I'm a sucker. When I was building my latest iteration of my computer, I decided against getting a NVidia card, and opted for the ATI card instead. My reasoning at the time was that I felt more comfortable in purchasing the ATI card because ATI was a first-party producer of their cards. I didn't have to worry that the card may or may not have been produced to some exacting imaginary standards. In my mind's eye, I saw a purchase of an NVidia card as instant death for my machine, watching in horror as some unknown manufacturing bug turned my computer into gelatin.WHAT? NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
So, in preventing my computer from becoming a glorified paperweight, I turned to a manufacturer which has a track record of leaving the Linux community high and dry with marginally functional drivers.
Recently, Slashdot linked to a story about the State of ATI Drivers under Linux. True, they work to a degree, but I've noticed that the NVidia drivers just seem to work better overall. Even Sarah's Intel chipset card has decent performance on everything but the most demanding games (like Unreal Tournament 2004). Worse, both ATI and NVidia have kept their drivers closed-source, so the hordes of talented kernel and video hackers out there can't help them make their drivers and cards sing under Linux. Even worse still is the installation process for Linux. Linux users have to download the drivers and compile their own kernel modules, since it's illegal to distribute them with the kernel. It's a damn shame, really, since silly bugs (like the GCC compilation bug I recently encountered) shouldn't be an issue anymore. Tom's Hardware has an excellent review between the NVidia and ATI on Linux.
So, why am I hopeful with the AMD buying ATI? Because it might just get ATI to open-source their drivers. With AMD in the drivers seat (no pun intended), perhaps a shift in corporate thinking will take hold, and the two companies can stop their silly drivers arms race. At the very least, ATI needs to shirk off it's reputation of treating Linux as a second class citizen. When your customers are ready to ditch your products because your competitors have better support (anybody want a Radeo 9600XT cheep?), it's time to rethink your business strategy. Here's hoping that AMD will be the catalyst for enabling ATI to open up their drivers, and allow Linux distributions to ship with first-class drivers. Hope springs eternal.