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Ubuntu Cellphones GNU is Not Unix

Shuttleworth Answers FSF Call for Free Software Drivers on Edge 112

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the believe-when-seen dept.
WebMink writes "In an interview at OSCON, Mark Shuttleworth of Canonical spoke about the vision behind the Ubuntu Edge phone as a concept device to test features the mobile industry is too conservative to try. Notably, he agreed with the Free Software Foundation's demands that the device should carry no proprietary software and have Free drivers (transcript): '... we'll ship this with Android and Ubuntu, no plans to put proprietary applications on it. We haven't finalized the silicon selection so we're looking at the next generation silicon from all major vendors. I would like to ship it with all Free drivers.'" Although not a hard promise, it is a promising development.
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Shuttleworth Answers FSF Call for Free Software Drivers on Edge

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  • When you know you depend on silicon designed by others. Here's the thing.I bet Canonical would very much rather have everything on that thing be open-source because if something breaks it's way easier to debug than having to bang your head against the wall that a binary blob of anything represents.
    • by tlambert (566799)

      When you know you depend on silicon designed by others. Here's the thing.I bet Canonical would very much rather have everything on that thing be open-source because if something breaks it's way easier to debug than having to bang your head against the wall that a binary blob of anything represents.

      It won't happen. Minimally, the SDR (Software Defined Radio) will be required by the FCC, and other similar regulatory agencies around the world, to have a locked down image, or it won't be licensed for use, period. An SDR is defined to be a combination of the software and hardware, and you can't change one or the other without getting the thing relicensed, or requialified for use on the carrier network in the country in question.

      My guess is that they will end up with some flavor of Qualcomm Snapdragon, w

      • by HJED (1304957)
        They could release the source for the SDR and simply ensure that you can't actually flash the chip (or make it clear that by doing so the device becomes illegal to use)
        • by kthreadd (1558445)

          The problem is that if someone actually manage do to this I belive Canonical is still responsible since they made the hardware.

          • by HJED (1304957)
            Surely the individual would be the one breaching licensing regulations, it would be the same as if I took apart a walkie talky and made physical modifications to make it transmit on a different frequency. If they have to make physical modifications in order for the responsibility to change hands it should be possible to make a chip that can't be flashed or can't be flashed without soldering or unsoldering part of the circuit board.
          • by sjames (1099)

            So, if I solder a new crystal into an old CB radio and add a booster, is the manufacturer responsible according to the FCC?

            if someone gets out the soldering iron and changes the firmware on any of the thousands of cellphone models out there, is the manufacturer responsible for that?

      • That means they'd better don't license it under GPLv3, not that it can't be open sourced. Granting support/compliancy to a given combination of hardware/software is business-as-usual so I don't really see what your point really is (unless FUD, that is)

        • by unixisc (2429386)
          Since Ubuntu uses Linux, which is GPL2, Ubuntu can't go GPL3, even if they want to. Incidentally, Mir is dual licensed, under both GPL3 and BSD licenses, so that it's not a problem either way.
      • by Nerdfest (867930)

        People running Android and custom ROMs frequently replace the radios. This is probably not quite the same as it's mostly just using radios from other models or with minor changes I believe, but it is done. The equivalent for hardware radios would be like saying you have to release it in a steel box or something. People hack things and have since radios were invented. It's really the responsibility of the person who owns the device not to break the law.

        • by tlambert (566799)

          People running Android and custom ROMs frequently replace the radios. This is probably not quite the same as it's mostly just using radios from other models or with minor changes I believe, but it is done.

          I assume you are mostly talking about tablets, not phones, here, since the modules are generally surface mount in phones, due to industrial design requirements that phones be relatively small. It's grey market at best to replace a GSM or CDMA module. WiFi modules, the FCC cares a lot less about. If you replace a GSM or CDMA module with another, however, you have to also replace the binary firmware blob with one whose signature the module can verify when you try to load it. So it's effectively a single p

          • by sjames (1099)

            he meant the radio firmware. And it's done on cellphones all the time. Often it is an essential step to unlocking the phone.

      • The FCC aren't acting like fucking savages, having certified SDR equipment--with a modifiable software software component--since 2004.

        http://transition.fcc.gov/pshs/techtopics/techtopics4.html [fcc.gov]

        http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-254463A1.doc [fcc.gov]

        • I take that back. On further consideration (of about 10 seconds) it looks like you're right--the combination of hardware and software is what's certified.

    • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@ g m a i l.com> on Saturday August 03, 2013 @07:35AM (#44464533) Journal

      And as my grandpa used to say "Girls want ponies, people in hell want ice water, I want a million dollars...that don't mean any of us are gonna get it".

