Your editor has occasionally taken time to write about Rockbox
, a GPL-licensed firmware system for
portable music players. One might think that such articles result from an
attempt to disguise time spent playing with gadgets as
real work - and not be entirely off the mark. But an incident this week
shows why running free software on devices like music players is important.
Creative makes some nice players, including the "Zen Vision:M." It
includes a large color screen, significant storage, and an FM radio. Like
many such devices, it is able to connect the FM radio to that storage space
and record radio programs. There are any number of reasons why this
feature is useful; one may want to record a radio interview featuring a
colleague, timeshift a program for later listening, or grab the DJ's
talk to help identify an interesting song for later purchase. This
capability certainly is not anything new; people have been hooking up their
tape recorders to radios for decades.
As of firmware
version 1.50.02, however, the Zen Vision:M player can no longer record
from its FM radio. An "upgrade"
for the Zen MicroPhoto removes the FM recorder feature from that device
as well. In both cases, the hardware retains the FM recorder capability,
but the new firmware takes it away. It is hard to imagine that legions of
Creative customers have been clamoring for the removal of a useful feature
from their expensive devices. Instead, this crippling of the hardware has
been done to meet the demands of a different group of people: our friends
in the entertainment industry.
Fortunately for current owners of this hardware, there does not appear to
be any mechanism built into the player which forces a change to the newer
version. It would not be entirely surprising to see forced-upgrade
requirements built into future players, however, especially as the notion
of "trusted content paths" gains ground. The gadget you thought you owned
may turn into a different device tomorrow, and there is little that you can
do about it.
Unless, of course, that gadget is running free software. Rockbox users do
not have to deal with this sort of trouble; if somebody were to remove the
FM recorder feature, somebody else would just patch it back in. Rockbox
users enjoy a tangible level of freedom which has been taken away from
people running proprietary firmware on their players.
This is an important point. Your editor is appalled by the number of AC
adapters he must carry whenever he travels - we have a number of gadgets
which, increasingly, we see as being entirely indispensable. The functions
handled by those gadgets can only grow over time; we will become
increasingly dependent upon them for our work, our communications, and our
leisure. Whose interests will those gadgets
serve? If others control the software on those gadgets, that software will
be distorted to serve their interests; the Creative firmware "upgrade" is a
strikingly clear example of just how that process can work. If we want to
control our gadgets, it behooves us to only purchase those which can run
[A postscript for those who are interested in what's up with Rockbox. The
its plans for a 3.0 release some months ago; the feature
freeze was hurting development without bringing solutions to the final
remaining problems. So development has been going full-steam ahead, with
(usually stable) daily builds available for those who want the latest
features. Support for iRiver H10, most iPods, and iAudio X5 players has
been added; early-stage work is proceeding on iRiver IFP790 and Toshiba
Gigabeat players. The port to the Sandisk Sansa e200 has recently overcome some significant hurdles and may
start to make significant progress in the near future. Unfortunately,
there appears to be no effort to port to the Creative players at this
Comments (46 posted)
Recently, it was announced that the Mercurial
project, a software revision control program used by projects like
Xen and ALSA, among others, has become a member
of the Software Freedom
. Some people may be wondering: What is the Software
Freedom Conservancy? How do you become a member?
Why would you want to? What does the Conservancy do? Who besides Mercurial
are members? And what does it mean to be a member?
First of all, the Software Freedom Conservancy is fairly new, founded in
March of this year. It is a specialized legal project spun out of the Software Freedom Law Center,
which provides pro bono legal representation and other law-related services
to protect and advance Free and Open Source Software. The distinctive
purpose of the Conservancy, which exists as an entity distinct from the
Software Freedom Law Center, is to provide administrative and financial
services to its members so they can take advantage of the benefits of being
a corporate entity, without having to take on the filing, record-keeping and
legal work necessary for nonprofits, by coming under the Conservancy's
Wine, Samba, InkScape, BusyBox, uCLibc, SurveyOS, and Libbraille are also member
projects of the Conservancy.
I asked Karen M. Sandler, Counsel at the Software Freedom Law Center,
first about the Software Freedom Law Center. Who gets accepted as a client
by the Software Freedom Law Center and what does it mean for a project?
Clients are evaluated on a case by case basis depending on, among other
criteria, the nature of the software project, the legal needs of the
project and the availability of resources of SFLC. As a general matter,
we seek to give advice to nonprofit Free and Open Source Software
projects, developers and distributors to help protect and advance Free
and Open Source Software.
