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Proprietary Parts in OLPC Project Draw Criticism

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the not-entirely-open dept.

247

An anonymous reader writes "The Jem Report is running a story about the recent controversy surrounding the hardware used in OLPC laptops. Some devices require NDA's to write drivers, and some parts require firmware that cannot be freely redistributed. Richard Stallmann and Theo de Raadt oppose the use of such devices. Jim Getty defends OLPC's choice (de Raadts response). Jem Matzan has interviewed all sides and published the answers."

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Just because 'they' oppose it... (1, Insightful)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376667)

...doesnt make it law. The OLPC projects goal is to put a laptop into every childs hands, not to create a political statement about free software.

Re:Just because 'they' oppose it... (3, Insightful)

Homology (639438) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376787)

...doesnt make it law. The OLPC projects goal is to put a laptop into every childs hands, not to create a political statement about free software.

But then the OLPC project should say so and not piggy-tail on the percieved value of open source. Understandably, several are disappointed.

Just because 'they' oppose attention. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16376825)

Which is more disappointing? The present situation, or not being used at all?

Re:Just because 'they' oppose attention. (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16377253)

> Which is more disappointing? The present situation, or not being used at all?

Most disappointing would be a project which managed to get many kids to have access to laptops and then start them developing towards doing things.. and then left them with software for which security patches were no longer available, effectively cutting them off from the world they have just been shown. That's exactly the kind of thing which leads directly to social problems with no benefit.

We often think about our laptops as two year investments, in which case unmaintainable software doesn't matter. For this kind of project, which may eat up a large fraction of the education budget for a long time, it's not possible to demand constant upgrades. The use of proprietary hardware without a long term (20 year?) guarantee of support is irresponsib;e.

Worse; this destroys much of the value of the project by making it difficult for the kids to fully learn how their laptops work. Something which could really have spread computer literacy becomes much less valuable than it could have been. We begin to see that the Indian government may have had a point that there are better things to spend money on.

Re:Just because 'they' oppose attention. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16377953)

Raadt's objection is indeed troubling as by default the BSD camp now leads the free software movement since the FSF defaulted by pushing the gpl 3 that attempts to subvert the users freedom.

Re:Just because 'they' oppose attention. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16377541)

Which is more disappointing? The present situation, or not being used at all?

Which is more disappointing? A child with a laptop and no electricity, who died from dirty water? Or a child without a laptop, who has had $100 spent much more wisely on immediate needs.

Theo brings up excellent points. This system is supposed to be cheap, but how can it CONTINUE to be cheap when it is built with proprietary hardware which only a select few are able to maintain? The OLPC should benefit the most from completely open devices, which would allow anyone who cares, to maintain the system.

Re:Just because 'they' oppose it... (0, Flamebait)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376857)

The OLPC should say what? Their website ( http://laptop.org/ [laptop.org] ) doesnt actually tout Open Source all that much so I dont see how you get the impression they are piggy-tailing on any percieved value - its a means to an end, and that end is to put a cheap laptop into as many childrens hands as possible.

RMS and Theo are trying to use this project as a soapbox to further their own political views, and that disgusts me.

Re:Just because 'they' oppose it... (5, Insightful)

swillden (191260) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376911)

RMS and Theo are trying to use this project as a soapbox to further their own political views, and that disgusts me.

Those political views created open source, without which the OLPC project could not achieve its goals.

These are all good people doing good things, and they mostly share the same goals. There's a disagreement over which of the goals is most important, and some of them (Theo) tend to be a little bombastic, but there's nothing to be disgusted about.

Just because 'they' oppose "the one true way". (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16377005)

"Those political views created open source, without which the OLPC project could not achieve its goals."

They couldn't? My how full of yourselfs, you all are. The straightest path for the project may have been OSS, but I seriously doubt that OSS is the ONLY WAY.

Re:Just because 'they' oppose "the one true way". (5, Informative)

swillden (191260) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377325)

The straightest path for the project may have been OSS, but I seriously doubt that OSS is the ONLY WAY.

Yes, it is the only way, because OSS is *part* of the OLPC project's goals. The project not only wants to provide laptops, it wants to provide *open* laptops, so that kids in impoverished countries can poke into the internals and learn how their computers work, and how to change how their computers work. The project wants to help educate a new generation of programmers and computer scientists as well as provide all of the other educational benefits. OSS is critically important to that goal.

Re:Just because 'they' oppose "the one true way". (1)

topace3 (962476) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377549)

Of course it's not the only way! They could always supply pirated Windows copies.

Re:Just because 'they' oppose it... (2, Insightful)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377015)

Those views did not create open source, they created GNU and the FSF. I was freely exchanging sourcecode with friends and fellow developers long before I had ever heard of either of those two organisations.

Re:Just because 'they' oppose it... (4, Informative)

orasio (188021) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377241)

Those views did not create open source, they created GNU and the FSF. I was freely exchanging sourcecode with friends and fellow developers long before I had ever heard of either of those two organisations.


Of course you were sharing, just like RMS.
You are right, they didn't create "open source", but they are key to its continued existance.
The problem is that there was a point in time where corporations decided that it was a bad thing, and they started imposing restrictions on that, like NDAs and tough licenses on code.
The FSF was created to protect what you did with your friends, and has the consequence of being useful globally.

Re:Just because 'they' oppose it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16377749)

You are right, they didn't create "open source", but they are key to its continued existance.

No they aren't. They are key to getting masses of people considering the benefits of open source and to retaining high quality in some popular or important open source projects, through well thought out reason. People participating in open source would not be reduced to zero if it were not for RMS, etc.

I've been sharing code with another programmer friend since 1991 and we will continue to do so, regardless of what RMS has to say, how big "open source" gets and how hard it could fall.

