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OpenBSD Activism Shows Drivers Can Be Freed 213

Posted by timothy
from the mindshare-will-follow dept.
grey writes "The Age has a story up about how the OpenBSD community has been contacting wireless chipset vendors to license their firmware binaries under terms that would allow for free redistribution. This is important, because even with existing GPL and BSD licensed drivers for these chipsets, the drivers don't function without first loading onerously licensed firmware binaries which can only be acquired from the vendor, not shipped by an OSS provider." (Read more, below.)

grey continues "This means that currently, these wireless NIC's don't work out of the box on OSS install or boot media. In just the first 4 days, hundreds of users wrote and called vendors, and already 2 vendors freed their firmware, and several others are in discussions with Theo de Raadt about taking similar steps.

We need your help! TI has still not responded at all. You can call or write to Bill Carney, - Director of Business Development of TI's WNBU to add to the approximately 400 well written messages the OpenBSD community has already sent to TI. We hope that you'll help, and if you do please keep messages polite and to the point. Please remember, we are not asking for the vendors to open source their firmware under the GPL or BSD licenses (though we wouldn't complain if they did). Instead, ask if they would simply email Theo to open discussions on licensing their firmware binaries under terms that allow for free redistribution. If changed, these firmware binaries would then be able to be included with OSS software and function with existing BSD and GPL licensed device drivers from the start.

You can find other contacts for target vendors here, here, here, and here, and it can't hurt to sign this petition. These changes aide all OSS efforts, not just OpenBSD. As you can see from the OpenBSD community's results already, contacting these vendors really does make a difference. We're sure that with the numbers of OSS minded readers in the Slashdot community you can really help with the heavy lifting where fewer numbers of BSD users have already begun to succeed, and all Open Source Software users will benefit."

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OpenBSD Activism Shows Drivers Can Be Freed

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 01, 2004 @07:25PM (#10694021)
    You must set it free.
  • Bahh (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Bahh. What about when we have cases of driver hooks being yanked from the kernel simly because of inflated egos? (I.e. PWC/PWCX)
    • Re:Bahh (Score:4, Insightful)

      by erikharrison (633719) on Monday November 01, 2004 @08:05PM (#10694455)
      Then you have a seperate issue, with a seperate OS, with a seperate developer, with a different kind of hardware.

      PWC hooks in the Linux kernel were hooks that were removed as part of a standard kernel policy, after the driver had fallen under the radar for some time, and that hook was specifically designed to extend the capabilities of working hardware in a way which was legally fishy.

      This is the issue of going to a vendor for the licence to redistribute firmware which already has a generic kernel hook for being loaded and will not initialize with said firmware.

      Or are you just being crabby?
    • Re:Bahh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ComputerSlicer23 (516509) on Monday November 01, 2004 @08:24PM (#10694669)
      Oddly enough, what this is doing, is precisely the way that the PWC/PWCX should be handled. He could have easily started shipping a module that was compiled out of tree, or as a patch, then no GPL violations happened (if you compile your own and don't distribute, there's literally nothing that is illegal you can do, it's only at the point that you distribute binaries that you get into trouble). He could have designed the other module to merely hook into it if it was loaded as opposed to designing it to require a function pointer. That was where it all went so badly wrong. If the binary only module was loaded inplace of the GPL'ed version it would have been fine. The problem was that the GPL'ed one was runtime linking to non-GPL'ed code. The code he was putting into the binary only version was clearly developed independently of Linux in the same fashion that the NVidia driver was (it was used in a different OS first, and it used essetially the same interface to the kernel as userspace does, thus passing Linus's criteria for not being a derived work).

      The problem was that there was a hook there that had the sole purpose of explicitly violating the GPL. Here, the firmware isn't linking with the GPL'ed code. So it's all good. This is uploading firmware from userspace via the kernel. Requiring it to be GPL'ed is like requiring that the files I read and write be GPL'ed because they passed thru the kernel.

      The firmware loading is there to resolve several pseudo GPL violations (I believe Adaptec has long strings of stuff that is a binary code that gets loaded into the firmware that people claim "we should have the source"). I've always held the believe that that code is not linking with the GPL'ed code, it is merely data as far as the kernel is concerned (you don't have to GPL the constants you use in drivers). While the firmware is intersting and it's plausible that OSS could improve it, it just saves the costs of burning a ROM in case there are bugs that have to be fixed.

      This all came up not that long ago and was a possibly blocking problem with the next debian release, but they choose to overlook the problem. The firmware loading is clever because it solves several problems, and is more flexible, and moves the problem outside of the kernel, and turns it into a data problem, not a code problem.

      Kirby

      • Re:Bahh (Score:3, Funny)

        by DragonHawk (21256)
        "Requiring it to be GPL'ed is like requiring that the files I read and write be GPL'ed because they passed thru the kernel."

        Don't give RMS any ideas.