Once a software project is accepted as a
client of SFLC, SFLC is able to
provide legal representation to that project. That could mean assistance
with licensing, helping the project to form as a nonprofit corporate
entity or providing representation to assist with the resolution of a
dispute, depending on the needs of the client.
In Mercurial's case, for example, in addition to joining the Conservancy,
it has also retained SFLC as its legal counsel.
But what about the Conservancy? What are the advantages of becoming a
member? There are certain benefits that flow from the corporate form, such
as limiting ones personal liability. The Conservancy is in the process of
applying for federal tax-exempt status, which would then allow the
Conservancy's member projects to also receive tax deductible donations.
The Conservancy files a single tax return that covers all the member
projects, and it handles other corporate and tax related issues on behalf
of its members.
The question which may come into your mind at this point is: couldn't a
project do all that itself? Yes, it
could. But let me give you an idea of what is involved.
The paperwork in setting up a state nonprofit corporation, applying
for federal tax-exempt status, then actually running the corporation is quite
daunting in the US. There is corporate record-keeping ongoing, not to
mention a panoply of laws one must abide by or risk losing the corporate
structure. Just as one small example, here's the page of
forms to set up as a nonprofit in New York State. There are even
regulations on how the filings must be presented. See § 150.1 on this
page, which lists all the i's to dot and t's to cross if you are a New York
corporation. And of course you need to be familiar not only with the
state's Not-for-Profit Corporation Law (NPC), but also the Business
Corporation Law (BCL) and the General Business Law (GBL), all of which you
can find on the New
York State Legislature page, by clicking on the bottom link, Laws of
New York. Why government agencies make it so hard to link to information is
one of life's little mysteries, but many of them do, so I can't link to the
laws themselves. You'll have to find them for yourself.
Then, if you
want people who send you donations to be able to get a tax deduction, you
have to apply on the federal level under Internal Revenue Code Section
501(c)(3) and you need to satisfy certain requirements. You can find the
booklet on how to apply for federal nonprofit status on this IRS
page. Look on the list for Form 1023 and Inst 1023, the instruction
booklet. That's just to apply.
You can't mingle your personal funds with the corporate funds, for one
thing, so you'll need to set up a separate corporate account. The language
in your corporate charter and bylaws must satisfy certain regulations on
the federal level, and of course laws and regulations are forever changing,
so you have to keep up to date.
Here's a sample of bylaws. See how much fun
it is to read them. You'll notice that you need a board of directors and
officers, and that the secretary, for example, has multiple record keeping
duties to fulfill. Want the position? No? Do you have a really good buddy
willing to spend the rest of his life doing such tasks? Most programmers
would rather have root canal surgery. But even if you are willing, it's
time taken away from coding, and the odds of getting it wrong without legal
direction are, in my view, in the fairly-likely-to-certain range. Then
there's taxes, and of
course there are special forms and regulations for nonprofits.
The Conservancy does all of that paperwork for its members, so developers
working on member projects can devote their time to coding instead of
having to master all the legal aspects to becoming and acting as a
Another service it can provide is fund management. It can advise and
help set up a project to accept donations. The assets are held by the
Conservancy on behalf of its members, each in its own account, and it
disburses them as the project wishes, in accordance with IRS regulations,
of course. Copyrights and trademarks can also be held by the Conservancy,
again on behalf of the project. If your project has several members, the
Conservancy provides a vehicle through which copyright ownership in the
project can be unified, which makes enforcement easier. This is an optional
service, however. And any member can leave the Conservancy at any time, if
it wishes to form their own independent tax exempt nonprofit. The
Conservancy provides its services free.
If you want to find out if your project qualifies for membership, you can
Conservancy. There are, of course, certain requirements -- your project
must be developing free and open source software, for example, and it must
be consistent with the Conservancy's tax-exempt purposes and financial
requirements imposed by the IRS.
What if you can't get your project accepted and you have a legal issue?
Perhaps there is a licensing question but you don't know any lawyers, or
the ones you know have no clue about FOSS licenses, and your question
requires that type of specialized knowledge? I asked Sandler what a
project or developer in such a circumstance can do to find a competent
lawyer, and here's her answer:
Within the US, most states have referral services
where individuals and
organizations can call to find a lawyer with a relevant practice. There
are also a number of organizations, in addition to SFLC, that are
organized to provide legal services. Some Pro Bono programs organized to
help with legal matters relating to business issues are listed on the
Bar Association's website
For Free and Open Source Software specific issues, the Free Software
Foundation has a lot of good information up on its website
and we are also aware of another project to publish
information related to Free and Open Source Software but it hasn't
launched yet. Hopefully it will launch soon and when it does, we'll be
sure to point you to that too.
