My thoughts on graphics drivers

In the last days there was a bit of discussion about the closed-source nVidia and ATI drivers, mainly because of xorg 7.1 and the ABI breakage.
I think it might be interesting to write something up about how I feel about this.

I do feel I have to use as much free software as I can. I trust free software, I love free software. But, I do have some needs that I have to trade with my freedom to be able to continue my work on other aspects of free software.

In my main box, which is what I work on the 90% of the time, I have a nVidia card that runs the nvidia binary driver. I work on multimedia programs, so I really need xv overlays working, thing that is not available on nv driver.

I work on two monitors since a few months now, and that increased my productivity, as I can watch a movie and still have enough screen real estate to work on something else. I need a working xinerama for that, this card provides me a working TwinView with DVI and VGA output.

Now, I’m not a gamer, so I care nothing about 3D performances, the most of 3D I used on this box is with Stellarium, that and Google Earth the other day just to see how it was. I used to play Unreal Tournament back in the days, but I’m done with that since long time.

Chutzpah suggested me an ATI 7000 card, AGP with dual output (DVI and VGA), that should use a driver good enough to provide me the two things I’m looking for, and it’s also quite cheap (about €32), that is a good thing especially since I don’t find it a priority myself to get out of the nvidia driver binding.

Now, if somebody has that card, and can tell me whether xinerama works, and if the xv overlays are fine performance-wise, I’d be really grateful. A simple test for the xv overlays is to play something in xine or mplayer (I personally use Kaffeine), then open a terminal and try to cat a long long file (like Xorg.*.log). If the image on the player window stops while the cat is going on, then xv overlays aren’t working as they should.

I would really like to be able to use an opensource driver with a fine 2d graphics card, but up until that, I have to trade part of my freedom to be able to work on other stuff, especially since I’m not paid to do this at all, and I’m still on contract jobs, so even if I have some money saved, I try to avoid spending it on things that are not in my priority list, and I’m not keen on spending them on this unless I can be sure that xv and xinerama works properly as I need them to.