AMD has now been pursuing a "unified" Linux driver strategy and writing an entirely new driver. This driver, known as "AMDGPU," will have a single Linux kernel module, which will be open-source. The closed-source Catalyst code will continue to exist, but it will be a smaller "binary blob" that runs in userspace. Open-source fans who don't need maximum gaming performance can skip the Catalyst blob and use an entirely open-source driver.
This driver will only be used for new AMD graphics cards. It will only support the very latest GPUs and future AMD graphics hardware.
The new structure could help a lot. Rather than two entirely separate drivers with separate kernel modules, there will be a single open-source kernel driver. The closed-source Catalyst part of the driver becomes much smaller and confined to userspace. AMD won't have to update the Catalyst driver whenever there's a new Linux kernel or X.org X server release. It will automatically be compatible because the Catalyst driver is a smaller piece of code that hooks into the open-source AMD driver included in the projects themselves.
Further reading: Linux gaming rising: 25 killer games for Steam Machines and Linux
While AMD isn't going completely open-source as Intel did with its graphics drivers, it's much more open-source-friendly than Nvidia's strategy of going it alone. Linux developers have wanted closed-source kernel modules to go away for a long time, too. For more details, read Phoronix's report on AMD's new Linux driver strategy.
This driver should appear over 2015, and the "AMDGPU" kernel driver is set to debut in Linux 4.2. (Yes, we're already past Linux 4.0 !) However, the driver is in a very early state and has a long way to go. Don't expect to be using it any time soon.
In the long run, this could be what helps AMD close the gap with Nvidia when it comes to Linux graphics drivers. We should all hope so, anyway--it would be best for Steam Machines if AMD and Nvidia were competitive.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.