck in embedded thinking are having to more and more act like PC hardware makers. The lack of sufficiently broad driver support is becoming a real issue, and one that cannot be solved easily or cheaply with a quick binary fix, especially for those who sell no silicon of their own.

The Mali marketing show on Anandtech tells us that things are looking up. The market is forcing ARM MPD to be more open, and MPD has to either sink or swim. The next step was demonstrated by yours truly and some other very enterprising individuals, and now both Nvidia and Broadcom are going all the way. It is just a matter of time before ARM MPD has to follow, as they need this more than their more progressive competitors.

To finish off, at the end of the Q&A session, someone asked: "Would free drivers gives greater value to the shareholders of ARM?". After a quick braindump, i concluded "Does ARMs lack of free drivers hurt shareholder value?" But we really should be stating "To what extent does ARMs lack of free drivers hurt shareholder value?".
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The Raspberry Pi, en route to becoming a proper open platform. [Mar. 5th, 2014|05:32 pm]
Luc Verhaegen
[Tags|, , , , , , ]
[Current Location |Rumpelkammer]
[mood |happyhappy]
[music |Fatboy Slim - We've come a long way baby - Praise you]

Like most, I was taken by surprise last weekend, I never expected this to happen, at all.

Given that I was the one to poke a rather big hole in the Raspberry Pi image a year and a half ago, and since i have been playing a bit of a role in freeing ARM GPUs these last few years, I thought I'd say a few words on how I see things, and why I said what I said back then, and why I didn't say other things.

It has become a bit of a long read, but this it's a eventful story that spans about two years.

Getting acquainted.

I talked about the lima driver at linuxtag in may 2012. As my contract work wasn't going any where real, I spent two weeks of codethink time (well, it's not as if I ever did spent just 8h per day working on lima) on getting the next step working with lima, so I had something nice to demo at Linuxtag. During that bringup, I got asked to form a plan of attack for freeing the Raspberry Pi GPU, for a big potential customer. Just after my lima talk at the conference, I downloaded some code and images through the linuxtag wifi, and set about finding the shader compiler on the train on the way back.

I am not one for big micro-managed teams where constant communication is required. I am very big on structure and on finding natural boundaries (which is why you have the term modesetting and the structured approach to developing display drivers today). I tend to split up a massive task along those natural boundaries, and then have clued folks take full control and responsibility of those big tough subtasks. This is why I split the massive task of REing a GPU between the command stream side and the shader compiler. This is the plan of attack that I had formed in the first half of 2011 for Mali (which we are still sticking to today), and I was of course looking to repeat that for the RPi.

On the train, I disassembled glCompileShader from the VideoCore userspace binary, and found the code to be doing surprisingly little. It quickly went down to some routines which were used by pretty much all gl and egl calls. And those lower routines were basically taking in some ids and some data, and then passing it to the kernel. A look at the kernel code then told me that there was nothing but passing data through happening at that side...

There was nothing real going on, as all the nifty bits were running somewhere else.

In the next few days, I talked to some advanced RPi users on IRC, and we figured out that even the bootloader runs on the Videocore and that that brings up the ARM core. A look at the 3 different binary blobs, for 3 different memory divisions between the ARM and the VideoCore, revealed that they were raw blobs, running directly on the videocore. Strings were very clearly visible, and what was immediately clear is that it was mostly differences in addresses between the 3 blobs. Apart from the addresses, nothing was immediately apparent, apart from the fact that even display code was done by the Videocore. I confirmed with Ben Brewer, who was then working on the shaders for Lima, and who has a processor design background.

The news therefor wasn't good. The Raspberry Pi is a completely closed system with a massive black box pulling all the strings. But at least it is consistently closed, and there is only limited scope for making userspace and 'The Blob' getting out of sync, unlike the PowerVR, where userspace, kernel and microcode are almost impossible to keep in sync.

So I wrote up the proposal for the potential customer (you know who you are), basically a few manmonths of busywork (my optimistic estimate doubled, and then doubled again, as I never do manage to keep my own optimistic timelines) to free the userspace shim, and a potential month for Ben for poking at the videocore blobs. Of course, I never heard back from codethink sales, which was expected with news that was this bad.