      Unless they are gonna kickstarter the chips in the thing it'll be DAMN hard to make it FOSS, simply because the ones making the GPUs, wireless, etc, are about the most proprietary lot on the planet. Hell I don't even think you CAN make a FOSS GPU as everything from texture compression on up is patented up the ass, I know there was a project to make one using an FPGA but I never heard any more about it, probably ran into the legal minefield and ran aground.

      So while it'd be nice with so few players in the top tier mobile chip business and with anything and everything patented and licensed from somebody the FSF can say "make it free" all they want, its gonna be damned hard if not impossible to make it truly FOSS and still get decent chips in the thing. Remember even the OLPC 1 couldn't get 100% free because they couldn't find a BIOS and wireless chipset at the time that wasn't proprietary and that was with X86, with ARM its even worse.

      • by westlake (615356)

        Remember even the OLPC 1 couldn't get 100% free because they couldn't find a BIOS and wireless chipset at the time that wasn't proprietary and that was with X86, with ARM its even worse.

        Significant deployments of OLPC 1 outside of Spanish speaking South America can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Participating countries [wikipedia.org] OLPC was a product of the Western media lab and it had problems "free" software and hardware could not solve.

        • by hairyfeet (841228)

          What does that have to do with not being able to find a non proprietary BIOS and wireless that would work? This isn't about what the OLPC could or could not do, its about the fact that even a project built around FOSS and with plenty of backing couldn't make a 100% FOSS mobile device because too much of the tech used in mobile devices is patented up the ying yang and is proprietary as hell.

          So like it or not unless they design their own chips from scratch, and even then somehow manage to avoid running into t

          • by unixisc (2429386)

            Well, they could, instead of ARM, use a CPU like OpenRISC and get around the proprietary aspect of the CPU. Hell, if they wanted, they could make an FPGA based GPU, as you mentioned, and have all the patented operations implemented in a HAL on top of things, so that the hardware runs free of violating any patents, and the software that runs is written from scratch, and neatly sidesteps patents. Put it under a GPL3 license, and fight that battle there. The main issue I see here is having a semi company th

            • by hairyfeet (841228)

              Then you'd end up with a phone that would cost $3k a pop and wouldn't get more than a handful of users at best, look at how OpenMoko went down the tubes when they could only offer their phones at an non-subsidized price. Then there is the fact that your OpenRISC/FPGA solution would have shitty battery life, would probably run hotter, and even if you avoided patented hardware when it comes to video damned near every technique is patented from texture compression on up.

              So I'm sorry friend but I seriously do

      • by LourensV (856614)

        And as my grandpa used to say "Girls want ponies, people in hell want ice water, I want a million dollars...that don't mean any of us are gonna get it".

        Unless they are gonna kickstarter the chips in the thing it'll be DAMN hard to make it FOSS, simply because the ones making the GPUs, wireless, etc, are about the most proprietary lot on the planet. Hell I don't even think you CAN make a FOSS GPU as everything from texture compression on up is patented up the ass, I know there was a project to make one using an FPGA but I never heard any more about it, probably ran into the legal minefield and ran aground.

        Basically, it ran out of money; the main contributors didn't have as much time available any more and making an ASIC is expensive. Some prototype boards were manufactured, and the employer of the main developer (who allowed him to use their tools, and work on it some during office hours) made a commercial product based on the design. It never got to producing a consumer video card though. I see now that Kickstarter actually existed in 2010, but I don't think anyone of us had ever heard of it, and I don't th

        • by unixisc (2429386)

          Making an ASIC? Isn't that something you only do when there are volume ramps, and you want to cut costs by volumes? It doesn't make sense to make ASICs when your market is not up as yet - vendors start w/ FPGAs, get them to ramp (and in the process, check out if any bugs are discovered while out there) and then freeze them on ASICs.

          Well, this couldn't be a hobbyist's project, a company would have to throw all its weight behind it. The large ones would probably be patent owners, and not want to put thei

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        Unless they are gonna kickstarter the chips in the thing it'll be DAMN hard to make it FOSS, simply because the ones making the GPUs, wireless, etc, are about the most proprietary lot on the planet. Hell I don't even think you CAN make a FOSS GPU as everything from texture compression on up is patented up the ass, I know there was a project to make one using an FPGA but I never heard any more about it, probably ran into the legal minefield and ran aground.

        So? Why do we need a GPU? The goal is fully open har

        • by hairyfeet (841228)

          Because you might as well just make a 1980s style brick phone buddy?