        (I'm kidding, I'm kidding. I actually think the concept of copyleft is a Good Thing. But I take the shot when I see it.)
      • Re:Bahh (Score:3, Interesting)

        by CoolVibe (11466)
        A little bit offtopic to this thread, but I feel I need to say it anyway:

        I have to say that the NVIDIA guys are way more relaxed than say intel or broadcom. I'll give you an example: I contribute to the DragonFlyBSD [dragonflybsd.org] project. NVIDIA found out that I have been porting the FreeBSD X11 NVIDIA driver to DFBSD. They contacted me, and after some pleasant communication, they sent me a prerelease driver for me to port. But that just started things rolling, because I passed on the contact details to Joerg Sonneberg

  • Why NOT? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TexasDex (709519) on Monday November 01, 2004 @07:29PM (#10694065) Homepage
    Really. I never understood the reason for such restrictive licenses on drivers. I could distribute the drivers far and wide, but without buying the company's hardware (read: paying them money) they are really really useless.

    So why do companies have a problem with free driver distribution?

    • Re:Why NOT? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by liquidpele (663430) on Monday November 01, 2004 @07:31PM (#10694089) Journal
      They don't want you getting a driver from some shady site that put a virus in it, and thus giving their company a bad name (at least for dumb-computer-users).
      • Re:Why NOT? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Coneasfast (690509) on Monday November 01, 2004 @07:34PM (#10694128)
        They don't want you getting a driver from some shady site that put a virus in it, and thus giving their company a bad name (at least for dumb-computer-users).

        1) most people should know to download drivers from the computer manufacturer / device manufacturer. and if someone wanted to do that, they could without having the source code, just have to put a virus in the installer or reverse engineer the code.

        2) i don't think this is the issue here, look how many drivers are in the BSD/linux source code, has this really become a problem? no. will it ever? probably not.
        • Re:Why NOT? (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward
          1) most people should know to download drivers from the computer manufacturer / device manufacturer. and if someone wanted to do that, they could without having the source code, just have to put a virus in the installer or reverse engineer the code.

          I'm not disagreeing with things here, but that's not always the way people do it, at least with Windows.

          I have seen this first hand. The not-very-enlightened of the Windows world, when they "need a driver" (even if the hardware is already working) go to goog

      • Re:Why NOT? (Score:3, Informative)

        by LiquidCoooled (634315)
        But thats the whole point. By including the drivers in the operating system distrobution, you can ensure hardware is at least usable at plug in time WITHOUT having to go onto some dodgy site.
      • They don't want you getting a driver from some shady site that put a virus in it, and thus giving their company a bad name (at least for dumb-computer-users).

        Licensing to disallow distribution of proprietary software doesn't prevent this from occurring, whether the software is "firmware" or an "operating system".

        All that is gained with this petition is the ability to help an proprietor more efficiently distribute their non-free software. Users still have no idea what that software will do in the fu

        • The issue isn't the driver. The driver already exists. It's already open. If you had bothered to get an understanding of the issue you'd realize the problem is the firmware for the device. These companies, in an effort to save money, don't put the firmware directly on the card. They have the driver load it. If the vendor hadn't gone the cheap route this issue wouldn't exist because the firmware would be directly on the card and the free driver would just work.

          What Theo and the community want is the right t

          • I never said the issue was the driver. The word "driver" in a quote in my post, not my words, so I don't see how you could misinterpret my post that way. More importantly, the location of the software and how it is installed in the device is a red herring. I see no reason to believe that proprietary firmware somehow negates the need for software freedom.
            • by ComputerSlicer23 (516509) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @02:55AM (#10697615)
              More importantly, the location of the software and how it is installed in the device is a red herring

              Well, that's an interesting point. However, in this case, the firmware could effectively be in silicon. It's just easier to make it not be in silicon. Do you ask Intel for the rights to their Microcode? Intel/AMD CPU's (that's pretty much definitely hardware), have microcode patches.

              Do you demand Transmeta software. Their CPU is a big software translation engine, but they burn their software into a piece of silicon because it executes faster.

              Do you ask Intel for the plans to their CPU so you can use the Free Software concepts to fix up their CPU designs? They are nothing but big pieces of software that are turned into hardware by a very precise etch-a-sketch.

              The problem is that hardware is software, and software is hardware. Especially at the level of firmware. If it's programming an FPGA, that's literally hardware that is changeable. You are configuring a bunch of AND and OR gates. If it's running an ARM, you might have a development environment.

              However, if it's say the Adaptec SCSI firmware, you have a non-standard instruction set, with non-documented hardware. A non-existant tool chain. What do you want the source for? The only reason they do things in firmware, is so they can avoid soldering wires, flashing the PROM, or forcing you to physically pull the ROM and replace it if they find a problem. If they document it's behaviour and say "avoid that", it effectively becomes a hardware problem, the same as if they burned it to silicon.

              Open Source is a fairly practical solution to an Engineering problem. It's applying the age old solution of scientific peer review to the world of software. The freedom is incidental, but most of the original great science was fairly publicly available. At the level you are talking about, you are beginning to approach, "Well, is it a wave, or is a particle", when discussing "is it software, or is it hardware". I mean the CPU is flash upgradeable, and I'd say the CPU is about as hardware like as hardware gets.

