How much does the source code cost?
Posted Mar 4, 2010 4:44 UTC (Thu) by BenHutchings
In reply to: How much does the source code cost?
Parent article: Linux-2.6.33-libre released
Why couldn't HW manufacturers share the code and the advantages with customers?
Firmware is typically written by the chip vendor. Their customers - board and system vendors - want a complete working package of hardware, software and firmware and they don't care about the source code for it (except for Linux drivers, since they need to be rebuilt for new kernel versions). You, as an end user, may want source for the firmware, but you are not a customer of the chip vendor so they won't pay much attention to you.
If HW manufacturers are interested in cutting costs, sharing the source code they own costs them nothing, and letting the community contribute to the software actually reduces costs for the manufacturer.
Releasing source code always carries some cost - it requires work on documentation and maybe legal review, and it can be used against the licensor as evidence of patent infringement. That might be balanced by the benefit of outside contributions, but this is questionable. Most of the development of firmware will take place before the hardware is available to the public, and by the time any outside contributors have got up to speed the hardware is likely to be off the market. Also, building and debugging the firmware might in some cases require expensive proprietary tools which would deter outside contributors.
In some cases a common firmware source tree could be maintained over several generations of hardware, or even across entirely different hardware families. In this case, it could well be suitable as a free software project. For example, the gPXE network boot code supports many different network adapters. My employer is one of several network controller vendors that contributes to and distributes gPXE firmware. However, the firmware that runs on our network controller themselves is unlikely ever to be free software.
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