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OLPC hurts wireless documentation efforts
Contributed by deanna on Wed Oct 11 07:57:35 2006 (GMT)
from the let-them-eat-binary-blobs dept.

The public clamour to free wireless chipsets has heated up significantly in the days since Theo de Raadt accused Intel Corporation of being an Open Source Fraud.

Today he decided to step forward and make public his criticisms of Red Hat Software, speaking out against the OLPC agreement to build the laptops with millions of non-free wireless devices manufactured by Marvell. De Raadt quoted Jim Gettys of Red Hat/OLPC:

"Free and open software is a means to an end, rather than the sole end unto itself for OLPC."

A copy of mail he'd sent to Gray was posted to the OpenBSD misc mailing list (misc at, where the discussion continues. Feel free to join in.
To: Jonathan Gray
cc: dcbw at, jg at, mtosatti at
cc: rms at
cc: deraadt
Subject: Re: Marvell 88W8388 documentation
Date: Wed, 04 Oct 2006 12:38:34 -0600
From: Theo de Raadt deraadt at

> Please correct me if I am wrong but it seems that documentation
> for Marvell's 88W8388's is not publically available without
> signing an NDA?
> If this is the case why did a project that seems to pride
> itself of openess agree to deal with such a company?
> Drivers written under NDA tend to be full of magic numbers,
> near impossible for others to properly maintain and
> totally against the spirit of open projects.
> I really think you should push for Marvell to give out
> documentation without them forcing NDAs onto people.
> Failing that I'm sure there are other vendors
> who would be willing to be more helpful.

Jonathan showed me this mail he sent you about your NDA "cooperation"
with Marvell for the wireless chip that you want to use for the OLPC
project, so that Marvell will write you special hacks to do low-power
mesh networking while the main cpu is powered off.  This does not
gaurantee Marvell is going to be open and release documentation for
mesh networking while the main cpu is powered off.  This does not
gaurantee Marvell is going to be open and release documentation for
their chips though.

When large players like you make such private agreements with such
secretive vendors, you work against our common goals of getting more
open documentation for devices.  It is only with open documentation
that OS groups can increase device support, and later -- keep the
device drivers reliable after the device is EOL'd by the vendor.

I've heard claims that you (OLPC members, Red Hat employees) think
this relationship with Marvell will eventually prompt/teach them to be
more open in time.  Do you not realize how much of a DELUSION the
history of free/open operating systems shows that point of view to be?
Very few chip vendors have ever opened up unless they were pushed, let
alone Marvell (who I  am led to believe also has NDA's with Red Hat
employees for the Marvell Yukon/Yukon 2 gigabit ethernet chips --
again one of the few closed chips).

It is clear that your choices are not about opening up Marvell, but
simply commercially expedient and hurtful to our common cause.  You
came to Marvell with potential sales of millions of units, and then
completely wimped out in demanding ideals that you say you share with
the community.  Now other companies like Intel, Broadcom, and TI can
say to us "Why should we open up, Marvell did not have to".

So I must say I am extremely dissapointed you have chosen to work
against the very obvious goals of "open", and I hope that in time you
are made to feel ashamed of the choice you have made.


A strong statement was also issued by OpenBSD developer Bob Beck.

"No, it's real simple.

Red Hat (and a number of other linux distros) are morally

By that I mean the sit under the linux banner touting the GPL,
and yet this is not how they act. They act in a way that helps
to ensure that GPL'ed software can not continue to be written.

I am not a GPL fan, but I'll defend someone's ability to write
such software agressively. I consider it the same thing as defending
freedom of speech - it's defending your ability to buy something and
use it in the way you see fit, as opposed to buy something and use it
only where and when the manufacturer tells you you can.

The only reason you see only OpenBSD doing this is because the
mass market and media out there is too busy being a linux
fanboys to notice and ask the questions they should. All the
media is seeing is "we can use this cool new thing in linux"
and they are missing the point of "you have just been sold
out". That's not a diss of Linux in general, it's a diss of a
number of short sigheted developers who support that, and a
diss of the techincal media who ignores the fact that your
freedoms go down the tank by making these compromises. The
attitude that the end (hardware support) justifies the means
(complete sacrifice of the principles the thing was written
under in the first place) has to stop.  The fact that Theo can
end up being a professional shit-disturber and find these
things so easily is a huge inditement of the community and the
media reporting on it that we read.

