Correspondence with VLSI Vision

1998-08-31 First letter

After reading through some resources on Linux advocacy, I spent a few hours one evening and came up with this open-source promoting letter in BusinessSpeak. Note that BusinessSpeak is not my native language; I might have pushed the pompous parts a bit to far.
Date: Mon, 31 Aug 1998 06:56:12 (CET)
From: Jarl Totland <jto at>
To: support at
Subject: Vision PPC2: Request for Technical Specifications


After having tested your camera, as sold by Creative Labs, with great success, it is with regret I inform you that neither I or BDC AS, the company I work for, will be able to recommend this camera to our customers. Although technically superior, it fails to support the Linux operating system, our preferred development platform.

It is our belief that your product, given it's outstanding price/performance ratio, could easily capture the growing market for low-cost videoconferencing. To do so, however, it would be wise to acknowledge the power of open specifications. This would allow third parties or user communities to develop drivers for and support your product, thereby increasing your potential market share. Especially in the Linux community this would bring your company easy recognition for no direct cost, as the only competing camera available with rudimentary support is the Connectix Quickcam.

I hereby request you to consider whether it would be in your best interest to release the specifications for interfacing your Vision PPC2 camera, allowing free development of drivers and software which can only serve to increase your market share. Already several people has been inquiring about Linux drivers for your camera, and people are willing, even eager, to start work on a driver. The alternative reverse-engineering of protocol is too expensive for practical use.

You might also want to consider outsourcing driver development to one of the companies currently dedicated to writing hardware drivers for Linux. They will even agree to most NDAs if this is important to you.

I sincerely hope you will evaluate this request seriously, as we will eagerly await your response.

Jarl Totland, Systems Consultant
BDC AS, Sandslimarka 35, 5049 Sandsli, Norway
Tel +47 55984400, Fax +47 55984450

1998-09-15 First reply

Couple of weeks later I got a quite positive response.
Date: Tue, 15 Sep 1998 14:46:36 +0100 (BST)
From: David R. Chalmers <dc at>
To: jto at, support at
Subject: Re: Vision PPC2: Request for Technical Specifications

Jarl, thank you for your email.

I am the applications support manager at VISION.

At the moment we have no Linux drivers, since we are still completing development of the Windows drivers. Once we have completed the windows drivers we are considering offering a driver pack for development of non-windows/intel drivers. However it is hard for us to assess the capability of those who are offering to write drivers. (I get about 3 requests a week for source code, all of which I must decline at present)

If you have companies or individuals that you can recommend for Linux driver development, we would be interested to hear from you.


Dave Chalmers

Dave Chalmers, Applications Group Manager
VLSI Vision Ltd, Aviation House, 31 Pinkhill EDINBURGH
tel:+ 44(0)131 539 8162 (direct) fax:+44(0)131 539 7141

1998-09-15 Second letter

Hmm, seems to be a sensible person. Better push some info his way, to get them properly hooked. Must remember to be sufficiently humble.
Date: Tue, 15 Sep 1998 16:04:21 (CET)
From: Jarl Totland <jto at>
To: David R. Chalmers <dc at>
Subject: Re: Vision PPC2: Request for Technical Specifications

Hello again.

Sorry to be so persistent about this, I hope you'll bear with me.

Several parties exist that will develop hardware drivers under varying conditions ranging from relatively high-priced to practically gratis; i.e. keep the hardware. Conditions might also be set as to how the software will be licenced. Most Linux developers will advocate the GNU Public Licence (, but might go along with binary-only distribution and sign an NDA.

The Linux Consultants HOWTO (see lists many companies and persons doing business with Linux, a simple search for "drivers" turned up several possible candidates. You might also consider simply polling the interest in a newsgroup like comp.os.linux.hardware, or in mailing lists related to projects like Video4Linux ( I have also been corresponding with a Tom Orsi (mailto:torsi at who seems to have definite interest in taking on the development, though I cannot estimate his ability.

You might still be overlooking the simplest solution though: free the interface protocol specifications, document the capabilities, and the developers will come and create whatever drivers are needed. Not necessarily faster, but definitely more complete, and they will be kept up-to-date.

I might be ignorant of these matters, but how can you, as a hardware manufacturer, have anything remotely to fear from releasing complete specifications to your product? On second thought, dubious as though the practice may be, I realize your OEMs could demand such non-disclosure. However I strongly advance the proposition to open your specs.

Again, sorry for pressing the point, but I do believe what I propose is the best solution, even the Right solution, both for Vision and the Linux community.

