[Gta04-owner] Status GTA04 EA

NeilBrown neilb at suse.de
Mon Sep 19 14:14:18 CEST 2011

On Mon, 19 Sep 2011 13:17:15 +0200 "Dr. H. Nikolaus Schaller"
<hns at goldelico.com> wrote:

> Am 19.09.2011 um 12:25 schrieb NeilBrown:
> >> I have discussed that with RMS - and it is not permitted to be user-changeable
> >> by not so easy means. The idea is that is must be "like hardware".
> > 
> > I wasn't going to say anything at first but.... this is insane.
> > How does it increase any freedom to make a firmware update harder?
> > 
> > I understand there are issues with distributing firmware blobs together with
> > Free Software and pushing the blob into hardware might remove those issues.
> > But there are other ways to resolve those issues by simply creating separate
> > distribution channels.
> > 
> > What does "is it not permitted" mean in this connect?  Who won't give whom
> > what permission, and for what reason is that permission required?
> Well, "permission" may be the wrong wording. I think they said "can be endorsed
> by FSF". It is always a problem citing others correctly...

OK - endorsement make some sense.
If you want the FSF to endorse the device - and there might be some value in
that - then you need to meet there specifications.  The question is whether
the cost exceeds the value, which is very hard to measure.

Thanks for the clarification.

> > I'm a big believe in freedom and I want the freedom to update firmware easily.
> Here again, I agree - but there are two parts of freedom. One is that you can
> provide a new firmware file to the downloader. This is given in the current solution.
> The other is: where do you get a new file from?
> In the case of the WiFi chip there is only one binary (non-free) available and
> nobody has the sources. So while you have the freedom to replace the file,
> you have no alternative to use it. No chance to fix bugs. No chance to add
> new functions.
> This is where FSF says: if you can't change it because you can't recompile it,
> you won't loose anything if you hide it completely.

Nor do you gain anything?

But if I understand you correctly, we do lose something.
You mentioned that the OLPC group were working on an open driver.  If that is
the case, then an open driver could eventually become a reality (maybe not
likely, but possible).
In that case it would be best if it we fairly easy to update the firmware.
You said that the FSF wants it to be "not permitted to be
user-changeable by not so easy means".  That seems to actively harm freedom.

If the built-in flash has partitions, then you could distribute the phone
with the WIFI firmware in one (small) partition.  Then a freely distributable
root filesystem could load the firmware from there and write it to the device.

And if someone wanted to hack on the firmware (and risk turning their device
into a brick) there would be nothing artificial standing in there way.

So I'm still a bit confused by the stance of the FSF - and they normally at
least make sense, even if I don't always agree with them.

(looking forward to my EA ... when can I start counting the sleeps?)


> Nikolaus
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> Gta04-owner at goldelico.com
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