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Intel Accused of Being an "Open Source Fraud" 153

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the you-bought-it-now-you-can't-use-it dept.
Binary-Blob writes "Kernal Trap has an article up in which some key OpenBSD developers accuse Intel of being an open source fraud. The issue stems from the prevalence of firmware 'blobs' in open source projects, and OpenBSD's reluctance to use them unless they are distributed freely and without restrictions. Leading project creator Theo de Raadt offers that Intel should follow the example of other companies in the market: 'Intel must do this firmware grant in the same way that Adaptec, Atmel, Broadcom, Cirrus Logic, Cyclades, QLogic, Ralink, and LSI and lots of other companies have granted distribution firmware to be used by others.' He concluded by requesting that the open source community contact Intel to help get them to change their policies"
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Intel Accused of Being an "Open Source Fraud"

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  • by evilviper (135110) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @04:43AM (#16289247) Journal
    What seems strange is that de Raadt is calling for BSD-licensed "binary blobs". I can't imagine why he would want that in favor of BSD-licensed code

    Because the source code for firmware is completely useless to all but 5 people on the planet. The firmware isn't the driver, the firmware is just a binary chunk that "SHOULD" be burned into eprom on the hardware.

  • by HornyBastard (666805) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @04:44AM (#16289257)
    "What seems strange is that de Raadt is calling for BSD-licensed "binary blobs". I can't imagine why he would want that in favor of BSD-licensed code, or better the hardware interface specs."

    In a case like this, it is the smart thing to do. Any company is more likely to give "binary blobs" instead of source code. de Raadt has more chance of getting what he asks for this way.
  • by IcePic (23761) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @04:52AM (#16289307) Homepage
    I think you're mixing stuff up.
    The "blob" part is like the Nvidia binary drivers for X11.
    What Theo is asking for is to be allowed to re-distribute the firmwares
    for the chips, so that you can use the network card for installs, for instance.
    If you are required to go through a webpage and click Yes before you can use
    your network card, then it's pretty much useless for installs unless you already
    had another network card in there already.

    Then, on top of this, he seems to want the specs for the API used to talk to
    this firmware-driven hardware, so that they can write a driver of their own.
    Big difference there.
    * Firmware - please allow us to redistribute verbatim copies of it.
    * API - docs in order to write free drivers.

    These are two things needed in order to get those intel cards going.
    Since the firmware in one way or another already is available on the
    net or on the CD in windows-format, there really shouldn't have to be
    such a problem to allow redistribution of it. For the API's, everyones
    guess as to why you'd need to keep them secret is as good as theirs.

    As he states somewhere, not getting these two parts makes the card
    unusable anyhow, so there's nothing to lose really.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @05:09AM (#16289379)
    The "binary blob" in this case will not be executed on the PC side. It is firmware for the processor inside the device. This sort of firmware is traditionally closed-source - do you have the source code for your PC's BIOS, or the microcontroller in your keyboard? Theo just wants to be able to distribute device firmware with BSD. He doesn't care about the source code of the firmware.
  • RTFA, etc... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Schraegstrichpunkt (931443) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @05:56AM (#16289605) Homepage
    There are two pieces of software here: the driver (which runs on the host), and firmware (which runs on the card). Theo wants freely redistributable firmware (which can be binary-only for all he cares), and documentation to write a free driver (which definitely must NOT be binary-only). Try not to get confused: He's not asking for free (as in freedom) firmware (though it would be nice), and he's not tolerating binary blobs that run on the host.
  • by LizardKing (5245) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @06:26AM (#16289703)

    correct me if I'm wrong-- these cards already work in Linux.

    IIRC they require a binary only blob that runs in userspace, and it's x86 only. Even if it was open source, I can understand why they'd want to do it in userspace given that the Linux driver ABI is such a moving target.

  • by squiggleslash (241428) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @07:21AM (#16290029) Homepage Journal

    Can I interject here and point out that none of you are actually on-topic?

    This discussion is not about device drivers, it's about the "blobs" that contain things like firmware and the distribution licenses that come with them.

    For the most part, OpenBSD is doing pretty well creating device drivers. Indeed, it does better than Linux in many respects: OpenBSD's ipw3945 driver, for instance, is fully self contained and doesn't require the ugly hacks involving user-space daemons that the Linux version does. The author of the OpenBSD driver reverse engineered the Linux driver, and did so in a way that wouldn't taint anything (he hacked the driver to write information about what was being sent to what registers and when, recorded this information, and then wrote his driver. His driver is 99% based upon the actions of source code he's never seen.)

    The issue isn't writing device drivers. Most of the devices Theo is complaining about already work under OpenBSD. However, the only way to obtain some critical components, such as the firmware, is to navigate to a website, agree to a license, and download them.

    This especially a PITA if you're trying to get a network device to work. You can't access the network without the blob, and you can't obtain the blob unless your network is up. Not impossible to solve, but an added cause of frustration for anyone who's been in this situation.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @07:37AM (#16290143)
    Looking at GPL code is legal, but the virality of the GPL taints anyone who does so.

    You need to stop inventing your own clauses for the GPL.

    - Looking at GPL code does not engage the GPL. The GPL is a copyright license, so something has to be copied before copyright becomes relevant.

    - Writing new code after having read GPL code does not engage the GPL either, unless part of the GPL code has been copied into the new code.

    The new code doesn't even need to be developed under clean room conditions, so long as there has been no overt nor covert copying.

    And finally, using information contained in the GPL code when writing the new code is perfectly acceptable. "Copying" has absolutely nothing to do with "extracting information from" --- copyright law is perfectly clear on that.
  • by Short Circuit (52384) * <mikemol@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @08:50AM (#16290931) Homepage Journal
    No it doesn't...ATI's firmware is useless to NVidia, because their hardware is completely incompatible; NVidia can't make heads or tails of ATI's firmware. Thus, no secrets are lost, and no expense incurred.

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