              I agree that most of the time, all software should be open. However, in the case of the firmware, I think several different issues come up. Not the least of which are, you'll need the vendor to open the docs on the specifications of the hardware internals (this works at a lower layer then the driver does). You'll needs a tool chain for an assembler that might literally be a one-off designed in house by a hardware engineer. At some point, they'll be a layer of software, that until there is an open hardware maker that will be inheriently propritary (documenting the firmware properly essentially draws a blueprint for the hardware). The economics of the situation make no sense for the hardware makers to make it public knowledge. I'm not saying it's a good thing, but economics makes the computer world go around. The economics of hardware is what made writting software a possibility for so many of us. To blindly ignore them is naive. I wish that there was more open hardware that was actually made and sold as high quality equipment. I know I'd pay a premium for it to get hardware that was open all the way down to the traces on the board level.

              Kirby

              • These days, I don't ask because I'll do no better than getting proprietary software in exchange for the asking, which is not what I would want. In the past, it wasn't this way which is why I don't buy the excuse about how the economics of hardware work. Vendors have come to realize that people are willing to pay for hardware they can't fully use without the vendor's proprietary software. Since the public doesn't know about software freedom, they don't value it. Since they don't value software freedom, t

              • However, in the case of the firmware, I think several different issues come up

                No, no, no--this whole argument is irrelevant because this is not what is being requested.

                They are only requesting the ability to freely distribute the firmware with OpenBSD and other OSS. They are not asking that the hard-/firm-/software be opened for use by OSS.

                Most hardware manufacturers allow Microsoft to freely distribute basic driver software for their products. Does it seem unreasonable that OSS should not be abl
        • what hardware do you have in your computer that came with complete source for all its firmware?
    • Re:Why NOT? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MBCook (132727)
      Here is my guess, as always, IANALBIPOOSD (IANAL but I play one on /.).

      Legal stuff always tries to reserve as many rights as possible for the company, so when they came up with the license for the drivers they came up with a license that gave almost no rights to people (as licenses usually seem to do). And that's the way it's been for a long time because, untill now, no one needed that ability. I mean other than with OSS (IE in the Windows, DOS, or Mac worlds) what reasons would anyone have for wanting to

    • Re:Why NOT? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cmowire (254489) on Monday November 01, 2004 @07:36PM (#10694146) Homepage
      A variety of reasons, and there's probably a bunch more that I'm not aware of:
      • Legal counsel decides it's a bad idea because it could expose them to liability
      • It really does expose them to liability. For example, you could exceed FCC restrictions on the ISM bands by programming your card to emit more power than it should on frequencies it's not allowed in the US to be in.
      • They are selling the same hardware as three different products with only the drivers different.
      • You could make a linux-based device cheaper than their stand-alone equivelent.
      • There are bits of licensed code in the driver that aren't theirs to give out.
      • They are using a reference design and the driver contains features unique to their product. If they let the driver out, people will be able to buy the cheaper implementation of the same reference design and get those features.
      • Re:Why NOT? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by lawpoop (604919)
        Also:
        • They are using unlicensed code, i.e. code that they shouldn't.
      • Re:Why NOT? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Bastian (66383) on Monday November 01, 2004 @08:30PM (#10694731)
        While I agree that most of those are good reasons, I must say that I think that something is terribly wrong with the legal system if the vendor can be liable for my intentional misuse of their product.

        I envision a similar situation in which Detroit gets sued because they are liable for a person's speeding ticket. Only the person had to override some sort of speed limiter device in order to do it.
      • Two things:
        (1)You're talking about drivers. The petition is about the firmware.
        (2)Most of the reasons you mention are valid reasons for not opening the firmware source. That is not what is being asked. Just the license. In other words, to get permission from the manufacturers to freely redistribute the firmware BINARY. I don't see how you could exceed FCC restrictions if you can't modify the firmware because you don't have the source.
      • Re:Why NOT? (Score:2, Insightful)

        by halligas (782561) *
        Legal counsel decides it's a bad idea because it could expose them to liability
        Not true, they are already giving this firmware out with the cards, it is just on a cd and can only be installed from Windows. OBSD is merely asking for the ability to package the firmware with their distro.

        It really does expose them to liability. For example, you could exceed FCC restrictions on the ISM bands by programming your card to emit more power than it should on frequencies it's not allowed in the US to be in.
        Not
    • Re:Why NOT? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by networkBoy (774728)
      I think the real concern of the companies is that often drivers contain lots of information about the architecture of the hardware, that if it were to fall into "enemy hands" would compromise valuable IP assets that are likely trade secrete rather than patented.
      I know this to be the case where I work.
      -nB
      • Re:Why NOT? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by technoid_ (136914)
        Because we all know the competition could never go out and buy the product and get the driver from the included CD, or just download it from the manufacturer's site.