Allowing developers to sign NDA's with companies to add
support to an OS that purports to be free is letting them have
a Munich conference with your freedoms. You aren't invited -
and they're carving you up while doing a Chamberlain and
saying "look - device support in our time - they'll be much
better behaved now." We all know how well that worked out, and
this is no different."


<< 4.0 Release Song - Humppa Negala | Reply | Flattened | Expanded | The Jem Report: Making Sense of the OLPC Proprietary Software Row >>

Threshold: Help

Related Links
more by deanna

  Re: OLPC hurts wireless documentation efforts (mod 18/70)
by Tassilo ( on Fri Oct 6 00:31:37 2006 (GMT)
  Well - the only thing I want to say is that I'm really happy that people like Theo exist - a big "thank you" for continously bugging these "pseudo do-gooders" and not shutting up like the linux people did by don't caring about their own ideologies.
Thx !
  [ Show thread ] [ Reply to this comment ] [ Mod Up ] [ Mod Down ]

  Awesome stuff, Theo and Bob! (mod 3/59)
by Anonymous Coward ( on Fri Oct 6 01:08:29 2006 (GMT)
  Glad to see this - isn't this just too true and a shame on RedHat and others...

I don't see Linus Torvalds standing up for OSS like this (OSS in general), hell, not even for Linux itself! What a shame there too if you ask me.

OpenBSD is really paving the way for OSS and standing up for all OSS as a whole, we should all step up and stand together for what we believe in and for what OSS is meant to be! For those who don't have the balls, go out and buy a strap-on dong with some (no names mentioned)...

Hope to see this original post on /. too.

OpenBSD rocks!

Just my $0.02

  [ Show thread ] [ Reply to this comment ] [ Mod Up ] [ Mod Down ]

  That's the difference between (mod 8/62)
by Anonymous Coward ( on Fri Oct 6 05:16:16 2006 (GMT)
  Actually, I'm one of those GNU/Linux afficionados that you so derisively talk about so often. Like you, I too am appalled at this. Red Hat knows better than this. I wonder, now, if they're getting some kind of kickback from Marvell; I hate to think this, but that's the only logical explanation that comes to my mind. Does anyone have another, better one? I sure hope so.

What you are seeing is the difference between the Free Software movement and the Open Source movement. The Open Sourcers, like Eric Raymond, are willing to make "pragmatic", as they call them, compromises with proprietary, closed vendors. Free Software advocates, like us, do NOT. We know better, and we act on it.

As acidic as Theo can be personally, he is absolutely right on this and has been for several years. Fortunately, Richard Stallman also agrees on this point; there is no good reason to keep programming specs hidden, especially for something as noble as OLPC is supposed to stand for.
  [ Show thread ] [ Reply to this comment ] [ Mod Up ] [ Mod Down ]

  Open Hardware Database (mod 0/52)
by Charles Hill ( on Fri Oct 6 05:17:58 2006 (GMT)
  Is there something like a hardware compatability list, except instead of listing "it works" listing "it is free and properly documented"?

I'd be interested in a list of what types of hardware need blobs and what types don't. I know network controllers, both wireless and wired, need blobs. What about north/southbridge chipsets and other components?

I'd also be interested in knowing which ones are truely open because they provided proper docs, and which ones are truely open in spite of the manufacturers. The ones that were reverse engineered, and to what degree.

There are some comments in the OpenBSD Crypto page about hardware accelerators, but some of that info is real old and I'm not sure if it is 100% accurate. For example, was the public-key accelerator on the HiFn 795x chips ever supported?
  [ Show thread ] [ Reply to this comment ] [ Mod Up ] [ Mod Down ]

  Re: OLPC hurts wireless documentation efforts (mod -32/78)
by Anonymous Coward ( on Fri Oct 6 05:47:16 2006 (GMT)
  Well... seams the devil showed his face once again. ;]

There where some "hackers" who stole the MS-Source-Code and the Cisco-Source-Code...
Maybe some day such a hacker (who belive sin the ethic..) may hack INTEL or MArvell or or or... and forks the Docs, the Firmware(includes the Source of course ;]) and all other stuff to a P2P-Network.