I posted C code to BBS' before Linux existed (For example. This is not to say Linux was the start of open source). My feelings were as a hobbiest who wanted to share amongst like minded people. I did not need a visionary or a revolution to make me think like that.

In summary, RMS and the like are NOT the key to the continued existance of open source. That is like saying the current Pope is the key to the continued existance of Christianity.

Re:Just because 'they' oppose it... (1)

kthejoker (931838) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377707)

Clearly by "created" he meant "made the term 'open source' what it is today." But you know, that's cool, be obtuse, be deliberately ignorant. That's awesome, you'll clearly be a hoot at parties.

Not True at all (1)

everphilski (877346) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377065)

Those political views created open source, without which the OLPC project could not achieve its goals.

check this out [olpcnews.com]

Intel's Classmate PC is beefier than the OLPC - faster processor (900MHz), 1GB of flash (double the current iteration of half a gig), twice the RAM, XP embedded SP2, and costs about $100 more due to the larger processor and memory.

AND you don't have to buy them a million at a time like the OLPC.

Initial prototypes have generated a great deal of interest, and Intel claims that orders have been received from Mexico, Nigeria, India, and Brazil. It is worth noting that India evaluated the OLPC 2B1 laptop and decided not to purchase any. Source [arstechnica.com] .

Re:Not True at all (4, Informative)

swillden (191260) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377353)

Intel's Classmate PC is beefier than the OLPC - faster processor (900MHz), 1GB of flash (double the current iteration of half a gig), twice the RAM, XP embedded SP2, and costs about $100 more due to the larger processor and memory.

And due to the closed-source operating system, does not provide the same educational potential as the OLPC. Allowing kids to tinker with the guts of the software is part of OLPC's goals, and the Classmate does not achieve them.

Re:Not True at all (1)

OmnipotentEntity (702752) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377391)

Last time I checked $100 more than $100 was twice the price. With embedded XP the extra memory and CPU will be wasted, so you end up paying twice the amount for a comparable machine.

That really adds up after millions of laptops. Sure, you don't *have* to buy them millions at a time, but when you're aiming at selling them to governments to redistribute them you wind up doing that anyway, so I don't see how that's a big deal.

Re:Just because 'they' oppose it... (1)

at_slashdot (674436) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377511)

It's not like RMS nagged into oblivion people to start to write open source, he did it himself. I have the all the respect for people who do what needs to be done in order to archive an objective, but people who want to impose their ideas on other people disgust me.

So in part I have only respect for RMS for what he did, I have less respect for him if he comes and tells me (or anybody else) what license to use.

Re:Just because 'they' oppose it... (0)

swillden (191260) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377769)

but people who want to impose their ideas on other people disgust me.

How are either RMS or Theo imposing their ideas on anyone? They're making an argument, period. They have no power to impose their ideas, and there's no evidence that they would impose their ideas if they did have that power. I know RMS was once asked what if he would require all source to be open if he were king for a day, and his response was that he would not, that all developers should be free to choose how they distribute their own software.

RMS isn't even making his argument in public -- AFAICT, all of his communications with the project have been private. Theo's doing it in public, and while that may be less polite in some circumstances, there's nothing wrong with it.

There's nothing worthy of disgust here. Quite the opposite, really. Even if you disagree with their points of view, their dedication to their principles is admirable.

Re:Just because 'they' oppose it... (1)

jazman_777 (44742) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377829)

RMS tends to be political. De Raadt is not--he is a pure pragmatist. De Raadt (Disclaimer: I am an OpenBSD proponent) wants to avoid propietary bits so he can have good secure maintainable code. Period. Blobs, NDAs, undocumented hardware work against that. If there is a security problem with a blob, you can't fix it. (Blobs are inherently insecure: you _cannot_ audit the code.) If there is a security problem with code someone else wrote under NDA, it's really hard to fix. If you don't have good documentation on the hardware, it's hard to reverse engineer the piece.


The OpenBSD team has been at the forefront of getting documentation of hardware from vendors. Linux users tend to Compromise, and the OS is itself compromised, from the security POV.

Re:Just because 'they' oppose it... (4, Insightful)

davecb (6526) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376937)

RMS and Theo are good folks to have, to keep us from wandering down a blind alley. In the case of OLPC, their position has caused the launch of a subproject to create free replacements for the proprietary bits.

At the same time, those replacements don't exist yet, and OLPC is constrained (by power and mesh-networking issues) to use the proprietary bits in the meantime, to be able to ship product.

Sounds to me like a good plan: they know they want both laptops and free software, so they're working on a plan to have both. Which is a very healthy approach!

--dave

Re:Just because 'they' oppose it... (1)

Svartalf (2997) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377573)

I can buy the power issue. Marvell's chip is one of the better choices for this. Mesh networking, I don't buy.

http://locustworld.com/modules.php?set_albumName=a lbum01&op=modload&name=gallery&file=index&include= view_album.php [locustworld.com]

Those are pictures of a mesh networking product/project that runs on Linux and doesn't even USE that
Marvell chip.

There's other low-power options that do this sort of thing- sure, it may be "harder" without the assist from
the Marvell chip, but don't play the "It's the only way to do this thing" card- it's not at all close to the
truth here.

Re:Just because 'they' oppose it... (1)

Calinous (985536) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376799)

As long as the parties that work to make the OLPC work are well intended, there is nothing wrong with having proprietary things inside (interfaces, drivers, and so on). However, if one company supplying - let's say - the wireless stack decide to earn more money than what was in the initial contract - for reasons as diverse as negotiating the price for 5 millions pieces, but delivering only 4.5 millions for lack of customers, you are in trouble. You can not use a different supplier if the original one put a bit of DCMA-hooks inside, and have to break compatibility. Open source everything inside would have been the best solution... Do you think this could not happen? Microsoft choose to have proprietary rights over everything that is inside the XBox 360 - the reason? when they wanted some terms (price of NVidia graphics core inside XBox) revised, NVidia choose to keep the first negotiated price. Now, if Microsoft wants to build the graphic chips in XBox360 at a foundry in Taiwan, they are able to do so (it might cost them some, but they can do it)

Re:Just because 'they' oppose it... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16376839)

The OLPC projects goal is to put a laptop into every childs hands

The goal is to maximize profits. It's a fucking corporation, not some charitable organization.