        The consumer might as well be considered enemy hands.

        • Because we all know the competition could never go out and buy the product and get the driver from the included CD, or just download it from the manufacturer's site.
          I'll bite the flamebait (That or you are ignorant of the way the real world works :p ):
          The perception of the companies is that to be in an OSS distribution you must include the *source* of the firmware. A simple binary download does very little to help the competition, a source library, however, tells volumes. Devs tend to use names and stru
          • A simple binary download does very little to help the competition, a source library, however, tells volumes.

            But this is not about source at all! It's not about drivers, it's about firmware binaries which get uploaded by the driver and are never available as source. All they asked was for those binaries to be redistributable, not to open source them.
            • my inital point is that many companies perception (mine included) assume that in order to be involved in open source they'd have to open the source for the driver as well as the firmware image. While this may not be the case, it is the perception that counts.
              -nB
    • Actually, this is the best method of copyright protection; I think an appropriate name would be the "reverse dongle" approach. The value for you is in the hardware device, which follows traditional economic rules. The software is only for enabling the device - it does nothing else, and nothing else does so. Thus, the software can be licensed freely.

      A company who can master this should never have a problem with software piracy. If someone makes a clone of the hardware, that's either a patent infringement (n
      • In economic terms: hardware is rivalrous and excludable, which makes it a private good. Digital information is neither (so trying to pimp it is as silly as selling a fireworks display).
    • A few reasons:

      * Preventing unofficial driver releases, the shortcomings of which may be blamed on the hardware maker by lesser-informed people.

      * Some drivers really are quite complicated. Take graphics card drivers, for instance. NVidia are constantly coming up with newer versions that increase performance, as they discover new optimisations and so on.

      * The old corporate mentality that one should never divulge any secrets, especially when they're full of complicated information (see previous point) tha
    • Re:Why NOT? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SydShamino (547793) on Monday November 01, 2004 @07:46PM (#10694273)
      Dude, note that this is for FIRMWARE, not drivers. Big difference.

      Hardware used to do things using discrete transistors, resistors, diodes, etc. These days most of that (and more) can be done better in high-density logic devices. But the "top of the line" high density logic, ASICs, still have too great a startup cost for many companies. Plus, they cannot be field upgraded.

      The next best logic, FPGAs, are not hard-coded with the firmware. Instead, they load it from a memory source on the hardware - or they load it from the operating system on boot or plug-in. The advantage of the latter is that you don't have to pay for the EEPROM or flash to store the firmware on board, and updating the firmware is as simple as downloading a new binary to your computer. (Overwriting EEPROM or flash firmware on hardware can be dangerous, as a failure could prevent the hardware from being recognized to try again.)

      So, firmware (i.e. code for the hardware) ships with the software driver, but is separate from it. Your next question will be: Why don't they open-source their firmware, too?

      And the answer here is simple. They have to pay someone to design that firmware, lay out the PCB, spec in parts and materials, and then provide hardware to build those units. If their firmware is available to all, then someone else can take that code, copy their PCB, and produce the exact same board except with no overhead of R&D. Heck, they could even provide (under the table) vendor and device information so that it looked exactly like the primary company's product, would work with their driver, etc.

      Why would any company want to do that? One of the early competitors of my company, 15 years or so ago when we used TTL parts, copied the entire product exactly. Reverse engineered the PCB. Then ran advertisements showing the two boards side-by-side, explaining how they were identical except that theirs cost less because they have no research overhead.

      So, of course, my company leveraged its research "overhead" to produce a better, faster product that also happened to not be so easily copied. This resulted in our first ASIC. There is no way that we or most other existing hardware companies would return to the days where anyone can copy their products.
      • Re:Why NOT? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 01, 2004 @08:10PM (#10694513)
        Dude, this article is about -licensing- the firmware in such a way that it can be shipped by OSS vendors - NOT about Open Sourcing it (quote: "Please remember, we are not asking for the vendors to open source their firmware under the GPL or BSD licenses"). Stop trying to answer a question no one was asking, you're either making yourself look foolish or intentionally misleading people when you do such things.

        Anyone who wanted to reverse engineer the firmware would have just as tough a time doing it _now_ as they would if the firmware was able to be shipped on a knoppix or OpenBSD CD instead of downloading it from a website with an Intel licensing splash page.

        You have some worthwhile points and you explain the distinction between drivers and firmware well, but your argument and company's experience is not relevant in this instance. Getting companies like TI and Intel to license their firmware in a way that allows for other vendors to provide it out of the box is just going to help users - other companies which might be helped or hindered by open sourced firmware will be completely unaffected, because the challenge will remain the same as it is now.

        Let's take that intellect and argumentative skills and point it at contacts for TI and intel instead of veering off course.
        • The parent poster used these words:

          >> So why do companies have a problem with free driver distribution?