I decided to stay silent about the Raspberry Pi being such a closed system, at least for a few weeks. For once, this customer was trying to do The Right Thing by talking to the right people, instead of just making big statements, no matter what damage they cause or what morals they breach. I ended up being quite busy in the next few months and I kind of forgot about making some noise. This came back to haunt me later on.

The noise.

So on oktober 24th of 2012, the big announcement came. Here is the excerpt that I find striking:
"[...] the Raspberry Pi is the first ARM-based multimedia SoC with
fully-functional, vendor-provided (as opposed to partial, reverse engineered)
fully open-source drivers, and that Broadcom is the first vendor to open their
mobile GPU drivers up in this way. We at the Raspberry Pi Foundation hope to
see others follow."
While the text of the announcement judiciously talks about "userland" and "VideoCore driver code which runs on the ARM", it all goes massively downhill with the above excerpt. Together wit the massive cheering coming from the seemingly very religious RPi community, the fact that the RPis SoC was a massively closed system was completely drowned out.

Sure, this release was a very good step in the right direction. It allowed people to port and properly maintain the RPi userspace drivers, and took away a lot of the overhead for integration. But the above statement very deliberately brushed the truth about the BCM2835 SoC under the carpet, and then went on to brashly call for other vendors to follow suit, even though those others had chosen very different paths in their system design, and did not depend on a massive all-controlling black box.

I was appalled. Why was this message so deliberately crafted in what should be a very open project? How could people be so shortsighted and not see the truth, even with the sourcecode available?

What was even worse was the secondary message here. To me, it stated "we are perfectly happy with the big binary blob pulling the strings in the background". And with their call to other vendors, they pretty much told them: "keep the real work closed, but create an artificial shim to aid porting!". Not good.

So I went and talked to the other guys on the #lima channel on irc. The feeling amongst the folks in our channel was pretty uniform one of disgust. At first glance, this post looked as a clear and loud message to support open drivers, it only looked like that on the absolute surface. Anyone who would dig slightly deeper would soon see the truth, and the message would turn into "Keep the blob guys!".

It was clear that this message from the RPi foundation was not helping the cause of freeing ARM GPUs at all. So I decided to react to this announcement.

The shouting

So I decided to go post in the broadcom forums, and this is what I wrote:
Erm… Isn’t all the magic in the videocore blob? Isn’t the userland code you
just made available the simple shim that passes messages and data back and forth
to the huge blob running on the highly proprietary videocore dsp?

– the developer of the lima driver.
Given the specific way in which the original RPI foundation announcement was written, i had expected all from the RPI foundation itself to know quite clearly that this was indeed just the shim driver. The reminder of me being the lima driver developer, should've taken away any doubt about me actually knowing what i was talking about. But sadly, these assumptions were proven quite wrong when Liz Upton replied:

There’s some microcode in the Videocore – not something you should confuse with an
ARM-side blob, which could actually prevent you from understanding or modifying
anything that your computer does. That microcode is effectively firmware.
She really had no idea to what extent the videocore was running the show, and then happily went and argued with someone whom most people would label an industry expert. Quite astounding.

Things of course went further downhill from there, with several RPI users showing themselves from their best side. Although I did like the comment about ATI and ATOMBIOS, some people at least hadn't forgotten that nasty story.

All-in-all, this was truly astounding stuff, and it didn't help my feeling that the RPI foundation was not really intending to do The Right Thing, but instead was more about making noise, under the guise of marketing. None of this was helping ARM GPUs or ARM userspace blobs in any way.

More shouting

What happened next was also bad. Instead of sticking to the facts, Dave Airlie went and posted this blog entry, reducing himself to the level of Miss Upton.

A few excerpts:
"Why is this not like other firmware (AMD/NVIDIA etc)?
The firmware we ship on AMD and nvidia via nouveau isn't directly controlling the GPU
shader cores. It mostly does ancillary tasks like power management and CPU offloading.
There are some firmwares for video decoding that would start to fall into the same
category as this stuff. So if you want to add a new 3D feature to the AMD gpu driver
you can just write code to do it, not so with the rPI driver stack."
"Will this mean the broadcom kernel driver will get merged?