Re:Just because 'they' oppose it... (3, Informative)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377359)

The goal is to maximize profits. It's a fucking corporation, not some charitable organization.

If you think you are right, I think you should tell that to the web site management:

The MIT Media Lab has launched a new research initiative to develop a $100 laptop--a technology that could revolutionize how we educate the world's children. To achieve this goal, a new, non-profit association, One Laptop per Child (OLPC), has been created, which is independent of MIT.

It's not the standard for-profit corporation as you suggest.

give a man a program... (3, Informative)

zeromorph (1009305) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376847)

..and he can work for a day, teach him the sourcecode and he can work forever.

No, seriously, the OLPC (and other development projects) should be about empowerment. And for this goal open source is the way to go.

If you take a look at e.g. agriculture, you see a lot of (probably) well meant development projects that ended in dependence from some major company and did in the long run as much (or more) harm as they helped.

(And, by the way, OLPC is - intended or not - a political statement though not about free software. But there is a connection.)

Re:Just because 'they' oppose it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16377105)

My comment is Offtopic. And a Troll. And Flamebait. And whatever bullshit the clueless moderators want to label it.

Nevermind the truth in what I say.
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Re:Just because 'they' oppose it... (2, Informative)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377193)

The OLPC projects goal is to put a laptop into every childs hands, not to create a political statement about free software.
Yes, but when some private company and it's lawyer goon squad come looking for their protection money from those children, the matter will probably cease being a mere political issue.

Re:Just because 'they' oppose it... (1)

harlows_monkeys (106428) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377223)

The OLPC projects goal is to put a laptop into every childs hands, not to create a political statement about free software

But they turned down Steve Job's offer of $0 OS X for the OLPC, saying that it was important that the OLPC be free in the "free software" sense.

Re:Just because 'they' oppose it... (1)

Peter La Casse (3992) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377491)

Somebody should tell those guys that morals are old-fashioned. Kids these days are more into living for the moment.

actually, you are wrong... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16377679)

..and have used the "sin of ommission" debate 101 gambit to try and make a point which is in truth erroneous. ONE of the goals is to put a laptop into the hands of kids everywhere, ANOTHER goal is to insure they can tinker with said laptop at all levels, using all open source software. They even say it clearly "children must be allowed to play", which means at any level, as their knowledge expands, they should be able to continue to use the laptop as they see fit.. Open source is a primary goal, and it is political, and it is practical, and is a driving force in these descisions. That's why the use of the words open, free, libre, etc.

http://wiki.laptop.org/go/OLPC_on_open_source_soft ware [laptop.org]

With that said, reading the debate in TFA, it looks like they *are* really trying hard to achieve that goal 100%, but are stuck at the high 90s or something. It looks like if some other hardware company wants to jump in and potentially sell x-millions of wireless chips, they would have a real decent slam dunk chance if it did what the marvell chip did with the instant meshing at low power and not using the CPU much and had all open firmware. Opportunity is knocking quite loudly there for some hardware devs...

OLPC = One Laptop Per Child (2, Informative)

mzs (595629) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376675)

In case you were wondering, I was.

Re:OLPC - RTFA (0, Troll)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376805)

In case you were wondering, RTFA stands for Read The Fscking Article. If you RTFA you won't wonder what OLPC stands for, and if you were wondering what OLPC stands for you didn't RTFA. This is modded as informitive!!??? Rule of thumb modders: if the post doesn't tell you anything you couldn't have gotten by reading the damn article, it is *NOT* informative!

Re:OLPC - RTFA (0, Troll)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376967)

This is phenomenal! Has the Slashdot "gene pool" really become so tainted that the act of pointing out that regurgitating a portion of the first line of an article is *NOT* being informative, can be misconstrued as trolling? Fscking amazing!

Re:OLPC - RTFA (1)

painQuin (626852) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377111)

though, I'm actually impressed your second post hasn't been modded down yet. They must be slacking.

Re:OLPC - RTFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16377363)

1. Get over yourself. You're not better than everyone else. 2. Limit your intake to 2 cups of coffee. 3. Why should anyone have to RTFA just to find out what the acronym is? 4. You are a troll.

Re:OLPC - RTFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16377715)

Hi MZS! Nice Troll!

Re:OLPC - RTFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16377895)

Stop replying to yourself troll!

Re:OLPC - RTFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16377529)

Ha ha. Well, for what it's worth, I agree with you.

Re:OLPC = One Laptop Per Child (1)

Monkelectric (546685) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377081)

Do we know why they think kids *NEED* laptops? It seems very ... western ... to me to think that kids need laptops? I was a kid once, there was no such thing as laptops at that time, I got along just fine.

I did have working sanitation, an electrical grid, viable farming and transportation infrastructures and there were no wars or genocides going on. Seems like the're going about it a bit backwards.

Re:OLPC = One Laptop Per Child (3, Insightful)

deragon (112986) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377141)

"I did have working sanitation, an electrical grid, viable farming and transportation infrastructures"... do you notice that any of the elements you are listing cost more than $100 to provide to a child?

Of course you are right, but the point is that we hope to get a lot of bang for the buck with the OLPC project. The laptop could be a great educational tool. Also, books could be provided electronicaly, thus saving on the costs of books and paper, which after a few years of schooling, is not negligeable.

Re:OLPC = One Laptop Per Child (1)

erroneus (253617) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377317)

Do you ride a horse to work? I'm pretty sure your great-great-grandfather got along just fine before the invention of the automobile...