          Free, as in speech (or beer). I read it as speech. And, he was talking about drivers, not firmware, as he should have been.
      • I might be missing something in your explanation, but the poster was not calling for the firmware to be open source, but that the license for the binaries be changed so that they can be redistributed (with, say, a Linux distribution).
    • The excuse most heard in graphics drivers is that having a driver would allow a rival company to reverse engineer the special magic that makes the hardware special. I'm not sure it applies here, but the pointy-haired mentality is known to be aggregative.
    • Re:Why NOT? (Score:4, Informative)

      by amorsen (7485) <benny+slashdot@amorsen.dk> on Monday November 01, 2004 @07:51PM (#10694328)
      This article isn't about drivers. It is about firmware.
    • In some cases involving multimedia hardware, it is in a hardware manufacturer's best interest to withhold information and support for open-source platforms. In the absence of free software support for their hardware, they can charge very large sums of money for driver software and support to consumer electronics manufacturers with deep pockets. (Open source platforms such as Linux and BSD are extremely popular in the consumer electronics world.)

      I've personally seen this happen. :/

    • Re:Why NOT? (Score:5, Informative)

      by RedLeg (22564) on Monday November 01, 2004 @08:42PM (#10694837) Journal
      So why do companies have a problem with free driver distribution?

      A: In the case of wireless, the FCC plays a part.

      An 802.11 Wireless Card is a software controlled radio, and must be licensed per FCC regs (in the USA, your country's rules might be different). Since the 802.11 PHY operates over several channels within the specified band, it must be able to select and switch between these channels via software, and to adjust its transmit power for optimum performance based on the changes in temperature of the transmitter, and changes in the frequency, among other things.

      But different regulatory domains (countries) allow different channels within the bands, meaning a card in the US may be able to operate on a channel in the B band which is not licensed for another country, or vice versa. This is particularly true in the A band, where a whole middle "chunk" is not legal for use in the US.

      Bottom line is that in order for the producer to get a license for the radio (and trust me, you do NOT want it to be the case that you, the operator, have to secure that license), he is NOT ALLOWED to expose the controls for power, et al, to the end user.

      Now, if the driver / firmware (distinction / similarity discussed elsewhere in the thread) is open source, then by definition the controls in question are exposed to the end user. There would be nothing to prevent an end user from operating his card at a higher than legal power, or outside the legal freqs for the local regulatory domain.

      NOW, all that being said, that is not to say that SOME hardware manufacturers haven't tried to do the right thing, and strike a compromise.

      The MAD-WiFi Project http://sourceforge.net/projects/madwifi [sourceforge.net], (FAQ here [clara.co.uk]) produces an open driver for the cards with Atheros chipsets. The bulk of the code is open, and under a good license. To meet the FCC requirements, they implement the "required to be secret" controls in a binary-only Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL), but the rest of the code is open, free for you to read and modify.

      And it works. I'm typing this through a Netgear card, running the MAD-WiFi driver (with TKIP encryption, IEEE 802.11i 4-way handshake and authentication handled by wpa_supplicant) on Gentoo Linux.

      Credit is due to Sam Lefler and most importantly to Greg Chesson (of Atheros). Yes, it's that [google.com] Greg Chesson, the same one mentioned of late by Rob Pike in his recent ./ interview.

      Note that, AFAICT, all of this happened without Theo de Raadt pimping around or making an ass of himself, as he is want to do. Disclaimer: I lost patience with Theo and TheoBSD a long time ago.

      • Re:Why NOT? (Score:2, Informative)

        by ciph3rBSD (555525)
        OpenBSD has just imported a FREE driver for Atheros card reverse engineered without the HAL stuff ;)
      • Re:Why NOT? (Score:2, Informative)

        by ciph3rBSD (555525)
        OpenBSD has just imported a FREE driver for Atheros card reverse engineered without the HAL stuff ;) ------- CVSROOT: /cvs Module name: src Changes by: reyk@cvs.openbsd.org 2004/11/01 20:01:16 Added files: sys/dev/ic : ar5xxx.c ar5xxx.h ar5210.c ar5210reg.h ar5210var.h Log message: import of a free hal part for the ath driver as a replacement for the binary-only hal module found in FreeBSD and NetBSD. OpenBSD's approach is based on reverse engineering because it is _not_ possible
      • Re:Why NOT? (Score:3, Informative)

        by codguy (629138)
        [radio static on]Hello RedLeg, are you there??? Come in, Redleg...[radio static off]

        OpenBSD (and others) simply want to be able to freely distribute the firmware with OpenBSD (or other OSS) freely.

        The request is *not* to open up the firmware like your message suggests. Again, since you missed it the first time, the request is *not* to open up the firmware like your message suggests.

        Maybe the average slashdot reader does not have a long enough attention span to follow such logic through, but this
  • Salient point: (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Sheetrock (152993)
    Why settle for binary only?

    Particularly where OpenBSD is concerned, where every inch of the code has been scrutinized for security holes, encouraging the use and distribution of binary-only drivers sounds like a quick way to lose the status of never having a security hole in the installation. There's got to be a hardware manufacturer that's willing to release source (though the hardware might cost a little more).