This is like Ethernet cards with TCP offload, where the full TCP/IP stack is run on the
Ethernet card firmware. These cards seem like a good plan until you find bugs in their
firmware stack or find out their TCP/IP implementation isn't actually any good. The same
problem will occur with this. I would take bets the GLES implementation sucks, because
they all do, but the whole point of open sourcing something is to allow other to improve
it something that can't be done in this case."
Amazing stuff.

First of all, with the videocore being responsible for booting the bcm2835, and the bcm2835 already being a supported platform in the linux kernel (as of version 3.7), all the damage had been done already. Refusing yet another tiny message passing driver, which has a massive user-base and which will see a lot of testing, then is rather short-sighted. Especially since this would have made it much easier for the massive RPI userbase to use the upstream kernel.

Then there is the fact that this supposed kernel driver would not be a drm driver. It's simply not up to the self-appointed drm maintainer to either accept or refuse this.

And to finish off, a few years ago, Dave forked RadeonHD driver code to create a driver that did things the ATI way (read: much less free, much more dependent on bios bytecode, and with many other corners being implemented the broken ATI way), wasted loads of AMD money, stopped register documentation from coming out, and generally made sure that fglrx still rules supreme today. And all of this for just "marketing reasons", namely the ability to make trump SuSE with noise. With a history like that, you just cannot go and claim the moral high ground on anything anymore.

Like I've stated before, open source software is about making noise, and Dave his blog entry was nothing more and nothing less. Noise breeds more noise in our parts. This is why I decided to not provide a full and proper analysis of the situation back then, as we had lowered ourselves to the level that the RPI foundation had chosen, and nothing I could have said would've improved on that.


I received an email from Eben Upton last friday, where he pointed out the big news. I replied that I would have to take a thorough look first, but then also stated that I didn't expect Eben to email me if this hadn't been the real thing. I then congratulated him extensively.

And congratulations really are in order here.

The Raspberry PI is a global sales phenomenon. It created a whole new market, a space where devices like the Cubieboard and Olimex boards also are in now. It made ARM development boards accessible and affordable, and put a linux on ARM in the hands of 2.5 million people. It is so big that the original goal of the Raspberry Pi, namely that of education, is kind of drowned out. But just the fact that so many of these devices were sold already, will have a bigger educational impact than any direct action towards that goal. This gives the RPI foundation a massive amount of power, so much so, that even the most closed SoC around is being opened now.

But in Oktober of 2012, my understanding was that the RPI foundation wasn't interested in wielding that power to reach those goals which I and many others hold dear. And I was really surprised when it now was revealed that they did, as I had personally given up on this ever happening, and I had assumed that the RPI foundation was not intending to go all the way.

What's there?

After the email from Eben, I joined the #raspberrypi-internals channel on freenode to ask the guys who are REing the VideoCore, to get an expert opinion from those actually working on the hardware.

So what has appeared:
* A user manual for the 3D core.
* Some sample code for a different SoC, but code which which runs on the ARM core and not on the videocore.
* This sample code includes some interesting headers which helps the guys who are REing the Videocore.
* There's a big promise of releasing more about the Videocore and at least providing a properly free bootloader.

These GPU docs and code not only means that Broadcom has beaten ARM, Qualcomm, Nvidia, Vivante and Imagination technologies to the post, it also makes broadcom second only to Intel. (yes, in front of AMD, or should I say ATI, as ATI has run most of the show since 2008).

Then there is the extra info on the videocore and the promise of a fully free bootloader. Yes, there still is the massive dependance on the VideoCore for doing all sorts of important SoC things, but releasing this information takes time, especially since this was not part of the original SoC release process and it has to be made up for afterwards. The future is looking bright for this SoC though, and we really might get to a point where the heavily VideoCore based BCM2835 SoC becomes one of the most open SoCs around.

Today though, the BCM2835 still doesn't hold a candle to the likes of the Allwinner A10 with regards to openness. But the mid to long term difference is that most of Allwinners openness so far was accidental (they are just now starting to directly cooperate with the linux-sunxi community), and Allwinner doesn't own all the IP used in their SoC (ARM owns the GPU for instance, and it is being a big old embedded dinosaur about it too). The RPI SoC not only has very active backing from the SoC vendor, that SoC vendor also happens to be the full owner of the IP at the same time.

The RPI future looks really bright!


