Erich Schubert noted that ATI is holding onto their closed drivers. While it's unfortunate, I don't think this should be surprising to anyone. NVIDIA and ATI make their money by selling cards for gamer types, who make an art out of trying to get the latest super hardware to play the newest snazzy games on. They don't give a hoot about source code access -- after all, they're probably running proprietary games on a proprietary operating system anyway.
Free software enthusiasts, on the other hand, spend their free time hacking code and so don't have time to play the massive productions the game industry puts out nowadays; frozen-bubble or Wesnoth are about as much gaming as we have time for. As a result, we can do just fine with a video card capable of displaying Emacs, a couple xterms, and maybe a graphical Web browser -- and the built-in graphics card (usually Intel) on the motherboard is just fine for that. We also tend not to run Windows or OSX, where 99% or so of graphically intensive games come out, so even if we HAD free time for gaming we wouldn't be able to do it on a free system.
As a result, while I'd certainly like to have free ATI drivers, I think it's unrealistic to expect them anytime soon. ATI is a company, not a charity, and they will not provide source code or specs until it will clearly benefit them more than it hurts. If you don't believe me, try walking into your manager's office and saying "hey, I have a great idea! Let's give away all our secrets without any clear way to make money off it!" and see how he reacts. (note that this experiment may not apply to the 1-5%  of readers lucky enough to work in academia)
 this statistic determined by the HIGHLY SCIENTIFIC method of picking a small number at random.
Comment by Nico at 11:56 AM:
This is quite a limited view.
And with such a view, there is no hope for the success of the Linux Desktop.
Are all Linux users code hackers?
I know I am not.
Most of the Linuxusers I know are not.
In fact most of the Linux desktop users I know are just "normal" people. They switched because thy heard of a possibly superior operating system and environment, compared to what they were used to. An environment that is stable, does not crash, does not have viruses or spyware, that keeps up-to-date easily, that is secure, that you do not need to re-install from scratch at least twice a year...
Coding? Compiling? Kernel? C? Perl? Shell? They do not know those words, even.
What do they do with such a desktop? What 98% of all desktop users do: email, web browsing, chatting, digital photography, music and the eventual document.
Oh, and a bit of Google Earth, and a bit of gaming too.
Oh, when kids are around, make gaming the #1 activity.
But that requires 3D acceleration.
Intel chips are fine, but really not high-end.
You need an nVidia card, or even an ATI.
Without those, no gaming. None.
No gaming, no normal users, no users with kids.
No users with kids, no gaming either...
I am not making this up.
I keep a windows partition just for games (and photography, because of the color management), and I hate it.
I know users who were ripe for Linux as their desktop, but they keep using Windows because of the games.
So, what do you want?
Do you want the Linux desktop to stay as it mostly is today, a toy for "high-end" hackers, or do you want World Domination and normal people using Linux as their day-to-day desktop?
I understand that current nVidia and ATI drivers are evil and bad and illegal, and all.
They should be pressured into releasing better code (the optimization agument are lies, the Linux drivers are crap compared to their Windows equivalent, feature and performance-wise) and legal code too.
Linux users should not drop the ball.
Comment byat 12:49 PM:
there's not just wesnoth. Recently in Debian we had some interesting new entries:
tremulous (an outstanding team-based 3d shooter) wormux (cute wormz-like game) glob2 (Globulation 2, a very interesting strategy game which tries to avoid micro-management)
More to come. The Debian Game Team (http://wiki.debian.org/Games/Development) is making a hell of a work!
Comment byat 9:58 AM:
So your saying us gamers should give up on Debian GNU/Linux and look for a different OS?
Comment by dburrows at 8:51 PM:
I'm closing comments on this post because the spammers have found it. Before I do, it might be good to point out that happily, I was completely and utterly wrong about this. Hopefully some of the other things I've been gloomy about in the past will turn out the same way!