Libre wifi for Ben Nanonote

Bas Wijnen wijnen at
Tue Jan 19 15:03:55 EST 2010


First of all, please don't read this as an attack.  I removed most parts
of your mail that I agree with, which is most of your mail. ;-)

On Tue, Jan 19, 2010 at 07:14:41AM -0500, Daniel Clark wrote:
> On Mon, Jan 18, 2010 at 8:48 PM, Wolfgang Spraul <wolfgang at> wrote:
> > He he. Yes, for people who (please don't take this personal) refuse to use
> > non-free software unless it is hidden, the AR6001 might be an option.
> > Let's just be very clear. The AR6001 has the same binary blob as the 6002,
> > only that it is stored in flash. Flash is more expensive and needs more
> > power than RAM, so they switched to RAM.
> I respect your more functional / hardware-side views, but from a
> software point of view it is very clear that including a binary blob
> as part of linux, or any other software that purports to be licensed
> under the GPL, is in violation of the GPL, since it is not the
> "preferred form of the work for making modifications to it [the
> software]".

This is a license issue which is Linux-related.  The paradoxal situation
of microkernel systems such as the Hurd and Iris, which are written by
people who care a lot about freedom, is that they actually provide more
ways for non-free drivers to be provided by manufacturers.  Because they
run as userspace processes, they aren't linked into the kernel and thus
don't have the trouble that Linux modules have.

> I think the difference here is that when you install software that is
> licensed under the GPL, you expect that software to actually abide by
> the GPL


> When you buy hardware, you have no such implied expectation,

I do not see why not.  In particular, I do not see why I should care any
less about software in a hidden embedded environment than about software
which I can more easily change.  One of the important freedoms is to be
able to study the software.  This is very valuable, even when it is not
technically possible to change it.

Also, how about the situation where the driver is GPL, and it loads a
vendor-provided firmware blob (which must be on the CD they sell, along
with the Windows-drivers)?  According to your arguments, that's just
fine: you don't expect free software from this vendor, so let's use the
non-free software they provide along with the device.  AFAIK the fsf
(and I expect you as well) will not consider that an acceptable way to
handle wifi drivers.  Still I don't see a theoretical difference between
this (a vendor-provided non-free blob which must be sent to the device
at boot time) and a vendor-provided non-free blob which is on
non-volatile memory inside the device.

> and most likely even if all of the software used to create the
> hardware is available, you do not have the often very expensive tools
> and machines needed to actually create the piece of hardware from
> scratch.

But studying the software is still a valuable ability.

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