The original author of MadWifi is Sam Leffler. He still maintains and improves the FreeBSD driver for Atheros cards and supplies the MadWifi project with the HAL binaries. Sam started his work out of personal interest, as he wanted to build community mesh wireless networks. Existing and supported hardware was too limited for that purpose, so he contacted Atheros to bring support for their hardware to the open source community. Initially his work was done for BSD systems only, and the plan was to find someone in the Linux community to port his driver to Linux. However, the people who were approached for that task did not accept the offer, so Sam decided to fill the gap for a while. He was supported by Greg Chesson, an Atheros employee who worked on MadWifi in his spare time.
As part of that effort, the FreeBSD 802.11 stack (net80211) was ported to Linux. The driver depended on that stack, and Linux had no comparable alternative at that time. As it became more and more evident that Linux needed a device-independent 802.11 stack, it was only natural that Sam tried to convince people of the benefits that net80211 had. net80211 was originally based on the 802.11 stack that NetBSD had introduced and evolved on FreeBSD as more and more FreeBSD WLAN drivers used it. It has been used successfully on Linux with MadWifi for quite some time. For about one year, net80211 improvements only took place on Linux, leaving Sam Leffler to backport resulting changes to FreeBSD as his time permitted. Ultimately, however, Linux kernel developers came to believe that net80211 did not fit the design ideas they had in mind.
By the beginning of 2005, Sam decided to leave MadWifi. Greg Chesson also retreated from the project, and has since left Atheros for another career. At that time, some volunteers stepped up trying to keep development going on. The development process was opened up, inviting other developers to join the effort of improving one of the most advanced 802.11 drivers that is available for Linux. The (yet informal) MadWifi project was born.
Since then the project is gaining support and has made a lot of progress towards it's milestones and working releases. More developers and competent users are showing up. The website became a valuable (but largely unacknowledged) testing resource now for several parties. The wiki is a well developed library of largely valid knowledge. MadWifi's ongoing work has made Atheros' gear work better at no cost to them.