Nanonote degrees of freedom

Daniel Clark dclark at pobox.com
Sun Jan 24 08:54:12 EST 2010


On Sun, Jan 24, 2010 at 2:29 AM, Ron K. Jeffries <rjeffries at gmail.com> wrote:
> This short interview [1] with Richard Stallman
> caused me to wonder how does Nanonote compare
> with the Lemote Yelong [2] netbook in terms of using
> only free and open software?

I do not yet have a comprehensive knowledge of the Ben Nanonote,
however the five areas that are often problematic on mobile devices
are all free (by RMS/FSF definition) on the Yeeloong:

(a) Wifi; yeeloong uses rtl8187b which doesn't need binary blobs /
works under linux-libre

(b) Boot firmware; yeeloong uses PMON 2000, which is BSD-licensed;
GPL-licensed GRUB2 is already working as something PMON calls after
initial hardware initialization, and phcoder is working on getting
GRUB2 up as a complete PMON 2000 replacement (this is not something
rms or the fsf requires, just an example of an advantage of hardware
fully supportable by free software - someone is also working on an
openfirmware port).

(c) Graphics (Video/VGA); yeeloong uses siliconmotion SM712 LynxEM+
which doesn't need any binary blobs in either the boot firmware or
xorg driver.

(d) Dynamic loading of binary blob patches for CPU bugs from firmware
at boot time; loongson2f doesn't do this.

(e) EC; the yeeloong ships with EC code on its own chip, and they have
promised to not distribute updates, so it can be treated as hardware.
This is obviously suboptimal, and FSF volunteers are working on OpenEC
for the yeeloong, primarily via #gnewsense-dev (freenode IRC).

> From another article, I seem to remember
> RMS does not use WiFi but I may be wrong about that.

You are probably remembering the laptop he used before the Lemote
Yeeloong, the OLPC XO, which needed a binary blob for the wifi to work
(see below quote). The Lemote Yeeloong uses the RTL8187b chipset for
wifi, which does not require a binary blob, so rms does use it;
however he is almost always travelling, and mostly uses network
connections for batch transfers of email, so doesn't use the internet
in general as much as the vast majority of people I know.

>From http://www.fsf.org/blogs/rms/can-we-rescue-olpc-from-windows :
"""
The XO's usual software load is not 100% free; it has a non-free
firmware program to run the wireless chip. That means I cannot fully
promote the XO as it stands, but it was easy for me to solve that
problem for my own machine: I just deleted that file. That made the
internal wireless chip inoperative, but I can do without it.
"""

> But in an ultra-pure world, where does one
> draw a bright line between completely open and libre,
> and almost completely open, but with shades of grey?

This is a hard question; rms / fsf should be coming out with a nuanced
and well-reasoned statement on that, with examples, sometime later
this year.

-- 
Daniel JB Clark | http://pobox.com/~dclark




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