    • Re:Salient point: (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gl4ss (559668) on Monday November 01, 2004 @07:33PM (#10694113) Homepage Journal
      *Why settle for binary only?*

      because it's doable and reasonable, and most importantly something that the vendors could agree to.

      (they don't really lose anything if they allow the binary versions to be distributed along the os's, all they lose is that people won't dl the files from them directly)
    • Re:Salient point: (Score:3, Informative)

      by downbad (793562)
      firmware, not drivers. :)
    • Besides "trade secrets" and such, there are other good reasons. First of all, another company could take their hard written code, change it a little, and then add some hardware to get a implementation for next to no investment (compared to the origional company).

      But another reason that I've heard of is that many of these are software radios to a degree. This means that you can choose the powerlevel and frequencies and such in the firmware. Among other things this would let them change to the .11G standard

    • Long term, it would be nice to have source to this stuff, but the people we need to bug are at the FCC - not at the hardware manufacturer.

      Until it's legal to distribute the source for Wireless NIC firmware, bugging the hardware manufacturer for it is just being obnoxious.

      Reverse engineering it on the other hand - that's fair game.
  • by jmulvey (233344) on Monday November 01, 2004 @07:33PM (#10694112)
    Until an open source hardware manufacturer is sprouted, I can't understand why any for-profit company would license the most difficult part of their design for "free distribution".

    I mean, if they licensed it for free distribution, what would prevent some half-baked Chinese knock off from mass producing the wireless chipset reference design, burning the for-profit's "free" firmware, and selling for a huge profit?

    Please sir, if you'd only give me the keys to the kingdom.
    • You should notice that they are going after the chipset manufacturers, not the card manufacturers.
    • I mean, if they licensed it for free distribution, what would prevent some half-baked Chinese knock off from mass producing the wireless chipset reference design, burning the for-profit's "free" firmware, and selling for a huge profit?

      And this would hurt the chipset manufacturer how? The knock-off company would still have to buy the chips from them. That's why they make reference designs .. so other companies can know how to make knock-offs.

    • I mean, if they licensed it for free distribution, what would prevent some half-baked Chinese knock off from mass producing the wireless chipset reference design, burning the for-profit's "free" firmware, and selling for a huge profit?
      Patents and copyrights? (Patents on the principles of the design, copyrights on those parts of the implementation that are sufficiently creative.)
      • Ha ha ha!

        Oh, you were serious? Come on... China doesn't enforce copyright and patent legislation anything _like_ the U.S. does. Just consider, as a single data point, how many pirated copies of Windows exist over there. I'm constantly bombarded with people from China offering the business I work for dubious copies of sewing machines and sergers that we sell already. They are cheaper because they are 'exactly like' the brand-name machines we buy from legitimate manufacturers, but these are manufactured
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 01, 2004 @07:44PM (#10694245)
      The hardware -design- is the "keys to the kingdom" not the firmware, and they're not even asking for the firmware binaries to be open sourced - merely licensed so that they can be distributed freely by OSS vendors. Feels like I'm just quoting the article here, so I guess you might need to reread it more carefully.

      If you've dealt with traditional firmware it's called "firm" because it's usually written to a flash memory of some sort on the device (be it CD Burner, NIC, etc.) in this case these vendors are cheaping out on an inexpensive piece of flash memory, and instead designing the 'firmware' to be loaded by the driver, thus unless the driver loads it each time the computer is turned on, then it disappears, it is not static. As such, it makes the hardware utterly useless unless you not only have a device driver, but also this firmware binary loaded. If they had spend a few cents extra and invested in a flash chip that moved with the hardware, this wouldn't be an issue. Instead, they've turned a hardware design issue into a software problem, and if they don't allow for that firmware blob to be redistributed with software drivers (be they proprietary or otherwise) from other vendors - the hardware is useless.

      Rather than making a strawman argument about this issue which you didn't take the time to fully understand despite the large amount of text and background links in the story, it would really help everyone if people would write the vendors in question and ask for them to make a minor change. No one is asking them to open their designs a la opencores.org, merely license their firmware blobs in such a way that the firmware can be shipped with other Operating systems that -already- have OSS drivers.

      (Going to write and call now instead of waste more breath on slashdot responses)
      • My God man, this is Slash Dot!

        We just cannot allow you to read the article, understand it AND post an eloquent, on-topic response. Please stop this nonsense!

        In all seriousness sir/madam, GREAT response!
      • but if you actually own the hardware (ie it came with your computer or you got it from the shop) then shouldn't you also have the firmware available on the driver disc that came with the item???
      • It can be the keys to the kingdom. In the case of WiFi cards, there's less discrete hardware and a hell of a lot more software in the form of DSP code. Most of the modern WiFi cards happen to be software radios and you can exceed power limitations, recode the thing to broadcast on bands that aren't allowed, etc.
        In the case of DSL chips, it's the same story.
    • IANA Design Engineer, but I would guess that knockoffs wouldn't be that big of a problem. I think that most of the driver work is done by the chipset manufacturer. OEM's don't need to do a whole lot of customization - hence the million and one nVidia video card brands that are available. For instance, I've seen some devices get all of their branding from an .ini file that comes with the install file. Since the Chinese mfg's still need to buy a chipset, and the chipset guys are the primary targets for th
    • These vendors already give their drivers out to everyone with Windows distributions. And the drivers are freely available to download from their web sites.

