Papering over a binary blob
Posted Sep 29, 2011 2:04 UTC (Thu) by JoeBuck
Parent article: Papering over a binary blob
And what happens if and when Marvell releases enough information to program this chip, and/or releases the source code for the existing blob under a free license, and people improve it? Anyone who bought the crippled board is screwed.
If the concern is that an updated version of the blob might be pushed out that subtracts freedom or contains anti-features, then as long as the free software part of the device controls the path that loads the firmware, malicious updates can be prevented. For extra paranoia there could be a physical interlock, a switch that must be thrown to allow an update, though that costs.
I'm afraid that the FSF has painted themselves into a corner here. They can't get around the fact that every nontrivial chip today has many processors with proprietary code in them, so they have invented this distinction that says that programs that can't be upgraded can be treated as circuitry and thereby make it possible to claim that they only run 100% free software.
In reality no one (including RMS) runs 100% free software because of the vast amounts of firmware and microcode. One can deny that reality, or instead work to continually increase the amount of free software available over time. This would mean that a device that a user can potentially program is preferable to one that cannot be altered, and is freer as well as long as there is no DRM lockout scheme.
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