Get my point? If the world is to advance technologically, we can't really afford to have a set of people who aren't educated and equipped to the level of everyone else. The greater the division, the worse things become.

Re:OLPC = One Laptop Per Child (1)

The_Wilschon (782534) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377357)

The problem is not that these kids don't have laptops, it is that the western world does have laptops. Well, computers and internet access. A lot of things that we do today would not really be feasible without computers and the net. Thus, without computers or some other advantage, these third world countries will find themselves unable to compete.

This is not an undocumented phenomenon. War can easily be carried out without guns, look at most of our history. However, once somebody has guns, unless other people get them too, some conquering is going to go on. Eg, the Zulu. Children can certainly grow up without laptops, but once Western children are growing up with laptops, peoples without laptops for their children are going to have a hard time competing.

Now of course "laptops for children" is rather more specific and rather less consequential than guns, but computing power, wider perspective, communication, etc. are not.

Theo's right (3, Interesting)

c0d3h4x0r (604141) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376683)

Theo's absolutely right. The masses depend on OSS developers to maintain the drivers when a device manufacturer drops the ball (which they always do at some point), and the developers need complete device documentation to do that right.

Re:Theo's right (1)

Calinous (985536) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376841)

This is not totally true - while people would be better to have free, open source drivers for some POS current printers, the idea is that the usable life of the products is so short that they don't survive long to the production cycle. Would having Linux drivers for the Windows-only printers be good? Yes, certainly. Would some of those printers survive longer than the builder offers support/drivers for them? Some of them, maybe.

Re:Theo's right (1)

LurkerXXX (667952) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377633)

Umm, don't you think that in a place where they are struggling to buy a $100 laptop, they might try to make the hardware last a little longer and not just throw money at an upgrade in 3 years when the 'aging' hardware seems a little slow compared to what else is available on the market?

I don't think you can apply typical 1st world hareware replacement norms to this case. I think every attempt will be made to keep using things long long past when they would be trashed in a 1st world country.

Re:Theo's right (3, Insightful)

diegocgteleline.es (653730) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377075)

Yes. But open source drivers are a BIG step ahead. I _wish_ that all hardware companies would release open source drivers without specs.

I mean, Theo has critized intel for not releasing specs and releasing instead just open source drivers for lots of their products. There're tons of companies that will even sue you if you try to reverse engineer their hardware devices but hey, because we're the OSS leaders and we've nothing better to do, let's critize the companies that do release opensource drivers and no specs, instead of wasting all your efforts into the ones that don't do even _that_.

Re:Theo's right (2, Insightful)

vhogemann (797994) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377173)

Exactly,

Its not like there is only one wifi chipset vendor, Marvell was picked probably because they offered the lowest price at the beginning of the project. But I can see others offering even lower prices just to be able to profit from the good PR that comes from helping this project.

As Theo pointed out, there are several vendors that offer chipsets with similar functionality AND support open drivers.

And its important to keep this project as open as possible, because it should be like an standart platform. For example, if its cheaper for Brazil, or India, or Argentina, to build their laptops on their own they should be allowed to do so using ANY compatible parts. If you make the WiFi chipset closed, you're forcing everyone to buy from only one vendor.

Given the choice (0, Troll)

fotbr (855184) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376723)

Between propriatary or nothing at all, its understandable why the project picked propriatary.

Note to RMS fanboys: Life is full of COMPROMISES. Sometimes you have to take a little bit of the "bad" to accomplish something good. Having RMS out there spewing because of things like this does NOTHING to help people's opinion of him, OR HIS IDEOLOGY.

They see no choices (0, Flamebait)

mungtor (306258) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376789)

With people like RMS and Theo, there don't seem to be any choices except to do it *their* way. They would definitely pull a "cut off your nose to spite your face" move just to make sure that people haven't forgotten about them or their ideology. They would rather see beneficial projects fail than see them successful without incorporating their values.

It's really kinda sad that they would use something which is not a FOSS issue to raise a fuss.

Re:Given the choice (1)

GigsVT (208848) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376861)

When you're making a cake, it's not OK to have even a little bit of dog shit mixed in the batter.

Given the [extreme] choice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16376899)

"When you're making a cake, it's not OK to have even a little bit of dog shit mixed in the batter."

Ladies and gentleman. I'm proud to announce that extremism isn't dead.

Re:Given the choice (1)

j0nkatz (315168) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376987)

...but we are talking about laptops and not cake so STFU.

Re:Given the choice (1)

EvilDroid (705289) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377403)

Hate to tell you, but there are probably small amounts of a lot of things you wouldn't want to eat in your daily diet. Urban legend says you eat a bushel of dirt each year from improperly washed vegetables.

What about the insect content of that candy bar? Bet its some number greater than zero percent.

Re:Given the choice (3, Informative)

i_should_be_working (720372) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376889)

Note to anti-RMS trolls: if you RTFAs you'd see that Stallman and Theo are not spewing anything and, in fact, are quite civil about it. They never suggest that it should be nothing at all instead of proprietary. They state their objections and their suggestions.

RMS even states that some OSS developers signing NDAs (a big no-no to him) so that they can see the specs in order to write Free firmware may be a solution. Hmm, sounds like a COMPROMISE.

Re:Given the choice (1)

IANAAC (692242) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376917)

RMS even states that some OSS developers signing NDAs (a big no-no to him) so that they can see the specs in order to write Free firmware may be a solution. Hmm, sounds like a COMPROMISE.

Uh, no. Sounds like a VIOLATION of the NDAs.

Re:Given the choice (2, Informative)

i_should_be_working (720372) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377169)

FTA: There is an ongoing effort to negotiate with Marvell for the right to freely redistribute this proprietary code, while at the same time some OLPC-contracted developers have signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to access Marvell's hardware documentation in order to create a free software replacement for it.