      So what would stop this now?

      You can't be paranoid about every possible possibility especially when the risk has already been taken.
    • What would prevent that half-baked Chinese knockoff from downloading firmware from the manufacturers website, or heck, even buying one of the wireless products and copying the firmware anyway??

      What Theo is saying is that if the manufacturers would allow him (us?) to distribute the firmware, then *BSD, Linux, or any other OS, would work out of the box with any given piece of hardware. Theo's pointing out that any given user can already download the firmware in a Windows package, extract the relevant bits,

  • Theo (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CaptainPinko (753849) on Monday November 01, 2004 @07:35PM (#10694135)
    People have criticised Theo for being agressive and less than baby-ass smooth --hell he got booted from NetBSD for it-- but he's gotten results first with the quality of OpenBSD and now with this. I think he has earned the right be hostile if he wants to- it works.

    I wonder if Linus could do something similar to get ATI and NVidia to open up...

    • Well, Nvidia's drivers are already redistributable. Would be nice if ATI would do the same. What would be nicer is if ATI would fix their drivers so they can be built against a kernel-headers package instead of a full-blown kernel-source package.
    • Re:Theo (Score:3, Informative)

      by shorti9 (307602)
      ATI and NVidia are, by the twisted logic you're using, already more open than this! They ship full drivers with source code for ABI compatibility layers. Theo didn't get them to open up at all, all he got was a license for free redistribution of a chunk of data they hadn't previously allowed distributed.
    • Except Linus has a reputation for NOT being an asshole, simply because he doesn't care.
    • I think he has earned the right be hostile if he wants to- it works.

      From the Age article :

      He said he found it sad that the Linux crowd did not help in the activism at all. "(They) always seem to talk about freedom but are not helping in this activism. It's basically BSD people doing it. That is curious. For instance, do you think Linus (Torvalds) would send a mail to TI? No, I would bet money that he did not. Yet he is aware of what is going on. That's very odd to me."

      Do you think this will go acr

  • by ch-chuck (9622) on Monday November 01, 2004 @07:35PM (#10694137) Homepage
    comparison shop for 'your rights online' ? wtf???

    That's like the old Lycos at one time put in this automated advertising thing, so you search for libstdc++-devel-3.2.2-5 and it comes back with "Find bargains on libstdc++-devel-3.2.2-5 at Amazon.com!", "See what people are saying about libstdc++-devel-3.2.2-5 on movietalk.com!"

    • by Anonymous Coward
      it was even worse when you tried some not-ver-politicaly-correct-isms.

      Find great bargains on black people at amazon.com!

      Read reviews from people who bought black people at cnet.com!

      Automation is a good thing.. it reminds us (daily) why people should not and can not be replaced by computers.
  • is it just me.... (Score:3, Informative)

    by revery (456516) * <charles AT cac2 DOT net> on Monday November 01, 2004 @07:45PM (#10694254) Homepage
    or has BSD been getting a heck of a lot of stories [slashdot.org] on [slashdot.org] the [slashdot.org] main [slashdot.org] page [slashdot.org] lately

    It's like they haven't been listening to the trolls [wikipedia.org] at [hiro-tan.org] all [daemonnews.org]

    --

    I write stuff [livejournal.com], but not that well and not that often...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 01, 2004 @07:48PM (#10694292)
    First; Write your letter to the hardware company.
    Second; Sign the above mentioned petition.
    Third; Only buy hardware from companies that are OSS friendly, that make good products for which they do not rely on disabling the expensive features in software.
    Forth; Send a(nother) letter to the hardware company that makes the devices that you would have preferred to buy, and tell them why you didn't buy it.
  • by gorim (700913) on Monday November 01, 2004 @07:54PM (#10694360)

    Its really nice that people who run slashdot themselves now encourage corporate harassment and activist measures by posting people's names and email addresses.

    Whats next ? Posting email addresses of likely Presidental voters to get them to switch to Slashdot's favored candidate ?
    • I have ABSOLUTELY no idea what your problem is.

      This is the public contact information for employees of a company we wish to persuade. How is this somehow unfair? It's not as if anyone suggested doing anything damaging with this information.

      Is it also somehow wrong to post the e-mail addresses of senators, congressmen, and other public servants?

