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Reasons partially out of $COMPANY's control.

Reasons partially out of $COMPANY's control.

Posted Oct 10, 2006 0:20 UTC (Tue) by shapr (guest, #9077)
In reply to: Device drivers and non-disclosure agreements by nix
Parent article: Device drivers and non-disclosure agreements

"Reasons partially out of $COMPANY's control." - All the hardware vendors say this. Nvidia is the first one that comes to mind, but I'm tired of hearing it. I don't want to pay money to any hardware vendor to get a device that I don't control. This is like DRM, "We'll sell this to you as long as we can choose how you use it."

Recently I've been hacking on the driver sources for my Nokia 770. One serious problem is that the Bluetooth firmware has bug(s) where rfcomm keyboards cause the chip to die in such a way that only a reboot fixes the problem. This problem has been known for months, and some of the smartest and most productive coders I know have been having this problem. If they had the firmware source, it would already be fixed.
But they won't get the source, and at some point the bluetooth chip vendor might get off their ass and fix it. But the has no motivation to fix it, they don't get more money for drivers. Users have a motivation to fix it because it affects them directly. Obvious conclusion? Get the users to write the drivers.
Similarly, I want to do cool and nifty tricks with the cx3110x 802.11 chip in the 770, but it also has a binary firmware blob that gets in the way.

When will someone start making hardware and hiring {Linux,BSD,etc} device driver authors to write, release and maintain the drivers?

I would cheerfully pay $5000+USD for my next system if it came with all the source for everything in the system. Is there such an option? I'm not picky about the arch...


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Reasons partially out of $COMPANY's control.

Posted Oct 10, 2006 0:28 UTC (Tue) by cventers (guest, #31465) [Link]

I, too, would pay a premium for a truly and fully open system to which all
source was available.

But I wish to simultaneously observe that this discussion we are now
having should not even be necessary! It is downright obnoxious that
computer manufacturing has degraded to this point. Frankly, although we
hear arguments against fully open specs or drivers all the time, I think
that all of them, while possibly true in and of themselves, are even
collectively no good reason not to have open specs!

So I do think Theo is fighting the good fight. He may just be barking up
the wrong trees.

Reasons partially out of $COMPANY's control.

Posted Oct 10, 2006 7:15 UTC (Tue) by nix (subscriber, #2304) [Link]

I concur, for what it's worth. It's a very silly first-strike target,
PR-wise.

Reasons partially out of $COMPANY's control.

Posted Oct 20, 2006 3:22 UTC (Fri) by Nimbleno (guest, #41230) [Link]

First strike? Theo and the OpenBSD folks have been fighting this battle for years. And they've had some good sucesses, such as with many wireless drivers. This is hardly a first strike.

Reasons partially out of $COMPANY's control.

Posted Oct 25, 2006 23:03 UTC (Wed) by nix (subscriber, #2304) [Link]

True.

It's a very badly-chosen fiftieth-strike target, for that matter. `Hey,
let's go after a project aimed at... very poor children!'

Theo de Raadt, unsung comedic genius?

There are fully open systems

Posted Oct 10, 2006 2:33 UTC (Tue) by wookey (subscriber, #5501) [Link]

Depends what you mean by system, but this board comes with everything, including CPLD/FPGA code, jtag programming code, bootloader, drivers, kernel, rootfs, schematics, gerbers. http://balloonboard.org/

Of course, whilst you can run Debian on it, it is pretty feeble in comparison to a modern x86 machine, so is not a great desktop-replacement, but it is an example showing that fully open systems can and do exist.

Reasons partially out of $COMPANY's control.

Posted Oct 10, 2006 4:36 UTC (Tue) by danm628 (guest, #5995) [Link]

The companies may not be able to release the documentation even if they they want to.

I worked at a startup (since bought by Intel which is where I now work though on a totally different product -- just making full disclosure here). We developed a wireless product which unfortunately never shipped. But even if we had released it there were limits on what we could have publicly documented. Obviously we had the right to document the portions of the chip that we designed. But we purchased licenses for a couple of large RTL blocks and licensed a couple of large hunks of C code from other companies. These companies exist solely to sell licenses to the RTL modules and code they develop which means they have no desire to publish their code under any of the open source licenses.

