Weekly Engineering News 37/2008

Al Johnson openmoko at mazikeen.demon.co.uk
Thu Sep 18 10:32:55 CEST 2008

On Thursday 18 September 2008, Mike Montour wrote:
> On 17-Sep-08, at 10:07 AM, Wolfgang Spraul wrote:
> (regarding firmware updates)
> > ---2
> > The 2nd best option would be that all software on the main CPU is Free
> > Software, and other firmwares are not user-upgradeable, do not have to
> > be loaded at boot time, and can thus be considered to be part of the
> > 'circuit' of that chip, a black box.[...]
> >
> > ---3
> > The 3rd best option would allow user-upgradeable firmwares, even if
> > they were proprietary binary firmwares that would need to be loaded at
> > boot time. [...]
> For what it's worth, I would rank your #3 ahead of #2 by a large
> margin. It is very important for users to be able to upgrade their
> firmware. As long as the firmware blobs are freely re-distributable
> and are never executed on the host CPU, then I do not see any way in
> which that "#3" situation is worse for me (as a user or as a
> developer) than the "#2" case.

Agreed. I can't see how having software permanently burned into the hardware 
gives greater freedom than having a redistributable closed firmware with an 
open load method. 

> For me, this is not just some theoretical issue about free-software
> "purity". I purchased a Neo1973 with the original "moko1" GSM
> firmware. Under your #2 option, I would have to live with its bugs
> (such as the lack of power-saving) forever. Under your "less
> desirable" #3 option, I would only have to download a new blob and
> drop it into /lib/firmware (or wherever the Linux hotplug code was
> expecting to find it). In this particular situation I fortunately am
> able to take advantage of option "2.5", which is to send my phone
> (across an international border) to Michael Shiloh for a firmware
> update.

A similar argument can be made with the limitations of the atheros wifi chip. 

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