      Making them click-through to another page before getting the e-mail address is just a pointless hoop that would make no difference.
  • by FyRE666 (263011) * on Monday November 01, 2004 @08:40PM (#10694816) Homepage
    Honestly, why would someone submit this to Slashdot? I mean, they've managed to submit hundreds of "well written" messages to vendors, and now they're about to fuck it all up by encouraging the illiterate, and largely uninformed masses here to send in their own special brands of wisdom.... Then there's the goatse fans, tubgirl gang, "BSD is dying" trolls and other shining stars of the forum just waiting to get in on the fun... ... oh well, it could have worked ;-)
    • they've managed to submit hundreds of "well written" messages to vendors, and now they're about to fuck it all up by encouraging the illiterate, and largely uninformed masses here to send in their own special brands of wisdom....

      The "well written" messages to T.I. haven't yeilded any positive results, so there aren't any bridges that we risk burning by letting loose the retard army :-)

      They haven't listened to reason, even from hundreds of professional people, so maybe hundreds of thousands of idiots will

  • This is great. I hope several companies agree. It will be hard to get Linksys to agree, if they try. Linksys will not do anything about it. I have written to them three times about it, and gotten bullshit each time saying that they might be working on drivers for other OSes. The more companies we get the better. Wireless support is the only issue stopping me from using BSD or Linux.
  • by IgD (232964) on Monday November 01, 2004 @09:07PM (#10695055)
    Here is the reply I got when e-mailing him:

    "This is an automatic reply.
    I will be away from the office on business in Europe from 12n Monday 11/1 through Friday 11/5. During this time, there may be a delay responding to your email. /b"

    I wonder what his expression will be on Monday when he checks his e-mail...
  • I want to break free
    I want to break free
    I want to break free from your lies
    You're so self satisfied I don't need you
    I've got to break free
    God knows God knows I want to break free

    ---
    Shit, I hope so, driving is a bitch in Toronto, I don't know what I would do if it was shown that drivers could not be freed. I say: Free Drivers, Free Drivers!

  • by iabervon (1971) on Monday November 01, 2004 @09:22PM (#10695215) Homepage Journal
    This is about firmware, which is code which gets sent to the device and helps the device work. These are not drivers, which you run on your processor. Typically, firmware is written either for some weird variant of C, or for a completely non-sequential language (for FPGAs). You'd probably have a really hard time compiling it if you had the source. One set of firmware I know of only builds with a particular non-current version of a $10K/seat commercial compiler; this isn't unusual. Furthermore, they're often signed, if only to keep people from messing up their hardware by loading a broken version into it.

    In any case, these aren't programs for your computer, and it is merely a matter of convenience that they aren't sealed into the device at the factory (so you can update them without sending the device back). It doesn't make any more sense to want the source for the firmware for your NIC than it would be to ask for the source to the firmware for your microwave.

    Previously, the firmware was only available from the manufacturers directly, and licensed such that you weren't supposed to redistribute it. OpenBSD people complained that making people go online to update their NIC so that it works is a bit annoying, and that they'd like to be able to get it from OpenBSD, whose CD they would be getting and who would be happy to download the firmware for them.
    • These are not drivers, which you run on your processor.

      True, but the firmware is still needed in order for the driver to do it's job. The issue is not about the public having access to firmware source code, the issue is that these developers need to be able to re-distribute the firmware binaries in order for their drivers to work "out of the box." From what I can see in reading the emails, these licenses are too restrictive for the developers to feel safe in re-distributing them. One of the replies I rea
      • There is some concern about the issues involved with turning the binary firmware blob into a string constant in a C file to be compiled into the kernel image so that it is accessible to the driver before there is a filesystem. Having a license to distribute a file is different from having a license to distribute a program that, without any input, outputs the file.

        Of course, you get into awkward circumstances here. What if your program messes up and fails to output the file exactly as it was supposed to? Yo
    • making people go online to update their NIC so that it works

      It's rather funny that they don't see the catch in there :-)
  • Most people would be happy to go to 10 different URLs and fill in forms with their name, address and e-mail (given a strong promise not to spam) as long as after downloading the firmware all the hardware they had worked and had sufficient software to control and use it.

    The real problems of free OSes are missing drivers, unstable drivers and drivers that need a recompile after installing the next kernel patch. Someone should just write kwine, a subsystem for running NT drivers under Linux. Must be a lot sim
  • by kkkelley (827424) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @06:00AM (#10698338)
    I worked for six months to get Atmel to release their firmware under a licence which allowed redistribution. That was for use with the Linux atmel_cs driver. And I collaborated with Manuel Estrada Sainz to add the hotplug firmware loading code to Linux, to avoid violating the GPL by linking Atmel's proprietary stuff with the kernel. And I built and distributed packages [thekelleys.org.uk] of the firmware. And all of this is a piss-poor alternative to just releasing the source!
  • I would like to see someone compile a list of all cases where it is possible to use a given piece of hardware (e.g. WiFi card) using only 100% Open Source code for all the stuff that executes on the host CPU (closed firmware that executes on a microcontroler or CPU on the card itself is OK as long as the licence for said firmware is good enough to enable it to be packaged with said Open Source drivers).

    Drivers that only exist because someone reverse engineered the hardware and there is absolutly no company

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