It's not the hardware that is proprietary, it's the current firmware that works with it. Marvell is okay with developers writing Free firmware for the hardware, but to do so the developers would have to see the hardware docs. Marvell doesn't want the documentation out in the open for everyone to see, so the developers have to sign an NDA.

Re:Given the choice (5, Informative)

jg (16880) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377027)

RMS has been very civil in our extensive mail exchanges.

Theo de Raadt, on the other hand, has not been civil in the slightest.

They can always fork it :-) (1)

IANAAC (692242) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376893)

Seriously. If people are that concerned over open vs. proprietary, they can always find another way to fund another project that IS completely open. And then get busy finding manufacturers that will provide them with all the specs needed to code open drivers.

Maybe then they'll get busy coding and stop whining. It's all well and good to point out that something's not open, but don't just whine about it. Do something: go find the manyfacturers willing to side with your cause. Then start another project that is more in line with your ideals. And make sure youre price comes in under the proprietary one, otherwise it's not gonna fly.

Re:They can always fork it :-) (1)

whoop (194) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377595)

It's like stem cell research .. you could just do it privately, but it's easier to just whine about it.

Re:Given the choice (1)

Rob the Bold (788862) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377017)

Note to RMS fanboys: Life is full of COMPROMISES. Sometimes you have to take a little bit of the "bad" to accomplish something good. Having RMS out there spewing because of things like this does NOTHING to help people's opinion of him, OR HIS IDEOLOGY.

So your definition of COMPROMISE is that he should put up AND shut up? When did compromise start meaning "don't argue your side" or "do what I say"? Just because you think that someone who disagrees with you is "spewing" doesn't mean that their arguments are without merit. Who's to say you're not the one who is "out there spewing"? NB: I don't say you are, I just ask how you can accuse one side of not compromising. But I also didn't start my argument by name-calling.

Re:Given the choice (1)

cmat (152027) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377053)

Interestingly enough, the ability to compromise allows people to work together. However, the ability to recongnize when something is NOT worth compromising for allows people to push the boundries and affect change. I see RMS and Theo providing this valuable contribution to us. So really, for me, we need people that are willing to compromise to get the job done in certain cases, and others to push for their ideals to move things forward. Assuming that either of those types of people are wrong or not required is asking for either no practical work being done or having social-norms stagnate.

How the heck does this get modded up Interesting . (1)

rs232 (849320) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377093)

"Between propriatary or nothing at all, its understandable why the project picked propriatary."

It didn't pick propriatary, the project picked a Linux-based [laptop.org] laptop. All the hardware manufacturers have to do is provide the source code. NDA's and firmware that cannot be freely redistributed are a clear breech of the GPL. It appears that Marvell were unable to provide the firmware due to the use of a third party's embedded OS. Richard Stallmann and Theo de Raadt are correct in this instance as to allow this to happpen unopposed would set a very dangerous precident. Rest of ad hominem, offtopic abuse filtered out by bayesian FudAssassin .. :)

was Given the choice (Score:5, Interesting)

X-Fud-Flag: YES
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X-Fud-Report: triggered on fanboys, spewing , IDEOLOGY ..

Re:Given the choice (1)

NewWorldDan (899800) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377515)

He's a hypocritical nutjob. And I quote:

To treat a non-free program as a legitimate thing is accept a situation where a developer has power over us. Once you treat this situation as acceptable, it tends to grow.

Yet he sees nothing wrong with shackeling his program with restrictions that inflict his view upon the world. He craves the power to make over the world in his ideology. If it's not public domain, it's not truly free. I really wish he'd stop abusing that word.

What is asked for by OpenBSD (4, Insightful)

Homology (639438) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376757)

is distribution rights of the firmware and documentation, not source code. The "defender" make a big point about vendors not wanting to release source code for firmware, but that is not what is asked for.

This is a common misunderstanding on Slashdot as well, and is seen every time OpenBSD uses public pressure (after months and years of private e-mail correspondance has failed) to get hardware vendors give hardware documentation (freely, not under NDA) and reasonable distribution rights of firmware. Actually, it is quite sad to see so post extolling the glory of GPL and in the next sentence demands the latest binary only driver.

Make a good contract (4, Insightful)

suv4x4 (956391) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376767)

The chip in question has unique features that no other chip on the market has. Mesh networks and extremely low power consumption.

In other words, good or bad, the part is NOT replaceable without harming the end product significantly.

If there's concern that Marvell (the chip maker) will randomly drop support for their product at one point of time, things should not be left to guesses but this should simply and plainly be covered in the contracts.

I also am susprised at the opinion that OLPC is targeted at OSS community. It has never been isn't and won't be. The goal is efficient, capable product using efficient solutions to solve a concrete proplem, of children having laptops with network connectivity for education, discussions, information exchange, communication and so on.

Don't forget: not everything proprietary is evil. If WindowsCE would provide much better and cheaper solution, OLPC would use it without thinking twice about it. Windows CE in fact *was* considered briefly at a point.

Re:Make a good contract (1)

PygmySurfer (442860) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376947)

I also am susprised at the opinion that OLPC is targeted at OSS community. It has never been isn't and won't be. The goal is efficient, capable product using efficient solutions to solve a concrete proplem, of children having laptops with network connectivity for education, discussions, information exchange, communication and so on.

If it's not, than why aren't they using OS X [wsj.com] ?

According to their manifesto [laptop.org] , they are indeed targetting OSS. Maybe not the OSS community, but that community's ideals.

Re:Make a good contract (1)

Homology (639438) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376999)

According to their manifesto, they are indeed targetting OSS. Maybe not the OSS community, but that community's ideals.

Sadly, NDA and binary drivers are accepted by a large part of that community.

Re:Make a good contract (1)

Farmer Tim (530755) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376979)

Windows CE in fact *was* considered briefly at a point. ...but rejected. It turned out to be evil after all.