I do not like the 10k bounty on getting Q3A going with the freshly released code. I do not think this is the best way to get a solid gpu driver out, as it mostly encourages a single person to make a quick and dirty port of the freshly released code. I would've preferred to have seen someone from the RPI foundation create a kanban with clearly defined goals, and then let the community work off the different work items, after which those work-items are graded and rewarded. But then, it's the RPI foundations money, and this bounty is a positive action overall.

I am more worried about something else. With the bounty and with the promise of a free bootloader, the crazy guys who are REing the VideoCore get demotivated twice. This 10k bounty rules them out, as it calls for someone to do a quick and dirty hack, and not for long hard labour towards The Right Thing. The promise of a free bootloader might make their current work superfluous, and has the potential to halt REing work altogether. These guys are working on something which is or was at least an order of magnitude harder than what the normal GPU REing projects have or had to deal with. I truly hope that they get some direct encouragement and support from the RPI foundation, and that both parties work together on getting the rest of the VideoCore free.

All in all, this Broadcom release is the best news I have heard since I started on the open ARM GPU path, it actually is the best news I've had since AMD accepted our proposal to free the ATI Radeon (back in june 2007). This release fully makes up for the bad communication of Oktober 2012, and has opened the door to making the BCM2835 the most free SoC out there.

So to Eben and the rest of the guys from the RPI Foundation: Well done! You made us all very happy and proud.
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FOSDEM14 lima driver talk. [Feb. 19th, 2014|02:00 pm]
Luc Verhaegen
[Tags|, , , , , , , , , , ]
[Current Location |Rumpelkammer]
[mood |Impatient]
[music |Fatboy Slim - We've come a long way baby - Right here, right now]

The FOSDEM organizers have captured more than 16h of video for 22 DevRooms and they are still working hard on getting all of these videos cut and transcoded and put on their site. This is a mammoth task, and some talks in the graphics devroom are still up in the air because of this.

Luckily, some people from the sunxi community took the livestream of sunxi related talks, and produced some quick dumps of it. I have now copied the Mali driver talk over to my fd.o account so that the sunxi server doesn't become too overloaded. Slides are also available.

This talk mentions where i am at with my mesa driver, why i am taking the route i am taking, the importance of SoC communities, and how the lack thereof hampers driver development, and also talks about the company ARM and their stance towards the open driver.

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FOSDEM, and the SuSE bus. [Feb. 6th, 2014|06:16 pm]
Luc Verhaegen
[Tags|, , , ]
[Current Location |Rumpelkammer]
[mood |Puzzled]
[music |The Prodigy - The fat of the land - No good]

When i was still at SuSE, Localhorst would rent a Ford S-Max, and stuff it to the brim with openSuSE kit and swag and drive to FOSDEM. I usually was tolerated on board as well, with my sportsbag full of DevRoom kit, provided i sang along to the radio, and didn't mention burger-king. Everyone at SuSE either made their own arrangements, or everyone was stuck on a flight from Nuremberg to Brussels (which was quickly dubbed "The SuSE-Bomber").

After the massive and rather counterproductive layoffs after FOSDEM 2009, SuSE tended to organize a bus for its own employees. And from what i heard, it was a pretty good solution. Imagine a load of happy geeks, from a place in the world with the best beers, stuck on a bus. It made the whole event seem like a school trip, but one where some beers were actually allowed. And, since there usually was tons of extra space on the bus, a load of ex-SuSE guys got to hitch a ride as well. The result was that a lot of SuSE employees visited FOSDEM, and got to catch up on things with some ex-SuSE guys and generally start doing what conferences are for from the second the bus left Nuremberg. Since busses are cheap, this really was a perfect solution, and everyone was happy.

I never took the bus. For FOSDEM, I want to arrive in brussels around suppertime on friday, and leave monday around midday (when the alcohol of the previous night has worn off a bit). The bus tended to arrive around suppertime as well, but would leave again around 19:00 on sunday. Also, i tend to run a devroom and have at least one talk. I need those 5 hours of peace on the train to prepare my talk. But I heard good things about the bus, and that it all was great fun and a bit of a community event before (and after) the big community event.

