Weekly Engineering News 37/2008

Jason openmoko at lakedaemon.net
Wed Sep 17 19:37:11 CEST 2008

Wolfgang Spraul wrote:
> Hi everybody,
> There was one important thing last week internally still - we debated  
> for a long time about how 'open' Openmoko products should be.
> The debate got started because we are now evaluating Marvell's Wi-Fi  
> chips like 8688 for upcoming phones, as reported last week.
> Like many new Wi-Fi chips (also Atheros' AR 6002 that we look at as  
> well), the Marvell 8688 has a firmware that needs to be uploaded into  
> the memory of the chip at each cold boot. Before, many chips (like  
> Atheros AR6001 used in GTA02) had the firmware in flash inside the  
> chip. However, flash is more expensive and needs more power than  
> memory so vendors are switching to firmwares that need to be uploaded  
> at boot time.
> The FSF and Richard Stallman don't like that. Their position is that  
> all software in a computer needs to be Free Software. Firmwares that  
> are not Free Software are only acceptable if they are not user  
> upgradeable and can be considered part of the chip's 'circuit'.
> So the question was - do Openmoko's phones have to meet an _absolute_  
> freedom level, defined somewhere, or do they just have to be the _most  
> free_ phones available at the time?
> First we came up with a list of freedom preferences (thanks to  
> Werner :-)):

The point that I haven't seen considered (I may have missed it), is the
concept of open source capabilities.  By this, I mean that if a device
is "open" I should be able to have the same feature set on it as I do on
any other "open" computing platform (save MHz/MB/GB and so forth).

Specifically, I'm referring to the AR6001 in the GTA02.  The main reason
I was excited about the GTA02 coming out was the prospect of a phone
with an Atheros chipset.  Every Atheros chipset I ever worked with in
linux had monitor mode and injection with at most a single patch.  I was
really looking forward to using the GTA02 as a wifi auditing tool.

Unfortunately, my lack of due diligence, led to an unpleasant surprise
the first time I got a console on the phone. :-(

So, regardless of what the FSF, RMS, or anyone else uses as legal
framework to define openness, I prefer to just look at the end
capability.  Madwifi, good.  ath[59]k, better (assuming development of
capabilities continues). ar6k, bad.

Obviously, having the same capability with the GSM chipset isn't
expected for the reasons you've already mentioned...  If you want to do
that, get a USRP. ;-)

just my 2 cents.



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