The Intel Open Source Technology Center has officially released open source graphics drivers for the 965 Express chipset in a move that while not exactly unprecedented is, nonetheless, a most welcome display of commitment to the provision of free software drivers.

Moreover, it is a display of that commitment in a relatively high-end capacity: the 965 supports OpenGL vertex sharing as well as hardware transforms. In addition, Intel stand-alone in releasing source code for their Linux drivers, currently you do not find the same open approach from either NVIDIA or ATI. A situation that may have to change if they wish to keep pace with Intel, now that independently developed drivers with high end feature support are likely to become more commonplace as a result of the Intel move.

Certainly more than the odd one or two kernel maintainers have been fairly vocal about the legitimacy, both moral and legal, of proprietary graphics drivers. While I firmly believe they are wrong in the legality argument, as those proprietary drivers tend to interface with the kernel using an open source shim to get around the GPL, there is less to debate when it comes to the moral ground. There is also little to debate when it comes to Intel gaining a competitive advantage by going open source like this, as I would certainly be inclined to base my graphics hardware purchase upon driver software licensing issues when all else is said and done. The fact that 965 Express kit can be supported out of the box is a tremendous advantage, it seems to me.

So what are AMD (which recently acquired ATI) and NVIDIA doing about it? Surprisingly, in the case of NVIDIA, not a lot if the usual online sources are to be believed. AMD, however, are taking the threat more seriously and strong rumors are circulating in tech press and development circles that they will follow suit, although perhaps only as far as a functional subset of drivers but follow suit, nonetheless. Only time will tell, of course, but time may be running out in this case.