This year, however, things were different. For a long time, apparently, nobody from the OpenSuSE team was really bothered with FOSDEM. This i find truly amazing, and a really bad sign with respect of where SuSE and openSuSE is apparently heading. From what i have heard, there was always a bit of a plan to get a bus, but it was unclear where the budget would come from, and no-one took any action. I also heard that two weeks before the event, SuSE employees were asked whether they wanted to go to FOSDEM. Now if you do this 2 weeks before the event, with people who often have a wife and kids these days, most will already have made other plans. Then, if you also state that those people who might be interested, also need to have some travel budget left over, and need to get approval in a few days time, you of course only get a handful of people who end up going to the biggest open source event of the planet. I heard the number 8.

8 people from SuSE went to FOSDEM. An absolute disgrace for what once was the leading european linux distribution.

Here is an idea: why not make the bus a community service from the start? Why doesn't OpenSuSE sponsor a bus, one which starts at nuremberg, and perhaps stops in Frankfurt-Flughafen (so some people can grab a smoke and empty their beer-filled bladders), and then continues on to Brussels? Give the SuSE employees 4 weeks early notice to get their seats reserved (which gives them an incentive to think about FOSDEM early on), and then make seat reservation open to anyone who wants to go visit FOSDEM and lives near Nuremberg or Frankfurt? You can even hand the community members a bag of SuSE swag and a frankonian beer.

SuSE would not only do something good for their own employees and makes it easier on them to visit FOSDEM. They would actually sponsor FOSDEM and help boost their openSuSE community.

I am actually surprised that this has to be said, and that idea hasn't been spawned from within the OpenSuSE team itself. But here you go. Now make it happen for next year.
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FOSDEM, the best conference... In the world. [Feb. 5th, 2014|04:51 pm]
Luc Verhaegen
[Tags|, , , ]
[Current Location |Rumpelkammer]
[mood |gratefulgrateful]
[music |Underworld - Beaucoup Fish - Jumbo]

Now that my body is well on its road to recovery, it's time to talk about the great success that FOSDEM was, once again.

We had a really nice devroom and pretty good crowds, but the most amazing thing was the recordings and the livestream. The FOSDEM organizers really outdid themselves there.

After the initial announcement of the graphics devroom went out, Martin Peres contacted me and we talked about getting proper recordings from the DevRoom, and briefly looked into what this would end up costing if we were to buy the equipment for it. Our words were barely cold when the FOSDEM organizers announced what can only be seen as absolutely insane: they would try to provide for full recording of everything.

In the end, FOSDEM provided recording in 22 rooms. They had to get 22 mixing desks, 22 sets of microphones, 22 cameras, 44 laptops... This was apparently mostly rented, and apparently, surprise, surprise, there aren't many rental companies which have such an insane amount of kit available.

Apart from some minor issues (like a broken firewire cable in the wine devroom) things worked out amazingly. Only the FOSDEM guys could pull something this insane off. We had all our talks in the Graphics DevRoom streamed out live, with no issues at all.

I would like to thank all the speakers in the graphics devroom, but i particularly would like to thank Martin Peres, who took full control and responsibility of the video equipment. Then there's Marcus Meissner and Thiery Redding who willingly sat in the back of the devroom and handled the recordings themselves, directing the streams, for only meagre rations of water and cookies. Without people stepping up and doing their bit, a devroom like this would not be possible. And the same goes for the whole of FOSDEM.

At the end of the final talk, after i had talked about sunxi_kms, i tried to thank the FOSDEM organizers, and get the remaining audience to clap for them. But i mostly stood there and babbled, at a loss for words, because what the FOSDEM organizers had achieved with this insane goal is simply amazing. And thinking about it now still, i still get quite emotional...

How on earth did they manage to pull this off, on top of organizing the rest of FOSDEM, a FOSDEM which caters for something like 8000 people as it is... It's just not possible!

It's not as if these guys get paid for what they are doing, FOSDEM is a low budget organization, purely based on volunteers. The absolute core of the organization is just a handful of people who have very busy jobs. And yet, they have succeeded where any other organization would have failed. There's no politics or powerplay, there is no money or commerce. There is just the absolute drive to make FOSDEM the best event on the planet, by making small changes every year...

This was my 7th DevRoom this year, and if i can help it there will be another one next year. I am really proud that i am allowed to do my, comparatively little, part as well. Every sunday evening after FOSDEM, after we sit down in the restaurant with the remainders of the graphics devroom, i am physically broken, but i am also one of the happiest people on the planet...