-Jarl Totland

Business Data Consulting AS, Sandslimarka 35, N-5049 Sandsli
Tel 47 55984400, Fax 47 55984450 Home

1998-09-18 Second reply

Didn't take long this time:
Date: Fri, 18 Sep 1998 11:33:29 +0100 (BST)
From: David R. Chalmers <dc at>
To: jto at
Subject: Re: Vision PPC2: Request for Technical Specifications

Jarl, thanks for the info. I have forwarded it to our Software Manager, and we will be seriously considering our options for a linux driver.

Leep (sic) an eye on our web site for further announcements.


Dave Chalmers

Dave Chalmers, Applications Group Manager
VLSI Vision Ltd, Aviation House, 31 Pinkhill EDINBURGH
tel:+ 44(0)131 539 8162 (direct) fax:+44(0)131 539 7141

A few days later the "support" pages of Vision VLSI, containing assorted datasheets etc, disappeared. Somewhat later it returned as a password-protected "OEM only" service. I guess that was when I gave them up.

1999-01-13 Documentation

Imagine my suprise when, mid-January, the documentation arrived!
Date: Wed, 13 Jan 1999 14:36:04 GMT
From: Henry Bruce <whb at>
To: dimitri.bologna at, jto at, gmr at
Subject: Linux driver for PPC2
Cc: whb at, dc at


We have had a large number of requests for details on how to write a Linux driver for PPC2. As a result we have put together an developer's pack to help port the driver to non Wintel platforms.

I have attached the following to this email

- Developer decumentation
- CPiA (chip at the heart of the camera) datasheet
- Source code for a DOS test program (detail below)

PP_TEST.ZIP which the source code for our CPiA test program. It accesses CPiA via the parallel port, but the commands will be the same. It offers high level functions (see below) so it should be enough to get you going.

- Get Version
- Goto LoPower
- Goto HiPower
- Goto Suspend
- System test
- Continuous Grab/Upload

The program is broken into four modules - the top two are device independent and bottom two device specific

pp_test.c Application layer
cpia_cmd.c Wrappers for CPiA commands
cpialink.c Mapping of CPiA commands to high level I/O calls
pport.c Parallel port driver - perhaps something already exists in Linux

I can't guarantee the level of support I can provide, but I have a personal interest in making this work.

Best regards,

Henry Bruce
Software Development Manager
VLSI Vision Ltd

Yes! That's more like it. However, what are we allowed to do with this? There seemed to be a few unresolved issues here.

1999-01-14 Third letter

Date: Thu, 14 Jan 1999 08:44:34 (CET)
From: Jarl Totland <jto at>
To: Henry Bruce <whb at>
Subject: Re: Linux driver for PPC2


First of all; thank you very much for deciding to open up the specifications on your exceptional camera.

I have not examined the material very closely yet, but I have one question. Is the developer's pack (i.e mail text and attachments) freely distributable? I'm only asking because of the prohibitive looking "Commercial in Confidence" attachment on the documentation. The question is also important in regards to distribution of drivers derived from or including your source code. Without it being clearly labeled as "free" (using for instance the Gnu Public License), the legal status of derived work is uncertain, and distribution will be hampered.

The traditonal, easiest way would be to remove the classified statements in the documentation and add copyright and licensing information to _each_ source file, in the manner found in most open source code for the Linux platform. Basically the blurb "Copyright 1999 VVL, free for use under the Gnu Public License" should be adequate.

Again, thank you for entering the open world of computing. Hopefully you will not be disappointed.

-Jarl Totland

Business Data Consulting AS, Sandslimarka 35, N-5049 Sandsli
Tel 47 55984400, Fax 47 55984450 Home

...and that's the last I've heard about that.

(Update 1999-07-09 Just found out today that the GPL blurb mentioned above was added to all their source files 1999-01-20, including the earlier missing files! I somehow missed out on all this...)

1999-04-19 Work in progress

Then suddenly this showed up in my mailbox:

Date: Mon, 19 Apr 1999 11:24:18 +0100
From: Henry Bruce <whb at>
To: Jarl Totland <jto at>
Subject: Webcam II


I stumbled across your web page ( which reported your progress in developing a Linux driver for the Creative WebcamII. I hope you understand that we cannot give you the level of service you are looking for. We are in a business where Moore's law very much applies, and we have little time to spare between servicing our current generation customers while developing our next generation products.

You are correct in assuming you can ignore the "Company Confidential" information in our developer documentation.

I have been working with Bas Huisman (bhuism at a Linux developer who is doing good work with PPC2.

I also hope to start working with a USB specialist, Roger Hardiman (roger at to look at drivers for our USB camera.

You have made a good job at pulling together driver information so I will point all future Linux driver inquiries to the above URL.

Best regards,

Henry Bruce

Thank you. Nice to be appreciated.

Valid HTML 4.0! Jarl Totland, 1999-07-09