Tag Archives: Licensing

IDG prints lies about RMS

Joel Åsblom works as a “technical writer” at the Swedish “IT magazine” consortium IDG. He got assigned the job of interviewing Richard M Stallman when he was still in Stockholm after his talk at the foss-sthlm event. I had been mailing with another IDG guy (Sverker Brundin) on and off for weeks before this day to try to coordinate a time and place for this interview.

During this time, I forwarded the “usual” requests from RMS himself about how the writer should read up on the facts, the background and history behind Free Software, the GNU project and more. The recommended reading includes a lot of good info. My contact assured me that they knew this stuff and that they had interviewed mr Stallman before.

This November day after the talk done in Stockholm, Roger Sinel had volunteered to drive Richard around with his car to show him around the city and therefore he was also present in the IDG offices when Joel interviewed RMS. Roger recorded the entire interview on his phone. I’ve listened to the complete interview. You can do it as well: Part one as mp3 and ogg, and part 2 as mp3 and ogg. Roughly an hour playback time all together.

The day after the interview, Joel posted a blog entry on the computersweden.se blog (in Swedish) which not only showed disrespect towards his interviewee, but also proved that Joel has not understood very many words of Stallman’s view or perhaps he misread them on purpose. Joel’s blog post translated to English:

Yesterday I got an exclusive interview with legend Richard Stallman, who in the mid 80’s, published his GNU Manifesto on thoughts of a free operating system that would be compatible with Unix. Since then he has traveled the world with his insistent message that it is a crime against humanity to charge for the program.

As the choleric personality he is, I got the interview once I’ve made a sacred promise to never (at least in this interview) write only Linux but also add Gnu before each reference to this operating system. He thinks that his beloved GNU (a recursive acronym for GNU is Not Unix) is the basis of Linux in 1991 and thus should be mentioned in the same breath.

Another strange thing is that this man who KTH and a whole lot of other colleges have appointed an honorary doctorate has such a difficulty to understand the realities of the labor market. During the interview, I take notes on a computer running Windows, which makes him get really upset. He would certainly never condescend to work in an office where he could not run a computer that contains nothing but free software. I try to explain to him that the vast majority of office slaves depend on quite a few programs that are linked to mission-critical systems that are only available for Windows. No, Stallman insists that we must dare to stand up for our rights and not let ourselves be guided by others.

Again and again he returns to the subject that software licensing is a crime against humanity and completely ignores the argument that someone who has done a great job on designing programs also should be able to live from this.

The question then is whether the man is drugged. Yes, I actually asked if he (as suggested in some places) uses marijuana. This is because he has propagated for the drug to be allowed to get used in war veteran wellness programs. The answer is that he certainly think that cannabis should be legalized, but that he has stopped using the drug.

He confuses freedom with price – RMS never refuses anyone the right to charge for programs. Joel belittles the importance of GNU in a modern Linux system. He calls him “choleric”. He claims you cannot earn money on Free Software (maybe he needs to talk to some of the Linux kernel hackers) and he seems to think that Windows is crucial to office workers. Software licenses a crime against humanity? From the person who has authored several very widely used software licenses?

The final part about the drugs is just plain rude.

During the interview, Joel mentions several times that he is using Ubuntu at home (and Stallman explains that it is one of the non-free GNU/Linux systems). It is an excellent proof that just because someone is using a Linux-based OS, they don’t have to know one iota or care the slightest about some of the values and ethics that lie behind its creation.

In the end it leaves you wondering if Joel wrote this crap deliberately or just out of ignorance. It is hard to see that you actually can miss the point to this extent. It is just another proof what kind of business IDG is.

The reaction

Ok, so I felt betrayed and badly treated by IDG as I had helped them get this interview. I emailed Sverker and Joel with my complaints and I pointed out the range of errors and faults in this “blogpost”. I know others did too, and RMS himself of course wasn’t too thrilled with seeing yet another article with someone completely missing the point and putting words into his mouth that he never said and that he doesn’t stand for.

During the weekend I discussed this at FSCONS with friends and there were a lot of head-shakes, sighs and rolling eyes.