Re:Make a good contract (1)

Rob the Bold (788862) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377163)

If there's concern that Marvell (the chip maker) will randomly drop support for their product at one point of time, things should not be left to guesses but this should simply and plainly be covered in the contracts.

I understand your point about the utility of the Marvell part. The contract idea is also good, but I'm not sure it's doable. Setting aside whether or not the chip maker would be willing to be so encumbered, there are plenty of issues that a contract won't remedy. The biggest in my mind is the future of the vendor. If the company fails, there might not be another entity willing to pick up the dead product line and the contractual support for it. I don't know if there is a realistic way of compelling a vendor to open up its IP upon corporate dissolution.

I'd also like to note... (5, Interesting)

jg (16880) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376771)

That much of the silicon we're building *hasn't even taped out yet* (we're testing FPGA versions before they become ASIC's right now). Yet open source drivers for the hardware are already publically available (e.g. NAND driver, camera driver, SD driver).
                                                    - Jim Gettys

Re:I'd also like to note... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16377695)

During a short break on the final day of the "Digital World Africa 2006 Conference", Nicholas Negroponte took the time to speak to Nigeria's Daily Vanguard newspaper. As well as promising that Nigeria will receive laptops first, Mr Negroponte makes an astonishing statement that criticising OLPC is like criticising the church: [Q.] We understand that Bill Gates and some others in this business have criticized this initiative as untenable. What is your response to this? [A.] I don't respond to such criticism. Because criticising this project is like criticising the church, or the Red Cross.

Locking in a new market (4, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376795)

I can very well understand why some device manufacturers and software manufacturers require tight NDAs, but I cannot support that motion.

Why does MS have a de facto monopoly on the OS market? Because their software is the best? Don't make me laugh. Because it is the most stable? *smirk* Because it is the most convenient? *pets Apple*

No. Because everyone grew up with it, knows how to use it and, well, old dogs don't really enjoy learning new tricks.

Now, in Africa, we're back to base one. Anything or anyone could get a hold of people who have never had a computer before and have no preferences because they are "used" to a certain flavor or appearance of the OS. There, every OS, every piece of hardware is on equal ground, provided it's affordable.

NDAs and CS software would start to build the foundation of yet another monopoly there. With OS, it is way harder, CS gives you an edge over your competitors. And once the people get "used" to having this kind of chip or that kind of software on their PC, the lock in has started.

So even if it means only 90 out of 100 kids instead of all of them get a PC, OS is the right way to choose in the long run. Just trying to push a computer into every hand right now is quite shortsighted, simply because with CS you're just handing over yet another market to vendor lock in.

Re:Locking in a new market (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16376867)

You need to use OSS or FLOSS or F/OSS as an acronym for open source, not OS. Certainly not in the same post as using it to mean Operating System too. Also CS is short for "Computer Science" not closed source. Your post was really confusing till i figured out what you meant.

Re:Locking in a new market (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377025)

Sorry, I will adjust my acronyms.

Not about OS vs CS (1)

swillden (191260) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377079)

While I agree with your post, this debate isn't about open source vs closed source. It's really about open documentation vs closed documentation.

  1. Theo doesn't care so much whether or not the firmware is closed, as long as documentation is available without an NDA, so that anyone can write and maintain a driver, and as long as the binary firmware is redistributable.
  2. Jim Getty has made clear that work is under way to create open source firmware so that the Marvell solution will in fact be completely open source (though probably not by the time the first laptops are shipped).

This is interesting because Theo (and, apparently, RMS) are okay with closed firmware, while the project being criticized for being "proprietary" is busy writing open source firmware to replace it.

Re:Locking in a new market (2, Insightful)

cgenman (325138) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377097)

What is the primary goal of the project, and the secondary?

If your goal is to put computers in the hands of people because it empowers them to explore their world, then that is your goal. If your goal is the spread of open source software, then that is your goal.

Clearly the project is dealing with issues above and beyond "do we use Windows or Linux?" Rather, they're asking "Is there an open alternative to this chipset that doesn't use 5x the power?" And the answer is simply "no." by going with the alternative, you're not talking about reducing the number of laptops from 100% to 90%, you're talking about reducing the network from everyone who has a laptop to everyone who has a laptop and is actively using it at that second. And, for that matter, reducing internet access from everyone who is within a few miles of an active connection to just those few people who have an active connection directly.

And for what, device driver politics? Device drivers? When was the last time people felt locked-in by device drivers? Old dogs don't like to learn new interfaces, but device drivers are those transparent thingies in the background that only programmers have to deal with. And programmers have to learn new tricks every few days.

Let's not fall into the old trap of saying of "I'd rather have no solution than an imperfect solution." Let's do our geeky bit to help raise Africa out of the dredges of starvation first. Then we can talk about open source device drivers.

Re:Locking in a new market (5, Insightful)

swillden (191260) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377211)

When was the last time people felt locked-in by device drivers?

You're kidding, right? Device drivers are one of the largest sources of computer lock-in ever. In fact, it was a device driver (a printer driver, to be specific) that motivated RMS to start the Free Software movement. Until the last couple of years, device drivers were the most oft-quoted reason why switching to an F/LOSS operating system wasn't feasible, and they're still very high on the list.

Device drivers matter. A lot. Maybe only programmers deal with them directly, but end-users certainly feel the pain when they're not available or don't work.

That said, as I mentioned in another post, this conflict isn't about device driver availability or even device driver source, it's about device documentation. Theo wants it, Marvell won't give it, Getty and company have found a way to work around the issue by getting it under NDA so they can write open source firmware and drivers.

Re:Locking in a new market (1)

Sassinak (150422) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377351)

I would take it a step further, by mentioning that MS pretty much bribed some of the schools to switch from the PET and the Apple IIe in schools to IBM PC's running windows. But after that, you are correct.. if you can get it in their hands today, they will most assuredly choose your product tomorrow.

