NDA is a contract and contracts differ.
I would expect that if it's true that the problem is that there is simply a lack of documentation then that can easily be overcome. Either through self documenting code or other things.
I figure a company may just need help or lack resources and a Linux developer or two can then work with them in a consulting role as a sort of ambassador to figure out the best way to get their hardware open enough to allow other developers write code for it.. but not to violate any prior patent or copyright agreements with other companies and not to risk revealing hardware design more then nessicary. If a Linux developer was to follow that role then it would probably be nessicary for them to know more about the company and the hardware design then is nessicary or desirable and a NDA were the company gets to review documentation and code before release would be appropriate and safe for everybody involved.
It would be a insurance policy to protect not only the ass of the hardware company in question, but also make sure that no third party 'IP' (horrid word) makes it's way into the Linux kernel or other people's software were it could cause legal troubles down the road.
However if the company isn't going to allow you to open up the hardware then the likelihood is that the real reason that there is no documentation or reveiling code or whatever the hell people want is because _they_had_no_intention_in_releasing_anything_at_all_ and why waste resources on something like that? They'll force developers to obsicate the code and thus it will be unmaintable by anybody that hasn't signed the NDA. In that case it's not realy any that much better then closed source. Free software, Open Source software just doesn't work under those conditions. This is what Theo was bitching about.
You'd just end up with something like the 'NV' driver were it's unmaintanable and pretty buggy and just encourages people to use close source drivers.
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