The two writers both responded to my harsh criticisms and brushed it off, claiming you can have different views on free vs gratis and so on, and both said something in the style “but wait for the real article”. Ok, so I held off this blog post until the “real article”.

The real article

Stallman – geni och kolerisk agitator, which then is supposedly the real article, was posted on November 15th. It basically changed nothing at all. The same flaws are there – none of the complaint mails and friendly efforts to help them straighten out the facts had any effect. I would say the most fundamental flaws ones are:

With opinions that it is a crime against humanity to charge for software Richard Stallman has made many enemies at home. In South America, he has more friends, some of which are presidents whom he persuaded to join the road to free source code.

Joel claims RMS says you can’t charge for software. The truth is that he repeatedly and with emphasis says that free software means free as in freedom, it does not necessarily means gratis. Listen to the interview, he said this clearly this time as well. And he says so every time he does a public talk.

Richard Stallman is also the founder of the Free Software Foundation, and his big show-piece is the fight against everything regarding software licenses.

Joel claims he has a “fight against everything regarding software licenses”. That’s so stupid I don’t know where to begin. The article itself even has a little box next to it describing how RMS wrote the GPL license etc. RMS is behind some of the most used software licenses in the world.

The fact that Joel tries to infer that Free Software is mostly a deal in South America is just a proof that this magazine (and writer) has no idea about for example the impact of Linux and GNU/Linux in just about all software areas except desktops.

My advice

All this serves just as a proof and a warning: please friends, approach this behemoth known as IDG with utmost care and be sure that they will not understand what you’re talking about if you’re not into their mainstream territory. They deliberately will write crap about you, even after having been told about errors and mistakes. Out of spite or just plain stupidity, I’m not sure.

[I deliberately chose not to include the full article translated to English here since it is mostly repetition.]

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…


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?

Living With Open Source

.SEAs a session during the Internetdagarna conference (orginized by .SE), Björn Stenberg, Daniel Melin and I joined up to talk about open source with the title “Living With Open Source” (“Att Leva med Öppen Källkod” in the language of the brave: Swedish) on October 27. We did a 90 minute session split up between the three of us. The session was in Swedish and it was recorded so I expect that it will be made available online soon for those who are curious but didn’t attend.

Bjorn Stenberg during "att leva med Öppen kallkod"

Björn (on the picture above) started off by talking about how to work with Open Source as a user when using Open Source components. How to deal with changes, sending upstream, the cost of keeping changes private etc.

Talare - Att leva med öppen källkodDaniel Melin continued and talked about open source licensing. It is quite clearly an area that people find tricky and mysterious, judging from the many questions that followed. I think large parts of the audience wasn’t very advanced or well versed into open source details so then of course there is a lot to learn and to talk about. I think we all felt that we tried to cover quite a lot that together with the questions was hard to fit within the given time.

I ended our triplet by talking about open source from a producer’s viewpoint, how we view things in a typical open source project and I used a lot of details and factual points from the cURL project.

The audience consisted of perhaps 50 people. We had a rather nerdy subject and we had tough competition from five other parallel sessions, with some of them featuring Internet and other local celebrities.

Over all, I think we did good. The idea that held our three talks together I think was fine, we kept the schedule pretty good, the audience seemed to enjoy it and I had a great time. And we got a really nice lunch afterwards!

fully respect your rights

This is [name removed] writing at Toshiba Corporation.

We are considering using your program curl (http://curl.haxx.se/) in our products. Before going any further, however, we would like to confirm the following so that we are sure to fully respect your rights.

I am so impressed. Thank you Toshiba for being this upfront and courteous when incorporating an open source product. The license is perfectly free and open for you to use curl for this purpose, but the sheer act of this “making sure” gets my 10 points for great business conduct.

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.)

Rockbox is mainly GPL v2 or later

I just wanted to express this loud and clearly:

At the Rockbox devcon back in June, we discussed this issue and we did deem the Rockbox license to be “GPL v2 or later”, so during this summer we have updated the Rockbox source code headers pretty much all over to reflect this fact. (Previously we had a bit of flux where the exact “v2” or “v2 or later” status wasn’t expressed.)