No one jumps in the schools for purely humanitarian reasons. Its mostly about consoldation of market share. ("Hook'em while their young").

Laptops are for the child, aren't they? (1)

SephirothInferno (966443) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376845)

I think that if children are going to use those laptops, they won't notice if there are proprietary parts on their laptops... After all, children are going to use them to do homework for school, and probably for a little gaming. Maybe some teenagers will care about upgradeable firmware and stuff, but I think that the aim of those laptops isn't precisely the "geek" segment of those teens.

Re:Laptops are for the child, aren't they? (2, Interesting)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376891)

I think it is supposed to be targetted at populations that don't really have a geek culture as you understand it (my own intuition about geek culture - the gamer/comic/fan version of it, rather than the budding scientist part of it - is that it occurs in the developed world where you have a lower middle class with enough disposable income, but limited cultural capital.)

My skepticism about OLPC has just been captured by someone looking at the numbers [olpcnews.com] (from the Jem report article cited above.) At first, I thought OLPC was simply misguided and well-meaning - I'm starting to view it as a kind of trojan horse.

Re:Laptops are for the child, aren't they? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16377243)

And when those children grow up, they will be used to proprietary software and reluctant to switch, just like in the western part of the world, where someone who grew up with DOS refuses to use anything but Windows XP, because the start menu looks exactly the same in XP as it did in DOS, and "that foot thing" is way too complicated.

That's why it's important to get them while they are young.

Re:Laptops are for the child, aren't they? (1)

ElleyKitten (715519) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377409)

While it's aimed at kids, it's not the spoiled American teens that are going to get it. The specs on it are so low that it will be useless for gaming, and it's not like they'll be able to go buy a new Dell when it doesn't do what they want anymore. I imagine one of the hopes for this project is that kids will teach themselves programming with it, and the more open-source it is, the better for that goal.

Obligatory (sorry) (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16376895)

Won't somebody please think of the children?

They're right to oppose them (1)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376903)

If the idea is to make the devices as useful as possible to local populations in diverse places, then the component drivers need to be as available as the software. There's no way to anticipate every situation and every mod a particular community might want to make. And it's worth the effort even if that means it takes another two years to get the device to market.

Re:They're right to oppose them (1)

cloudmaster (10662) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377371)

There's no way to anticipate ... every mod a particular community might want to make.

I think we can safely say that led fans, clear cases, and useless aluminum wings are not in the cards for these machines...

Irony... (0, Flamebait)

diegocgteleline.es (653730) | more than 7 years ago | (#16376989)

...that Theo critizes OLPC & Red hat & friends for accepting to sign NDAS to write open source drivers.

I mean, isn't ironic that the guy that is saying this is the leader of a open source OS with a license that allows people to write propietary drivers not only without giving the specs, but without giving the source?

Theo, why don't you dont start changing the OpenBSD license? BSD is a great license, but if you want to be coherent you may aswell stop calling "OSS unfriendly" to the people that tries to provide open source drivers for some hardware. GPL drivers without NDA are better than nothing. Save your criticism for the company that does NOT release specs neither the source, not for the ones that give a step ahead and allow to write OSS drivers.

Re:Irony... (2, Informative)

Homology (639438) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377237)

...that Theo critizes OLPC & Red hat & friends for accepting to sign NDAS to write open source drivers.

Theo, like many others, thinks that accepting NDA is a sell-out.

I mean, isn't ironic that the guy that is saying this is the leader of a open source OS with a license that allows people to write propietary drivers not only without giving the specs, but without giving the source?

You really seems to be missing the point. One of OpenBSD goals [openbsd.org] is that "We want to make available source code that anyone can use for ANY PURPOSE, with no restrictions. We strive to make our software robust and secure, and encourage companies to use whichever pieces they want to."

Re:Irony... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16377373)

"Theo, why don't you dont start changing the OpenBSD license?"

How completely ignorant for someone offering such criticism.

He CAN'T. The BSD license was determined by people other than Theo (as determined by the copyright holders I believe).

He cannot change the OpenBSD license anymore than Linus can change the Apache or MIT license for components in a Linux distribution.

I'm mixed on this (1)

flinxmeister (601654) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377073)

On one hand, I think Theo and crew are right on. I've used OpenBSD for many years now and have seen the results of the no-compromise-and-take-no-prisoner approach in execution. The result is good.

Lack of compromise can be messy. But in the wide world o' technology compromise can often equal crap...particularly with regard to corporate interest, marketing, and profit motive.

On the other hand, the things discussed here are a)documentation and b)distribution rights.

These are both things very easily reversed down the road. If a brazillion of these laptops get out into the field, then the interested parties decide to pull a fast one, a) the documentation is out there for people to get their hands on (even if it's against the agreement) and b)it will be difficult to prevent distribution of the code when it's "For the children".

The tragedy in this scenario is that once again the artificial constructs of human legalities will be interfering with a great creation.

It would be good to have all this above board and cleared up, preferably along the lines of Theo's hard line stance. However, if it's not cleared up, it's not the end of the world. It'll just be another nasty grey area in the screwed up world of intellectual property.

I sympathize with Theo but is it realy a big deal? (1)

unPlugged-2.0 (947200) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377125)

As an avid OSS supporter especially BSD I do believe in what Theo is saying. I have followed his rants and raves over the years and in general HIS points are right on as always though his method of conveying them is not always the best.

However I don't see the big deal honestly. OLPC is simply leveraging its power to get work done, something it really can't do in the open source community. I am sure if there was some (Theo perhaps) who offered to write the mesh-networking algorithms for an open card then they would go for that one but I don't see anybody offering. If this is a required feature which really does seem so then they need to leverage their position and power to get this done.