Each year, no matter what happened in the year before, no matter what nasty open source politics or corporate nonsense took place over that year... Each year, the FOSDEM organizers prove that something amazing can happen if only people do their bit, if only people work towards the same selfless goal. Each year, FOSDEM reminds me of why i do what i do, and why i need to keep on doing it.

Thank you.
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Graphics DevRoom at FOSDEM2014. [Oct. 12th, 2013|11:35 pm]
Luc Verhaegen
[Tags|, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ]
[Current Location |Rumpelkammer]
[mood |excitedexcited]
[music |Chris Clark - Vengeance drools]

Yes, there is going to be another exciting DevRoom about graphics on the upcoming FOSDEM.

It's not called the X.org DevRoom this time round, but a hopefully more general Graphics DevRoom. As was the case with the X.org DevRooms before, anything related to graphics drivers and windowing systems goes. While the new name should make it clearer that this DevRoom is about more than just X, it also doesn't fully cover the load either, as this explicitly does include input drivers as well.

Some people have already started wondering why I haven't been whining at them before. Well, my trusted system of blackmailing people into holding talks early on failed this year. The FOSDEM deadline was too early and XDC was too late, so I decided to take a chance, and request a devroom again, in the hope that enough people will make it over to the fantastic madness that is FOSDEM.

After endless begging and grovelling the FOSDEM organizers got so fed up that they gave us two full days again. This means that we will be able to better group things, and avoid a scheduling clash like with the ARM talks last year (where ARM system guys were talking in one room exactly when ARM graphics guys were talking in another). All of this doesn't mean that First Come, First Serve doesn't apply, and if you do not want to hold a talk with a hangover in an empty DevRoom, you better move quickly :)

The FOSDEM organizers have a system called pentabarf. This is where everything is tracked and the schedules are created, and, almost magically, at the other end, all sorts of interesting things fall out, like the unbelievably busy but clear website that you see every year. This year though, it is expected that speakers themselves manage their own details, and that the DevRoom organizers oversee this, so we will no longer use the trusted wiki pages we used before. While i am not 100% certain yet, i think it is best that people who have spoken at the DevRoom (most of whom i will be poking personally anyway) in the past few years first talk to me first before working with pentabarf, as otherwise there will be duplicate accounts which will mean more overhead for everyone. More on that in the actual call for speakers email which will hit the relevant mailing lists soon.

FOSDEM futures for ARM

Connor Abbott and I both have had chromebooks for a long long time. Connor bought his when it first came out, which was even before the last FOSDEM. I bought mine at a time where I thought that Samsung was never going to sell it in germany, and the .uk version arrived on my doorstep 3 days before the announcement for Europe went out. These things have been burning great big holes in our souls ever since, as i stated that we would first get the older Mali models supported properly with our Lima driver, and deliver a solid graphics driver before we lose ourselves again in the next big thing. So while both of us had this hardware for quite a while, we really couldn't touch these nice toys with an interesting GPU at all.

Now, naturally, this sort of thing is a bit tough to impose on teenagers, as they are hormonally programmed to break rules. So when Connor got bored during the summer (as teenagers do), he of course went and broke the rules. He did the unspeakable, and grabbed ARMs standalone shader compiler and started REing the Mali Midgard ISA. When his father is at FOSDEM this year, the two of us will have a bit of 'A Talk' about Connors wild behaviour, and Connor will be punished. Probably by forcing him to finish the beers he ordered :)

Luckily, adults are much better at obeying the rules. Much, much better.

Adults, for instance, would never go off and write a command stream tracer for this out of bounds future RE project. They would never ever dare to replay captured command streams on the chromebook. And they definitely would not spend days sifting through a binary to expose the shader compiler of the Mali Midgard. Such a thing would show weakness in character and would just undermine authority, and I would never stoop so low.

If I had done such an awful thing, then I would definitely not be talking about how much harder capture and replay were, err, would be, on this Mali, and that the lessons learned on the Mali Utgard will be really useful... In future? I would also not be mentioning how nice it would be to work on a proper linux from the get-go. I would also never be boasting at how much faster Connor and I will be at on turning our RE work on T6xx into a useful driver.

It looks like Connor and I will have some very interesting things to own up to at FOSDEM :)
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