GPLv3 and Mobile Phones

Dave Crossland dave at
Sun Dec 10 22:11:18 CET 2006

On 10/12/06, Sean Moss-Pultz <sean_mosko at> wrote:
> On 12/10/06 3:02 AM, "Stefan Schmidt" <stefan at> wrote:
> > On Sat, 2006-12-09 at 11:45, Dave Crossland wrote:
> >>
> >> My question is if the separate system-on-a-chip is ROM, or if it can
> >> be upgraded?
> >
> > With ROM you refer to chips that can be written only once? I doubt
> > that many of such chips are still alive.
> >
> > Keep in mind that I'm not speaking for the FIC team here. The flash
> > chips containing the BP OS will be able get new firmware flashed. I'm
> > pretty sure that no GSM stack is bugfree.
> Stefan is totally correct here. The GSM subsystem is most
> certainly not ROM.

Oh dear.

Again, I quote from the blog post I quoted I started this thread:

"The deal is, if [FIC] want to retain the ability to modify the
software, they have to let [users like us] modify it too."

While this 'deal' is a requirement of GPLv3 licensed code, and doesnt
apply to the propriety system-on-a-chip in the FIC handset, because,
as you say,

> Protocol stacks, even really mature ones like Ti's still have their fair
> share of bugs. Really you need to think of the GSM part as
> complete (proprietary) system. It just uses AT commands to talk
> with the application processor.

This presents a problem for free software in the same way that
non-free BIOS software presents a problem. [1]

So when I read

On 09/12/06, Stefan Schmidt <stefan at> wrote:
> On Sat, 2006-12-09 at 14:00, Gabriel Ambuehl wrote:
> >
> > The religious group is then free to remove the driver and not
> > use WiFi ;)
> This "religious group" contains the coreteam of OpenMoko. :)

I'm not sure how to interpret that.

(I also am sad to see a very logical and well reasoned position being
smeared as 'religious' all the time, but I'm about to go on holiday
and will reply to all that in January :-)

[1]: "The ethical issues of free software arise because users obtain
programs and install them in computers; they don't really apply to
hidden embedded computers, or the BIOS burned in a ROM, or the
microcode inside a processor chip, or the firmware that is wired into
a processor in an I/O device. In aspects that relate to their design,
those things are software; but as regards copying and modification,
they may as well be hardware. The BIOS in ROM was, indeed, not a
problem. Since that time, the situation has changed. Today the BIOS is
no longer burned in ROM; it is stored in nonvolatile writable memory
that users can rewrite. Today the BIOS sits square on the edge of the
line. It comes prewritten in our computers, and normally we never
install another. So far, that is just barely enough to excuse treating
it as hardware. But once in a while the manufacturer suggests
installing another BIOS, which is available only as an executable.
This, clearly, is installing a non-free program--it is just as bad as
installing Microsoft Windows, or Adobe Photoshop. As the unethical
practice of installing another BIOS executable becomes common, the
version delivered inside the computer starts to raise an ethical
problem issue as well. The way to solve the problem is to run a free


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