Tag Archives: GPL

NASed and RAID1ed

Synology DS211jI finally got my act together and bought myself a Synology DS211j NAS  with two 2TB drives. I'll use it as a shared network disk at home and I intend to backup to it - as I also have a home office it'll feel better to be able to also backup company related data somewhat more safely. My previous backup was only copying data from one HDD to another within the same physical machine.

To make it slightly more resistant to disk and hardware errors I've configured the disks to do RAID1 (all data is stored on both disks simultaneously).

The GPLv2 license was provided printed on paper in the package.

What is Android anyway

Android, the software environment, has gotten a lot of press, popularity and interest from all over lately. People on the streets know there's something called Android, companies know people know and so on. Everyone (well apart from a few competitors perhaps) likes Android it seems.

Being an embedded guy I like keeping an eye on the embedded world and Android being pretty embedded this at least tangents my universe. What is Android anyway? android.com says Android is "an open-source software stack for mobile devices, and a corresponding open-source project led by Google". Not very specific, is it?

Android on different devicesAndroid

You can already find Android on mobile phones, media players, tablets, TVs and more. Very soon we'll see it in car infotainment equipment, GPSes and all sorts of things that have displays. Clearly Android is not only for mobile phones and not even necessarily for mobile things. TVs often aren't that mobile... And not touchscreen either.

Android with tweaks

The fact that there hardly are two Android installs completely alike is frequently debated. Lots of manufacturers patch and change the look and feel of Android to differentiate. Android is not associated with any particular look or feel quite clearly.

Samsung Galaxy Tab

Android with binary drivers

Almost all Android installations you get on the Android phones and devices today have a fair amount of closed, proprietary drivers. It means that even if the companies provide the source code for all the free parts in time (which they sometimes have a hard time to do it seems), there are still parts that you don't get to see the code for. So getting a complete Android installation from source to run on your newly purchased Android device can be a challenge. Also, it shows that Android can consist of an unspecified amount of extra proprietary pieces that don't disqualify it from being Android.

Android without apps

I have friends who work on devices where the customer has request them to run Android, although they don't have any ability to run 3rd party apps. Android is then only there for the original developers writing specific code for that device. Potential buyers of that device won't get any particular Android benefits that they might be used to from their mobile phones running Android, as the device is completely closed in all practical aspects.

Android without market

Devices that don't meet Google's demands and don't get to be "Google certified" don't get to install the google market app etc, but at least a company who wants to can then in fact install their own market app or offer another way for customers to get new apps. The concept of getting and installing apps aren't bound to the market app being there. In fact, I've always been expecting that some other companies or parties would come along and provide an alternative app that would offer apps even to non-google-branded devices but obviously nobody has yet stepped up to provide that in any significant way.

Android without Java

I listened  to a talk at an embedded conference recently where the person did a 40 minute talk on why we should use Android on our embedded systems. He argued that Android was (in this context) primarily good for companies because it avoids GPL and LGPL to a large extent. He talked about using "Android" in embedded devices and cutting out everything that is java, basically only leaving the Linux kernel and the BSD licensed bionic libc implementation. Of course, bionic may now also provide features to the rest of the system that glibc and uClibc do not, they being designed as more generic libcs.

Personally, I would never call anything shipped without the Java goo layers to be Android. But since it was suggested, I decided to play with the idea that a platform can be "Android" even without Java...

mini2440

That particular license-avoiding argument of course was based on what I consider is a misunderstanding. While yes, lots of companies have problems with or are downright scared of the GPL and LGPL licences, but I've yet to meet a company who have any particular concerns about the licensing of the libc. I regularly meet and discuss with companies who have thoughts and worries about GPL in the kernel and they certainly often don't like *GPL in regular libraries that they linked with in their applications. I have yet to find a customer who is worried about the glibc or uClibc licenses.

In fact, most embedded Linux customers also happily run busybox that is GPL although we know from history that many companies do that in violation with the license rules, only to get the lawyers running after them.

HTC Magic

Android is what?

As far as I know Android is a trademark of some sorts, and so is Linux. If you can run an "Android" that is just a kernel and libc (and I'm not saying this is true beyond doubt because I've not heard anyone authoritative say this), isn't that then basically a very very small difference to any normal vanilla embedded Linux?

The latter examples above are even without any kind of graphical UI or user-visible interface, meaning that particular form of "Android" can just as well run your microwave or your wifi router.

Without the cruft can we change the kernel?

The Android team decided that a bunch of changes to the Linux kernel are necessary.to make Android. The changes have been debated back and forth, some of them were merged into mainline Linux only to later get backed out again while the greater part of them never even got that far. You cannot run a full-fledged Android system on a vanilla kernel: you need the features the patches introduce.

If we're not running all the java stuff do we still need those kernel patches? Is bionic made to assume one or more of them? That brings me to my next stepping stone along this path:

Without the patches can we change libc?

If we don't run the java layers, do we really have to run the bionic libc? Surely the Android kernel allows another libc and if we use another libc we don't need the Android kernel patches - unless we think they provide functionality and features that really improve our device.

Android is the new Linux?ASUS M2NPV MX Motherboard

Android as a name to describe something really already is just as drained as Linux. All these Android devices are just as much Linux devices and just as a "linux device" doesn't really tell anything about what it is actually more than what kernel it runs, neither does it seem "Android device" will mean in the long run or perhaps already.