Of course we have not (and should not) change the headers for files we have imported into the project, and there are still pieces in Rockbox that are plain GPLv2 (without the “or later”) like a few snippets that origin from the Linux kernel.

We also did receive permission from Bernard Leach, the main ipodlinux kernel hacker, to put his code under the “v2 or later” label as well.

The net result is of course that Rockbox is GPLv2 but with the largest parts v2 or later.


The curl and the PHP

We have a sort of symbiosis between the curl project and the PHP project, at least we in the curl project get a lot of people learning about curl the first time when they hack PHP. This happens to the extent that to a lot of people, curl is but the name of a PHP extension.

So while we can thank the PHP project for referring us a bunch of users that might not otherwise have found us, there is also quite some “friction” or perhaps better called “disagreements” between our projects and how we (don’t) interact.PHP logo


CURL vs libcurl vs cURL. We only ever use the funny casing cURL when referring to the cURL project. The cURL project produces curl and libcurl. curl is a command line tool and libcurl is a file transfer library.

The PHP team provides and distributes an extension they call CURL which is a libcurl binding for PHP. This naming causes a great deal of confusion to PHP users who go to the curl site only to find that it isn’t at all devoted to (just) the PHP extension but instead there’s mostly a lot of other curl stuff there!

I’ve discussed this naming issue with the PHP team on several occasions but they don’t agree with me that this causes confusion, and even if it would cause confusion they seem to be of the opinion that it doesn’t matter since the PHP users should find all their info about CURL and related matters on the PHP site and thus it doesn’t matter what the curl site shows or not. (Or something similar to that, I really don’t mean to put words into their mouths so you better ask them about this to get their real and unaltered view – see my link to an old conversation for some info.)

I tend to call it PHP/CURL just to make sure it is clear that we’re talking about the binding. This of course also confuse users since that’s not what it is called in the PHP documentation…


PHP themselves recognize the problem of related projects borrowing the name, so they forbid derivate projects to include “PHP” in their names. Clearly stated in paragraph 4 of their license.


The binary build of PHP for windows have libcurl built in statically with the curl extension code, so people can’t easily replace the libcurl version used by PHP. And in general, Windows people using open source are much less likely to ever build anything on their own in my experience.

PHP 5.2.6 was released on May 1st 2008 still has libcurl 7.16.0 built into the Windows version. That libcurl version was released in October 2006 and right now we have released eight (8) releases after that one. All of them including many bug fixes. This is more than slightly annoying.


This isn’t anyone’s fault but… there really aren’t many PHP people who are involved or care about the libcurl binding so those who have PHP/CURL problems tend to ask questions on the curl-and-php mailing list and in the #curl IRC channel but there aren’t any PHP insiders around in those areas to answer PHP questions…


Is it just my imagination or isn’t there a lot of PHP users that have asked for the same features in the PHP libcurl binding for a long time by now, but really very few actually step forward and make a difference? So these features remain unfixed and not added. This is even “just” a binding, nothing of the really hard work is done in the binding itself… It might just be me and my head, but the ratio for doers/plain users in the PHP world seems to be exceptionally low in comparison to many other open source areas I see. Of course this is tainted by me only really seing the PHP/CURL side of the PHP world.


I have no reason to expect anything to change, nor do I know how I can make anything of this change on my own so I assume things will just continue working exactly like this in the future as well…

AOL UK uses curl in disguise

Information to this was mailed to me from a friend but is easily verified as I’ll describe below.curl tiny

America Online in the UK (AOL UK) is using our cURL application (without including the license anywhere) as part of their automated broadband router configuration CD for their AOL UK customer base. The CD is provided to all AOL UK customers and the automated router configuration component using cURL has been included with it for a couple of years.

The software includes the cURL application renamed to “AOL_Broadband_Installer.EXE“. There is no license included or mention of the license anywhere on the CD or installer, contrary to what’s required at http://curl.haxx.se/docs/copyright.html.

The md5sum for AOL_Broadband_Installer.EXE matches the win32 binary in the curl-7.15.3-win32-nossl.zip release package I personally built and offer for download…!

If you want to check it out yourself, the direct link I figured out to the installer is here and I found it on this page (download the “easy installer” for Netgear DG834G).

Update: see my reply below.