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Reasons partially out of $COMPANY's control.

Reasons partially out of $COMPANY's control.

Posted Oct 10, 2006 4:36 UTC (Tue) by danm628 (guest, #5995)
In reply to: Reasons partially out of $COMPANY's control. by shapr
Parent article: Device drivers and non-disclosure agreements

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.



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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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