Hmm, I know the HD 79xx series driver came out after the 7970 launch, but it was still before the 7950 launch, and so I did have day 1 linux support for my card.
Driver works pretty well, and gives me good performance with Unigine Heaven demo, and runs the Xvba XBMC just fine. I had trouble getting it to work with kernel 3.2 on Oneiric, but it works just dandy with the stock kernel 3.0.
Linux is not the only one affected. For a company with a track record of releasing a driver each month for a couple of years now, where was the official 12.2 Windows driver in February. I know there is a pre-certified release, but that doesn't count as official. If you go to their game.amd.com page under download today (3/2/2012), you will still find 12.1 for Windows.
Intel+NVIDIA? How exactly? With the Optimus system that doesn't work in Linux? NVIDIA makes excellent drivers, if you have NVIDIA-only graphics solutions. But Intel+NVIDIA... no.
On the CPU side, for about $200 I can get a 3GHz i5 quad core vs an 8-core Zambezi (useless for desktop, I rarely stress more than two cores at once).
On the GPU side, I get top-notch 3D acceleration, GPU decoding for almost any video format you can think of and power saving that works. Plus, I know I can upgrade my Linux distro without fear that I'll have to wait several months for drivers to catch up with the new X server.
I don't use Optimus on Windows either, I'm not even sure what it is (hybrid power tech, iirc).
AMD is having problems with the Windows driver too. Previously they had a record of releasing a driver each month and Cat 12.2 was MIA in February, except for a "Pre-release" that can be found on a blog post. Also some fixes are coming late. A SWTOR issue they found is coming I think in 12.3 (March), for a game released back in December.
They don't have an open-source vision. It's just that they had so much trouble providing Linux support, they hope the OSS community will do the job for them. I don't think that's inherently bad, but the effort seems to be going nowhere: the OSS community does not even aim to plan the latest hardware or provide top-performance.
At the end of the day, AMD seems to have the worst of both worlds. They don't have to OSS engagement of intel, to allow them to ditch Catalyst for Linux entirely. And they don't have the solid blobs of nvidia, to allow them to ditch the open source driver. Just like nazi Germany, they're now fighting on two fronts and loosing on both
NB: I do not think AMD are nazi, I have a lot of respect for them. But I am saddened that for many years now, I haven't found a single product to buy from them. And that's after owning Athlon XP 1600+, 2500+, Athlon64 3500+, X2 4200+. And a Radeon 8500. Video cards are off the table for me, because of Linux support. Intel takes care of the rest since Core2Duo.
Yes, but unlike Intel they haven't dropped support for anything more then 4 years old. Intel may have many more devs, but it hasn't shown to have helped much for them especially since they keep their workload much smaller then AMD does, not to mention how craptacular their GPUs still are.
EDIT -- Michael mentioned the HD 7770 launch driver in the article, never mind.
FYI, we have never posted launch drivers as part of the Catalyst series - instead we provide them to board vendors for inclusion in the box.
Since we still aren't seeing many (any ?) vendors shipping the Linux drivers in-box, the Catalyst folks have started posting out-of-cycle driver builds (as KB articles) to get them into users's hands without having to wait for the new GPU support to show up in the regular Catalyst releases.