Inducing others into the trap
Posted Mar 4, 2010 16:23 UTC (Thu) by jzbiciak
(✭ supporter ✭
In reply to: Inducing others into the trap
Parent article: Linux-2.6.33-libre released
But the hardware with non-free firmware in ROM or Flash -- who knows if you can even replace that at all! Might as well toss that hardware out, you'll probably never get free firmware for it! So you surely don't need to include any support whatsoever for *that*.
Good luck getting the firmware for your computer monitor, your mouse, your keyboard, your PSU, your UPS, your KVM, your television, your television remote controls, your telephone, your refrigerator, your washing machine, your toaster, your coffee maker.... So much harmful firmware everywhere!
Or maybe not. My monitor has poorly translated menus (what does "Input Not Support" mean?) and a quirky interface, but it gets the job done. My mouse works. My keyboard works. My KVM has some quirks (doesn't work with one of my mice, and doesn't cache EDID information for my monitor) but also works well enough to be useful and worth what I paid.
I suppose I could try to get firmware source for all of this. I could even set about fixing the few quirks. But, realistically, I won't and it's unlikely anyone else will either.
I guess the flip-side arises with safety critical firmware, such as what's behind all the Toyota sudden acceleration fiasco. But, I don't know that you really want to let anyone with a basic knowledge of assembly code actually tinkering with that. Broader review though would potentially be helpful.
In the end, though, there's another freedom that we shouldn't forget: The freedom to not sweat the small stuff. If my analog phone gets replaced with a digital phone that does substantially the same thing with similar reliability, do I lose freedom if I don't get the source code with the phone for the firmware that handles "redial" and such? In a very technical sense, I suppose so. But, if the phone comes to me as an appliance that does what it's advertised to do, no more, no less, I gain the freedom of not caring about what else it might be capable of doing. And if it doesn't work as advertised, I can fall back on the implied warranty of merchantability/fitness for a particular purpose.
Now, sure, we should all have freedom to tinker, but that doesn't mean JTAG headers should start popping up everywhere. It just means I shouldn't get sued if I break the warranty-voiding stickers on an otherwise black box. Indifference is not hostility. (Laws like the DMCA are actively hostile in this space. Most of the time, though, manufacturers simply don't care.)
Some things will be more tinker-friendly than others, and tinkerers can vote with their dollars. The sad reality is that there isn't a lot of money in catering to tinkerers in mass-market devices.
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