NVIDIA and Linux have gone blow for blow again in another round of media buzz. Why does it feel like NVIDIA and Linux are always going at it?
The quick answer to this question is that NVIDIA creates closed-source technology and software while Linux fights for an open-source world. The two have naturally opposed goals, and it’s in NVIDIA’s best interests as a business to stay antagonistic towards the open-source Linux. However, as Linux gaming becomes more popular, even NVIDIA is starting to change its stance towards open source operating systems.
This topic it’s a little complicated, but we’re going to jump right In with the history, controversy, and technological specs behind the NVIDIA-Linux conflict.
Hate Might Be a Strong Word
Hate might be a little bit of a strong word when it comes to the relationship between NVIDIA and Linux. It’s a little bit more accurate to look at these two as long-standing rivals with opposing goals.
Linux has long been the champion of people who believe in open-source technology. This has made Linux something of an underdog hero when compared with the corporate giants of Windows and smaller, if not more notorious, companies like NVIDIA.
If we’re going to understand why people tend to think NVIDIA hates Linux, we’re going to have to dig deep into the technology and economics behind NVIDIA as a company and Linux as an open-source piece of software.
NVIDIA’s Bad Reputation With Open Source
The first thing that we need to look at is NVIDIA as a company. While plenty of other hardware companies have been willing to work with open source software, NVIDIA has been a staunch opponent of free and easily distributable software.
Things got so bad that Linus Torvalds, the main developer of the Linux operating system, even pointed out how much difficulty they had over the years working with NVIDIA (provoking a response from NVIDIA)… we won’t post the full quote up though!
This one ends up being a business decision for the graphics card company. They’re in the business of selling graphics cards, and they can do a higher volume of business if all of their technology is proprietary.
The more secrets they keep behind the curtain, the more leverage NVIDIA has over the market. But with that said, even NVIDIA has had to open things up as the market has shifted in favor of open-source. They even offer Linux drivers for their cards due to the high volume of Linux, and Linux derived systems, taking over the home computing world.
A Changing World at NVIDIA
Another thing that we need to look at is how things are changing over at NVIDIA.
In response to the criticisms from Linus Torvalds and other Linux developers, NVIDIA was put into a position where they had to release a public statement.
NVIDIA stated that they do support Linux and that open-source software is important. They offer Linux drivers (Linux support for their graphics cards), and they’re working to increase the amount of resources they provide for Linux developers. In May 2022, they went further and released even more open source software.
NVIDIA still doesn’t put as much code out there for Linux as other hardware developers. However, these recent statements could signal something of a sea change. If even a long-standing opponent of Linux is forced to move a little bit more in favor of this open-source operating system, that could signal even more support in the future.
A Look at NVIDIA’s Sales
One more thing is worth considering is the fact that NVIDIA sales are going to tell us a lot about why they’ve been approaching Linux with so much caution.
NVIDIA has been supporting Linux-based systems for years. They just haven’t been giving it the same level of support that they give to other operating systems that don’t mind working with a closed-source, proprietary developer.
It’s important to point out that NVIDIA makes most of their money outside of Linux operating systems. The way the market interacts with this company incentivizes them to focus their attention elsewhere. The same market forces also incentivize them to release as little open-source technology as possible.
This creates a natural antagonism between NVIDIA operating as a business and what Linux is as a piece of societal infrastructure. NVIDIA is a for-profit company and Linux is, essentially, a public good open to anyone who has the knowledge to develop with the Linux kernel.
There’s a natural antagonism and incompatibility between these two systems.
Are NVIDIA Graphics Cards Good for Linux Gaming?
Answering this question is going to involve a little technical know-how. Don’t worry, you won’t need to learn how to code, and you won’t even need to learn any basic Linux terminal commands.
Any NVIDIA graphics card can technically be a great option when it comes to gaming on a Linux computer. This is especially true when you’re working with modern NVIDIA graphics cards that are built with Linux in mind— even if it’s in the back of their mind.
However, you are going to need to do something that you won’t have to do if you’re using an Intel or AMD graphics card.
You need to manually install the drivers for your NVIDIA graphics card when you’re gaming on Linux. You can accomplish this by using your distro’s package-manager to find the right drivers for your graphics card and get them installed.
This is a mandatory step and there’s currently no workaround for this. You need to be able to manually install your NVIDIA graphics card drivers if you’re looking to use that graphics card on your Linux computer.
The exact steps will vary depending on your Linux distribution (i.e. whether you run Ubuntu, Centos, or even Arch!), but the video below shows this process for Ubuntu:
The History of Gaming on Linux
You’re also going to want to know a little bit about the history of gaming on a Linux computer to understand why things are so much more challenging.
We need to turn back the hands of time to the days of MS-DOS. This is really where the world of the modern PC begins, and where at-home ownership of computers starts getting really popular.
As the years go on, Microsoft Windows, and Apple as a distant second, become the two biggest names in home computing.
Video game developers naturally and their focus on Windows computers. Apple also got some gaming attention, but gaming on a Mac is arguably harder today than gaming on a Linux computer.
Windows has (traditionally) never been friendly when it comes to Linux. Arguably, Windows is the biggest adversary or rival of the Linux operating system – despite Windows’ recent Linux Developer System support. For decades, Windows was designed to be incompatible with Linux and that meant the games as well.
In the early days of gaming on Linux, you had very few options for games that would run natively on your operating system. This meant you had to do clever workarounds like dual booting a Windows operating system, using a virtual machine to emulate Windows, or otherwise tricking the game into thinking it was on a Windows PC.
Things have changed a lot which leads us up to the current state of gaming on a Linux computer.
The Current State of Gaming on Linux
So, what was the massive change that has made gaming on Linux much easier?
Steam changed the name of the game, no pun intended, when it comes to gaming on a Linux computer. A lot of this change has to come from the fact that the Steam Deck, Steam’s handheld and portable gaming console, is based on Linux.
Steam is currently the single biggest platform when it comes to buying video games. There isn’t really even a close second as much as there are a bunch of specialized distant thirds.
This means that game developers are now incentivized to also develop for Linux as well as for Mac and PC. There has also been a notable change in the tools that game developers use.
We’re starting to see more engines and other gaming assets that develop games with Linux in mind. This means that it’s becoming easier to design games that work just as easily on Windows as they do on Linux.
Linux is still noticeably behind when it comes to the amount of games you can play. You definitely have a wider selection of games, and graphics cards, when it comes to gaming on Windows.
However, there’s never been a better time for gaming on Linux.
NVIDIA Alternatives for Gaming on Linux
We should look at a few of the alternatives for gaming on Linux.
Fortunately for us, there’s only a few companies out there making graphics cards. It’s really just NVIDIA, Intel, and AMD.
There’s even better news. Intel and AMD both intentionally include Linux graphics drivers with their graphics cards. This means you don’t need to do any searching or install any custom drivers. All you need to do is plug and play with your AMD or Intel graphics card.