Android however has reached some brand recognition already among mortals. I think Android is perceived as something more positive in the minds of the consumer electronic consumers than Linux is. Linux is that OS that nobody uses on their desktops, Android is that cool phone thing.

I will not be the slightest surprised if we start to see more traditional Linux systems call themselves Android in the future. Some of them possibly without changing a single line of code. Linux one day, Android the next. Who can tell the difference anyway? Is there a difference?

Copyleft and closed dual license ethics

There are a bunch of companies out there today that offer their products in a dual-license style, where you can download and use the GPL licensed version or buy the proprietary licensed version (often together with some kind of service deal) that you then can use without the "burden" of a GPL agreement. Popular known brands doing this include Trolltech/Qt (now Nokia), MySQL (now Sun), OO.o (Sun), Sleepycat (now Oracle) (Berkely DB is not strictly GPL but still copyleft) and VirtualBox (now Sun) etc.

It's perfectly legal for them to do this, as the company is the copyright holder of all the files, they can just easily re-release everything under whatever license they want at their own discretion. The condition is of course that they are in fact copyright holders of everything, that the parts they don't have copyright for are either licensed under an enough liberal license or that they can buy a similar relicense from third party lib authors.

It kills contributions from non-employees since doing a large chunk of code for these guys means that you would hand over copyright to a company whose entire business idea is to convert that to a proprietary license and make money from it. In a way you cannot do yourself since they can turn the GPL code into proprietary goods and you cannot. This may be a clue to why MySQL has less community contributors. The forced assigning of copyright over to a company could very well also be a contributing factor to OO.o's problems to attract developers.

Companies "hide" the truth about this and try talking customers into the proprietary license. I've worked a bit with Qt and the wording they have used have often given companies the impression that they have to pay for the proprietary licensed version to be allowed to use the product in a commercial product. I've had to explain to several customers that as long as they just adhere to GPL they can use the free version just fine without paying anything. Trolltech also has this dubious condition tied to their commercial license: "The Commercial license does not allow the incorporation of code developed with the Open Source Edition of Qt into a commercial product."[*] Needless to say, this will prevent companies from trying the open source licensed route first. I'm curious if they even have the legal right to make that claim.

This puts competitors at an arm's distance of course since no other companies can take the code and conduct business the same way. Of course this is part of the reason why they gladly adapt GPL for this. Lots of actions by these companies make me feel that they aren't real and true open source believers, but that they use this label a lot for marketing and for making sure competitors can't do the same as they do.

The GPL version is without support for customers in another push to drive them to pay for the proprietary license instead of the GPL one. Of course, it being open source lets companies going the GPL route to fix their own problems since they have the source and all, but the push towards the proprietary license also narrows how many customers that will actively contribute anything back since there's little chance they will do anything in a project with a proprietary license. I honestly can't see many other possible legitimate reasons why companies wouldn't do support for the GPL licensed versions.

I've not personally worked in any of these projects under such proprietary licenses, but I would love to hear experiences from people that have!

Obviously all this are not problems large enough to concern users. Quite possibly so because these companies do a good enough job and keep the GPL versioned versions of their software at a sufficiently good quality so that there just don't appear any forked projects that take the GPL version and run with it in a different direction. Another explanation could be that there are good enough alternative projects to go with if you're not happy with one of these dual-licensed ones.

A little related anecdote told to me by an MySQL employee (who's name shall remain untold). He described how they still haven't implemented a feature in MySQL that many people have requested, since they according to him don't want to cram in more stuff in the existing branch but instead are releasing it in the next major release (due to release in 4-6 months or similar). In the next sentence he explained how they already have it implemented in the closed version for at least one paying customer... Any (other) true open source project would've made that change available as a patch/branch in the GPL version for the public.

I'm pretty sure I personally would release my patches as open source only if I would change any code for any of these products. But yeah, that would mean that they would never get incorporated into their "real" products...

Not so public file with GPL license header

Here's a license dilemma for you:

Imagine company X hosting a tarball on their public web server. There's no publicly available link to this tarball, but if you access the URL with your browser or download tool, you can download it with no restrictions from anywhere in the world.

The tarball contains GPL code. That is, the code in question has GPL license headers (in addition to Copyright (C) by Company X notices).

If you get your hands on said code, is it to be considered GPL and thus valid to be used by a GPL-compatible open source project?

Arguments against this include that the tarball, while being accessible, may not actually have been meant for distribution and thus the license may perhaps not be the one intended for the code in the end.

What if someone would publish the link on a totally unrelated site and say "get the code [here]" and link to the above mentioned code. Wouldn't that cause at least some people to get the code in good faith and then would the GPL apply?

(Any resemblance to a real-life scenario is purely coincidental. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

Ainol License Violation

Ainol V2000 is one of them Chinese portable media players we see pop up every now and then in a never-ending series - most of them never really reach the western markets.Ainol V2000

For this particular player the firmware is available, and by simply inspecting the contents of that we can see that it is packed with open source and free software, but nowhere is the source for this package to be found... (not all of these packages are GPL licensed of course)

GEMDOS, Mplayer (various parts), unzip by Gilles Vollant, MAME, Snes9x, FLAC, wxMusik, VisualBoyAdvance, SDL, FFmpeg, Avifile...

The image also seems to contain code from Real and possibly also from Microsoft (based on a guess on the file name strings)...

And if you want to dig around more, here's the 5.2 MB firmware file available for download. It seems Ainol's official web site doesn't even mention this V2000 model?

(Marcoen brought most of this to my attention.)