Our product would have been "open", we planned to document the PC side API's to the firmware completely. You could have written a driver for Linux (in fact we did for internal use) or OpenBSD. But we could *NEVER* release the source code to the firmware or even document the internal registers that the firmware used. In a single register there could be IP from multiple companies and we can only publish our companies IP. So we couldn't have written documentation that would have allowed outside developers to write code unless they were under the same NDAs that we were under.

And all of this ignores regulatory issues. The FCC really doesn't like software controlled radios to be documented. You have to get approval to sell you chip. Our solution was to put the FCC stuff into our firmware. This made our driver (Windows, Linux, etc.) was very thin.

Many chips are like the one we designed. A small amount of IP designed by the company, the "key" feature of the product. A lot of off the shelf modules that may or may not have publicly available documentation. The company can try to select modules with public documentation but they may not exist. So you have to license what is available, whether or not it has public documentation. The company can try to develop all of the modules itself so it can release the documentation but that takes more money and takes more time. Both of which are in short supply on any project.

I'm not sure what the solution is. Theo does have a point; he usually does. Without public documentation of hardware we can't have a fully open OS. But getting fully open hardware requires changes to how chip IP vendors work, which will take time to achieve.


Reasons partially out of $COMPANY's control.

Posted Oct 10, 2006 6:25 UTC (Tue) by bignose (subscriber, #40) [Link]

> The companies may not be able to release the documentation even if they they want to.

Their choices are what led them to be in possession of hardware which they are not allowed to describe.

> Obviously we had the right to document the portions of the chip that we designed. But we purchased licenses for a couple of large RTL blocks and licensed a couple of large hunks of C code from other companies. These companies exist solely to sell licenses to the RTL modules and code they develop which means they have no desire to publish their code under any of the open source licenses.

This just begs the question one further level. If companies find themselves in a position to obtain part of their hardware design from another party, we need to let them know -- with noise, and real repercussions when they ignore us -- that if they don't get it under conditions that allow them to describe it fully, they are *choosing* to lock themselves out.

> But getting fully open hardware requires changes to how chip IP vendors work, which will take time to achieve.

So, by encouraging vendors when they *can* release the documentation on their hardware, and -- more importantly -- making it plain that we *don't* accept hardware without this documentation, we enlist the hardware manufacturers in pressuring *their* suppliers.

Reasons partially out of $COMPANY's control.

Posted Oct 10, 2006 6:34 UTC (Tue) by cventers (guest, #31465) [Link]

Yes. I believe this to be our challenge and goal in getting the free specs
and drivers that we need. All manufacturer statements of "but it can't be
free" must be met with "It must, for we are the consumer that pays your
salary and rent."

I _do_ think that this is already a functional and working strategy.
Certain free software friendly companies have already engaged in coercion
of other business partners for the release of specs or drivers. What we
need is a bigger and more comprehensive effort, and a little bit of time.

But I want to caution at the same time that while we must always be firm
with our demands, we must be careful not to eat or young in the process.

Reasons partially out of $COMPANY's control.

Posted Oct 10, 2006 8:22 UTC (Tue) by shapr (guest, #9077) [Link]

How about a startup that writes this sort of free/oss RTL so that companies can release everything about their drivers? Maybe this would be better as a bounty?

If this existed, companies could sell their chips without drivers and users would have to deal with FCC discovered misuse themselves maybe?

How does the GNU USRP get sold? What does the FCC think about it?

Anyway, hardware specs and open firmware is of value to me, so I'd pay a startup to do it.

The earlier post that mentioned the balloon board is the sort of thing I'd like to have, but with desktop sized power. Maybe the Movidis x16 with totally open drivers?

Reasons partially out of $COMPANY's control.

Posted Oct 10, 2006 18:18 UTC (Tue) by flewellyn (subscriber, #5047) [Link]

These companies exist solely to sell licenses to the RTL modules and code they develop which means they have no desire to publish their code under any of the open source licenses.

That's as it may be, but there are now projects like OpenCores that are working on developing free IP blocks for hardware development. The project may not have existed at the time your old startup was working on this card, of course. But now that it does, I would think it'd be in the interest of many manufacturers, as well as the community at large, to start using that resource.


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