Who knows...
As consumer you`re the gay if you write to INTEL....
As developer you`re the nobody as long as your adress doesn`t end up with

Well.. sometimes words are not enought....
Propably those in the scene who may have the knowledge to "change" something should think about the situation and "change" something...
And I`m not telling you to hack the Servers to get what you need... or?

  [ Show thread ] [ Reply to this comment ] [ Mod Up ] [ Mod Down ]

  My letter to the OLPC folks (mod 21/67)
by Terrell Prude', Jr. ( on Fri Oct 6 06:05:10 2006 (GMT)
  I'm another "Linux fanboy", and I too am appalled. I just now wrote and sent an email to the OLPC folks listed in Theo's email. Here it is.


I just recently heard about the Marvell 88W8388 wireless chipset to be used in the "$100 laptop", and it is also my understanding that the programming specifications for this chipset are not publicly available without signing a restrictive Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). I am in amazement at this, given the OLPC project's stated goal of helping out children through the open proliferation of information. It is especially surprising, since you're planning to run a Free Software platform (GNU/Linux) on these same laptops!

Including this Marvell gear for OLPC goes totally against the spirit of your own stated goal. Please do not go forward with this, even if you think that it can be "expedient". Mussolini and Hitler were also very "expedient", if you recall. It is also "expedient" to conduct illegal wiretapping, which my own government's administration was recently caught doing. However, it does not promote freedom at all. On the contrary; Marvell's act is simply another form of "lock-in", akin to what Microsoft does with its closed MS Office file formats (hence OpenDocument). Marvell's act of refusing to allow Free Software programmers to write truly Free (as in Freedom) device drivers for this wireless chipset should immediately disqualify them from something as noble as OLPC is supposed to be.

Jonathan Gray has already outlined the technical problems with this. Theo de Raadt eloquently explained the ethical problem with it, and I hear that Dr. Stallman agrees. Well, so do I. Mr. Gray and Mr. de Raadt are correct in that there are other vendors who would gladly cooperate with the Free Software community and publish the programming specifications for their wireless chipsets. Why? Simple; they want those millions of sales, too, just like Marvell does!

Marvell will of course try to argue, "oh, we need to protect our 'intellectual property', our 'secret sauce', from competitors." Releasing the programming specifications does not "reveal" their "secret sauce." It merely allows Free/Open Source developers to write device drivers for the chipset so that it can do what it was designed to do. That's all. Nothing more. There is no valid reason for Marvell to keep these programming interfaces secret.

Additionally, some devices require "firmware images" to be loaded into the wireless card itself in order to function at all. Perhaps Marvell's wireless chipset does, too. The source code of this "firmware image" is not required, nor are we asking for it. We are asking only for rights to redistribute the firmware image, if Marvell's chipset indeed requires one to function. Doing so does not reveal the manufacturer's "secret sauce", either. Ralink and Realtek do this all the time. Even Intel allows this redistribution for the various firmwares for their wired FastEthernet interfaces.

Please get in contact with Marvell and demand, in polite, but direct, language, the following:

1.) Publish the programming specs for any of their chipsets used in the OLPC laptop.
2.) Grant a non-revocable license to distribute any "firmware image(s)" that the chipset requires to operate.

Tell them that, if they don't do these two things, they're out.

Please do not allow a repeat of the well-known Broadcom wireless situation. Give Ralink or Realtek a call. I'm sure that they would LOVE to talk to you.


Terrell Prude', Jr.
  [ Show thread ] [ Reply to this comment ] [ Mod Up ] [ Mod Down ]

  Re: OLPC hurts wireless documentation efforts (mod 1/53)
by Anonymous Coward ( (What is the official Red Hat reaction?) on Fri Oct 6 14:33:24 2006 (GMT)
  What is the official Red Hat reaction? For sure, I will follow this one.
  [ Show thread ] [ Reply to this comment ] [ Mod Up ] [ Mod Down ]

  Will somebody please think of the children (mod 8/58)
by Anonymous Coward ( on Fri Oct 6 23:29:51 2006 (GMT)
  So they are planning to ship these laptops to kids in developing countries under the guise that the children will be able to get-their-hands-dirty with the machine and then they close off parts of it. Looks to me as if they have been peddling false promises.
  [ Show thread ] [ Reply to this comment ] [ Mod Up ] [ Mod Down ]

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