          Since you seem to be trying to make a legitimate point and not...well be a FOSSie and treat this like a religion I'll answer you...because without hardware acceleration? Your phone is gonna be made of ass and fail, okay? This isn't the 1980s, people won't put up with a laggy UI, no ability to run apps, it just won't fly. if you want to go that route again just make a brick phone as i'm sure the patents have run out on those.

          You see this is

  • Hopefully Mark can make it happen, he should add some of this own fortune if the IndieGoGo campaign doesn't receive enough funds, but $8M is fantastic already.
  • I find the fixation on wanting to use proprietary hardware with FOSS drivers rather counterproductive. If you are buying a graphics card where the vendor does not give you the source for the driver, you have sacrificed your freedom right at the point of sale, where you bought the hardware, so you might as well accept a driver that is closed as well. If you really insist on freedom, you ought to demand hardware that has open specs as well. I am NOT however saying that the effort to write free drivers for pr
    • by Anonymous Coward

      The things that are needed from hardware are specifications for the interfaces and/or free drivers, and possibly the keys that unlock any binary signing functions. If you have free drivers to hardware, it's not hard (relatively speaking) to modify the drivers to work on a different OS because you can get the specification from studying the drivers.

  • You'd like wifi right? While there are wifi adapters that have free /open drivers, not many are in the ultra-low-power-cost SystemOnChip wifi adapters. Likewise the drivers for the telco data side of things are unlikely to be open/free, especially for sprint and Verizon in the US, can't speak for overseas.

    I'm pretty sure that mark would like them to be free too. That doesn't mean that it's going to, or is likely to, happen.

  • As many others I'm a firm believer in open source software and as some others I'm quite willing to pay for it.

    Again many accept without discussion that Firmware is proprietary but at the same time they demand the software to be open, I am not so much against having a few proprietary blobs for drivers and things like the SDR, all depending on a well defined interface with said blob or firmware.
    There were great hopes around the Nokia N900 development even though it too had it's closed sections.

    What I DO wa

    • There are 19 days left, if you don't signup before that deadline you lost your chance. NOBODY else will try AND NOBODY else will come even close to giving you what you want. Get over your sense of entitlement that EVERYTHING need to be just the way you want it. This is the real world and your mommy ain't around to cut the crusts of your bread.

      If this project does not exist, the message is clear, the linux world is to divided for anyone to cater for because no matter what you do, they always want more and n

      • Get over your sense of entitlement that EVERYTHING need to be just the way you want it.

        How is it a sense of entitlement to voice your opinion or vote with your wallet? No one's holding a gun to anyone's head. The word "entitlement" just seems to be a buzzword these days.

      • by Teun (17872)
        I don't know where you read anything in this or or posts of mine about me feeling entitled and I even more don't get your opinion in future there'll never be anything this close to my wishes than this Ubuntu Edge.

        I think my message is very clear, I am prepared to spend good money for a a phone with a regular, thus open, GNU/Linux system and that's much more than a Linux kernel with Android or so.

        If a company is brave enough to sell such hardware they can do it either with or without an OS, if the HW is wo

  • by eric31415927 (861917) on Saturday August 03, 2013 @07:50AM (#44464561)

    Does anyone know where duedil.com gets its Canonical data from?
    If I am going to fork over $800, I want to perform at least some due diligence. Is Canonical simply going to use my money to pay downs its current liabilities, which were recently about 19,000,000 GBP higher than its current assets?

    https://www.duedil.com/company/06870835/canonical-group-limited [duedil.com]

  • I would vote for such a development with my wallet.

  • by jonwil (467024) on Saturday August 03, 2013 @09:28AM (#44464827)

    It sounds like the Ubuntu Mobile people are saying "hey, we want to ship this with no binary blobs but we recognize that in order to get certain features such as a cellular modem or a 3D-capable GPU we may have no choice but to go with a binary blob if we cant find hardware that is 100% open"

  • That means no Google apps by default. I'm guessing they'll manage it the same way as flash and mp3 support on Ubuntu desktop -- offer a way to install the troublesome applications quickly and with no fuss.

  • I can imagine somewhere along the line someone will get butt hurt about something and they'll be forced to use proprietary drivers. Shuttleworth can hope all he wants but he's in no position to bully people into doing what he wants.
  • From TFA: "An open letter from the Free Software Foundation asked if Canonical intended to make all the software in Edge free -- with emphasis on device drivers. The response: Of course, as far as that's commercially realistic."

    Surely, nobody in this crowd, or at the FSF, is the slightest bit fooled by this.

"It is better to have tried and failed than to have failed to try, but the result's the same." - Mike Dennison

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