Jon Masters, transparent ARM shill

I don't hate ARM. But I do hate cynical bloodymindedness.

Jon Masters' pronouncement of OpenPOWER as "dead" has been getting some press, and as far as this particular Power ISA bigot is concerned it's transparent twaddle. He's done a lot for ARM at Red Hat (lest we forget: a current subsidiary of IBM), but he's no longer at Red Hat: he's VP of Software at startup NUVIA, which is building ... a server-grade ARM chip. Knowing what he's planning on selling, that makes his "hot take" on OpenPOWER more than a little bit coloured by his own biases.

Despite being self-serving, though, not everything he points out is wrong. One valid concern is that currently the only manufacturer of high-performance OpenPOWER chips is IBM itself. We are fortunate in that Raptor is an accessible retail channel for these chips (and workstation-class systems), but most of the third-party builders are using Power in embedded applications, not high-performance desktops. Even in the Apple days the chip sources were pretty much just IBM and Motorola/Freescale, and for the G5 exclusively IBM (the brief existence of the PA6T notwithstanding); with the exception of Cell, the Power ISA game console generation was exclusively IBM too (i.e., Xenon, Gekko, Broadway and Espresso), and even Cell was an IBM co-design, so this is not a new issue. This is something that needs to be fixed and thanks to OpenPOWER being a royalty-free ISA there's a market opportunity here you don't have to pay IBM to exploit.

But to essentially argue it's okay to be open, but not that open is painfully self-serving. ARM can certainly compete in the server space; Apple's chips are already in striking distance even with their imposed limits on power consumption, and other companies have gotten into this business before. But none of them will be able to do it without paying ARM royalties, and with that investment in mind none of them want to do it without secret sauce (binary blob drivers) to deter competition. We're in a CPU age where what people think is the CPU is merely the target of a long line of intermediate operating steps and every one of these has firmware. On the Talos II I'm typing on, I can see the source code for every single boot stage. For Masters to argue that none of this matters until you pass into UEFI is like arguing that the Intel Management Engine, bless its little exposed backside, is somehow irrelevant, or that all the boot stages for POWER9 don't matter until you actually get to Petitboot, let alone all the sidecar auxiliary units like the GPEs and OCCs. Do we really need to go over again all the disastrous faults that have emerged in blackbox firmware you can't see or modify?

Masters knows this, too, and that makes his statements not just crap but disingenuous crap as well. (Perhaps he sees OpenPOWER as a threat?) Regardless, that also means you can confidently expect that NUVIA CPUs, if they ever even come out with a product (see also Calxeda), will be just as locked down as any other ARM core. So much for "reimagining silicon design."


  1. Masters "shills" for ARM consistently, but mostly it's targetted at x86 so you probably didn't notice it. I don't think it's worse than stuff Timothy Pearson says about x86 on Twitter and IMHO not up to the level of what he spouts in Phoronix comments.
    I guess both guys' allegations can be called FUD too, though free software community doesn't like to apply that word to one of their own.

    That said, his view that Power9 is endangered might well be true, I would not get angry over that, it's likely an actual belief/expectation of his rather than trying to pour cold water with ill will.
    It's sad but the ecosystem is too narrow so the opening might very well prove to be the case of "last ditch effort" open sourcing that is often too little, too late. Probably not due to ARM, but due to RISC-V's momentum/engagement ate the lunch before Power came to the table.

    The need and value of open source firmware platform like Power9/Talos is an issue that is separate to the question of whether Power survives, obviously.

  2. While Raptor has pushed their products fairly hard on the open angle, can you point to where they have engaged in the same behaviour mentioned here? Calling something open to help sales when it is absolutely not open, then trying to backpedal and say open systems are unimportant, takes a special breed of marketing person to pull off with a straight face.

    Minor detail, but how do you know who is behind the Raptor Twitter feed? Can't find any public info backing your claim there.

    1. "Calling something open to help sales when it is absolutely not open"

      I was not talking about that. I said Raptor guys use FUD too. I specifically mean their Phoronix comments that overblow the risks of closed hardware (which is exactly fear, uncertainty and doubt about your competition, literally speaking) so much it's painful to read.

      The dude also said there that it is likely that x86 hardware will soon lose ability to run Linux and be locked to Windows. Like, comeon. That was so full of shit/against all odds that it can't conceivably be something he really believes is actually coming (if so, it would be dumb but excusable), he runs a hardware company making motherboards and partnering with CPU vendors, he should have enough clue to know this is absurd notion.
      Whereas I can see that Masters saying Power9 is going to wither and die is merely him actually expecting that and not just wishing it happened because he works for competition.

    2. Guess you should tell the people that had their data stolen from inept cloud providers that anything anti-cloud is just security-associated FUD too.

      Calling something FUD because you don't want to entertain the possibility you might be completely exposed is childish at best. Grow up, or at least admit you're just wanting to feel safe while using cheap hardware. Like that never goes wrong...

    3. I think this is where this comment thread ends, folks.


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