Openmoko strives for openness (smedia glamo)

Flemming Richter Mikkelsen quatrox at
Fri Apr 4 19:25:29 CEST 2008

On 4/3/08, Wolfgang Spraul <wolfgang at> wrote:
> Dear Hervé,
> here is my perspective:
> Most chip vendors see their business in selling chips. Documentation is just
> a necessary evil to them, they are trying to get away with the minimum
> amount of documentation that will still sell the chip.
> Unless in very few cases, chip vendors do not see good documentation as a
> strategic asset that will help sell their chips. Maybe down the road we are
> lucky and Intel becomes a vendor that sees documentation like this, but I
> will believe it when I see it. NXP also came around to us in a very nice
> way.
> We would like to publish documentation for the Toshiba ASIC in our LCM, very
> hard with Toshiba (I'm not complaining, it's a big company and we are a
> minuscule customer).
> Samsung seems to be going closed, even though they joined the Open Handset
> Alliance and are a big supporter of Android!
> Why that? Well, let's think from their perspective: Again - they are selling
> chips, not books or PDF files.
> In the case of Samsung, the legal department may look at a given PDF file
> (say 1000 pages long) and see LOTS OF RISKS! When their lawyers read this
> document (and they won't understand most of the technical stuff in there),
> they are very concerned that the document will provide grounds for lawsuits
> against Samsung later on.
> If they just sell the chips as-is, those risks are reduced.
> Plus they will say "why do we have to release THIS particular PDF?" Why not
> a much shorter version, say a 2-page high-level overview, which the legal
> department can carefully check word-by-word before release? And if it has to
> be this specific PDF, why not release even much more? Samsung certainly has
> another 100,000 pages documentation for each chip, internally.
> If you think about it from their perspective documentation is a very random
> thing. You cannot easily convince them that if they release a 1000-page PDF
> file about the say 6400 chip, they will sell this many more chips compared
> to just releasing a 2-page PDF file.
> So we at Openmoko need to be smart, and accept realities out there:
> ---1
> The current model: We try to convince vendors to open up documentation to
> the public, ideally allowing us (or even better everyone else) to
> redistribute the documentation. Like Intel is doing with Creative Commons
> now.
> ---2
> We can try to 'buy' chips+documentation, make the PDF file part of the
> purchase. We would then put the PDF file behind a click-through license,
> which says that the PDF behind the click-through license is just part of the
> Neo product, and does not guarantee product behavior. The legal
> effectiveness of such a click-through license is debatable, and we would
> still need the vendor to like the idea and agree to give us documents under
> these terms.
> ---3
> We can sign traditional NDAs and alert our vendors that we are legally
> hiring respected FOSS engineers on a nominal basis (say 1 USD/month), in
> order to give them access to the documents we have under NDA and allow them
> to write FOSS software same as our traditional, fully-paid engineers can.
> Again we could only do this with vendors who understand what we are doing,
> trust us, and generally agree to the idea. We would not mass-hire thousands
> of people this way, say having a form on the web where you can 'hire'
> yourself, then download all docs. It all has to be reasonable and ideas and
> intentions must not be ridiculed. But I could imagine that this is doable,
> first with a few selected people, later maybe dozens or even hundreds of
> people? The bigger we make this the more our own legal department will get
> concerned :-)
> ---4
> We can become much more aggressive in documenting our source codes. Most
> vendors would actually like that! Remember what I said above that the legal
> departments see documentation THEY publish as a risk! But if we publish
> something we wrote ourselves they usually don't care, in fact they like if
> someone does free work for them. We can say whatever we want about a
> vendor's chips, worst case we will get sued, not them :-) So maybe we should
> just go ahead and EXTENSIVELY document source codes, to the point that you
> basically have long lists of well-documented defines in header files, long
> commented-out texts describing certain chip behavior, more or less based on
> what we read in the documentation (just rewritten), etc. Same as always, we
> would only do this with vendors that understand & agree to this, but as with
> #2 and #3 there is actually a good chance many vendors would be supportive.
> There is no perfect solution to cover all cases. We need to work case by
> case (vendor by vendor) to open up documentation, so that we Free The Phone,
> as we have set out to do.
> I see a big tendency to write 'pseudo' open source codes, where it's
> nominally written say in C, but actually it's just long lists of writing
> magic 32-bit values into magic memory registers. This is not much different
> from having a binary driver outright, in fact a quick run of a binary driver
> through IDA Pro might then result in the same type of C 'source code' that
> you have otherwise.
> In that case 'open source' would be meaningless.
> This is what we all want to avoid.
> Open Source must mean that every individual out there can UNDERSTAND how the
> chip functions, and how to hack the chip in such a way to make interesting
> new things happen!
> Hope this helps, Best Regards,
> Wolfgang

I really like this idea. I think Openmoko can trust a person hired
from Trolltech, and I also think the chip vendor will. But it is only
one way to figure it out.

Please don't send me Word or PowerPoint attachments. See

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