The Software Freedom Conservancy might not be a useful option for all
projects, but, in many cases, it has some valuable services to offer. And
the price is right.
Comments (5 posted)
By the time you read this, the long-awaited, slightly-delayed Fedora
Core 6 release may be available. Then again, maybe not
. But it should be out sometime
soon, really. This distribution, once it is released, will come with
excellent security support from the Fedora Project - for ten months or so.
Once the second Fedora Core 8 test release is available, this shiny
new Fedora Core 6 distribution will be cut off and handed over to the
Fedora Legacy project
A look at the Fedora
Legacy wiki page yields this text:
We are currently maintaining Red Hat Linux 7.3 and 9 as well as
Fedora Core 3 and 4 as these have been transferred into maintenance
mode from Fedora Core. We will provide updates for these releases
for as long as there is community interest though we in general
follow the 1-2-3 and out policy. This provides an effective
supported lifetime (Fedora Core plus Fedora Legacy Support) of
approximately 1.5 years or even more.
The project has helpfully provided some yum configurations to make
getting the updates as easy as possible. The promised "effective supported
lifetime" should be a great comfort for users who do not want to upgrade
their systems every six months or so.
There's only one little problem: Fedora Legacy has yet to provide a single
update for Fedora Core 4, which was transferred to the project in
July. In fact, Fedora Legacy has not provided any updates, for any
of the distributions it claims to support, since
July - an outage of almost three months. During this period,
vulnerabilities have been reported in a small number of packages:
firefox (3 sets),
thunderbird (3 sets),
The above list is just a subset of the actual reported vulnerabilities.
But the point should be clear: any useful Fedora Core 4 system will
be running a fair number of the above packages - and they all contain known
security problems. It would be nice to close those holes, but no FC4
updates are available. Any system administrator who still believed that
Fedora Legacy would help to keep older Fedora Core systems secure should,
by now, be having second thoughts.
Fedora Legacy was created with the idea that the user community would help
to produce updates for packages affected by security problems. The
community has clearly failed to step up to that task. It would appear that
Fedora users - at least, those who could help with security updates -
are so interested in staying on the leading edge that they upgrade long
before any Fedora release loses support. Other users who care will have
moved on to other distributions - paid or free - which offer security
support for a longer period of time.
Fedora Core 1 was released almost exactly three years ago, meaning that we
have about three years of experience with Fedora Legacy. Perhaps the time
has come to ask the question: is there any point in continuing to pretend
that Fedora Legacy is a viable, successful project? Perhaps the Fedora
Project should consider ending Fedora Legacy before its web pages convince
anybody else that they can safely defer upgrading unsupported systems. The
Fedora Project makes no apologies for its support policy, and there is no
reason why it should. But there is also no reason to maintain the illusion
of an option for longer-term support which does not actually exist.
Comments (23 posted)
Page editor: Jonathan Corbet
Inside this week's LWN.net Weekly Edition
- Security: Netlabel: CIPSO labeling for Linux; New vulnerabilities in clamav, kdelibs, kernel, php, ...
- Kernel: Return values, warnings, and error situations; The death and possible rebirth of sysctl(); Video4Linux2 part 2: registration and open().
- Distributions: Kororaa and the GPL; new releases from Thinstation, SUSE Linux "remaster", OpenPKG, dyne:bolic; Debian to keep leader, release etch sooner; Dribble repo for Fedora; Ubuntu 7.04 planning begins
- Development: Visualize Chaos with Fyre, new versions of, PostgreSQL, LCDproc, LAT,
hearnet, Sussen, Midgard, WikyBlog, LASH, QjackCtl, matplotlib, SPTK, Comix,
Wine, wcnt, KOffice, OO.o, GTK Photo Gallery, MvpdMake, Lynx, KeePass,
GNU CLISP, Wing IDE, Yaccviso.
- Press: The Initiative for Software Choice, FSF should separate GPLv3 changes,
ApacheCon 2006, interesting SCO history, Oracle Isn't a Linux Company,
asynchronous IO and spam, Django Djumpstart, new GIMP's imaging core,
Ruby on Rails from a Java perspective, open-source tips for women.
- Announcements: OpenVZ for Power, Shuttleworth first KDE patron, LaCie LightScribe labeler,
MySQL Enterprise, YDL5 for Playstation, Tcl ActiveAward, LPI Level 3 beta,
GNOME Summit Sessions, File System and IO Workshop CFP, LAC CFP,
Akademy in Glasgow, Conference on software patents - Boston, Echelon for
GNOME, The LSB Developer Network.