Let's not forget that though the OLPC is a non-profit and OSS based and blah, blah blah it is at heart a business, funded by businesses and CEO's, and let's not forget that all businesses (yes even google) look for future revenue. That is what the OLPC project represents to the sponsoring companies, a huge user base that they can reach, open up new markets and hopefully sell some products down the line while breaking even or perhaps even making a little money by selling to these markets (sorry for the string of run-on's)

So in this case it is not bad to go with a chip if there are no alternatives. Now if Theo or someone else offered to write this and/or there was an open vendor that could do it and then they still chose Marvell perhaps because of some cost-savings then he has a valid rant, otherwise if there is not choice then the business must run, money must be made and the children must get their laptops.

I can imagine a remake of Pink Floyd's wall - "We don't need no OLPC, We don't need no Mesh Control" sorry bad joke....

TdR's Reasoning. (1)

fferret (58662) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377157)

I would have to disagree with one of Theo's statements: "OLPC should disclose why they picked the Marvell chip." Why? What impact does disclosing their design decisions openly have besides opening OLPC to criticism from the community? What does it matter if they feel that the Marvell chip is the only one to meet their needs? Considering that this project has the potential to improve education over the entire world, does that not mitigate any other consideration? It's not as if Marvell is going to pull their technology out of this project after the devices are fielded.

What open source? (1)

the_B0fh (208483) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377189)

What a bunch of lies. It was OLPC who claimed the opensource banner years ago, when they rejected OSX by saying it was not Open Source enough.

Now, they turn hypocritical when it suits them. Of course they have to reject OSX, after all, wasn't it RedHat that funded it? Bah.

Re:What open source? (1)

Slashcrap (869349) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377607)

What a bunch of lies. It was OLPC who claimed the opensource banner years ago, when they rejected OSX by saying it was not Open Source enough.

Can you provide a source to backup your claim that they ever considered OSX? Because it sounds ludicrous to me.

If you're making what is to be a cheap, mass-produced and basically "embedded" device you're not going to consider OSX unless you're stark raving mad.

These things don't have hard drives or a gig of RAM. They certainly don't have graphics chips capable of running Quartz. I guess you could give them retarded one button trackpads if you wanted, so I'll give you that one.

It's a fine line between troll and deluded Apple zealot. Which one are you?

Crazy Architecture (1)

emil (695) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377195)

So this thing has both an ARM and a souped-up 486 (aka Cyrix 5x86 aka National Semiconductor Geode aka AMD Geode)?

  • Why is it using an x86 at all?
  • Why not just go ARM all the way? ARM is more popular than x86 (by CPUs shipped), and in switching to ARM the wireless hardware could be simplified.
  • If a high-speed ARM consumes too much power, have two CPUs, one that is active only in low-power mode.

Why not just ditch x86 and go ARM exclusively? Is x86 binary compatibility that important?

You could even label it a "BBC Micro" or an "Acorn" for old time's sake.

Am I missing something here? (4, Informative)

10Ghz (453478) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377271)

Gettys says quite clearly that:

"A GPL Linux device driver for the Marvell wireless chip, the Libertas driver, still under development but also fully functional can be found in our GIT tree.

We are having open firmware for the Marvell wireless chip developed by Meraki. I don't know yet what license that code will be released under, though would expect it would likely be one or more of the MIT, LGPL or GPL licenses; but we'll have to think through the usage cases and needs of the communities involved before we can make that choice."

So yes, open and free drivers and firmwares are being developed as we speak. So is this an issue not about what OLPC will use in the future, but about what they are temporarily using at this very moment?

Theo is right, the long tail. (1)

aphor (99965) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377449)

Theo's response was a very short incisive critique that exposes the guts of the hardware argument. On one side, manufacturers and their shills all want disposable hardware. Is it OK if every child has a laptop but the parts from their old one are leaching lead into their water supply and they are too dumb to use them? Driver maintenance helps keep hardware out of landfills. If the service life of a piece of hardware is extended, the cost of recycling its toxic parts becomes affordable. Software (long term driver maintenance) that squeezes the extra value out of the hardware is the key. The problem is that vendors want a horizontal market where they can cash in on volume, volume, volume!

This turns out to be one of those "long tail" issues. Disposable computers will poison the children.

A possible compromise would be an expiration clause to the NDA that allowed full documentation release in one or two years (or three if you want to push it).

Re:Theo is right, the long tail. (0, Troll)

Slashcrap (869349) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377757)

Is it OK if every child has a laptop but the parts from their old one are leaching lead into their water supply and they are too dumb to use them? Driver maintenance helps keep hardware out of landfills.

So in summary, closed drivers poison children? I'm glad you're not a zealot - you might have come out with some really absurd, over the top shit.

Anyway, there is an open driver for the Marvell wireless chip. The problem is that it's GPL'd. Which means it will take effort for the OpenBSD crowd to re-write it because "it's not free enough". Sounds like selfish whining to me.

I don't see why they didn't just use OpenBSD for the OS. Then they could make the whole thing closed and proprietary and nobody would be able to do a thing about it. If that did happen, what would your reaction be? Please do reply - I'm genuinely interested in how you would deal with that eventuality. Would it be "free enough" then?

The real goal of OLPC (2, Interesting)

NDPTAL85 (260093) | more than 7 years ago | (#16377565)

Do you really think that the point behind getting a laptop in every child's hands is to get them to start programming source code? I personally don't think it is. Its to just get them a computer in the first place. Computers existed in the United States before Windows you know but their usage didn't explode until Microsoft created an operating system that was easy enough to use for just about anyone to pick up. The bulk of the population of the United States didn't become programmers. Not even half became programmers. Nor a quarter or a 20th. I predict the very same course of events for India. The OLPC is just something to USE not program on. Thus it being open source or not is irrelevant.

By the way, hasn't the Slashdot population learned yet that the overwhelming majority of humans in any nation are never ever ever going to be programmers?
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