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Wed, 14 Oct 2009
ST-Ericsson Community Workshop 2009

Today, I had the honor to hold the opening keynote of the ST Ericsson Community Workshop 2009.

At this event, ST-Ericsson presented their Nomadik STn8815 SoC, as well as their work on getting the u-boot and kernel ports submitted back into the upstream/mainline projects.

As anyone following the linux-arm-kernel list will have noticed: For the last months, they have worked hard on cleaning up and submitting the code for this SoC. Like many people in the community, I personally appreciate this very much. Finally, ARM SoC vendors actively putting resources to become a "first class" member of the community.

The STn8815 is a ARM926EJ-S core based SoC, including a ST DSP for video codec acceleration as well as a number of standard peripherals such as I2C, SPI, UART, SDIO, etc.

The STn8815 reference software that they released today, includes 100% open source drivers for everything that runs within Linux, inside Linux or on top of Linux on the application processor. The codec implementations inside the DSP are closed source / proprietary. However, the infrastructure to communicate with the DSP, as well as the gstreamer/ffmpeg integration on the Linux side is fully open source.

The attendees of the workshop are receiving the NHK-15 reference boards, which have the STn8815 SoC plus a total of 384MByte NAND flash and 128MByte of DDR memory. There's also a number of peripherals that you expect in such a product, including LCM, SD card slot, Bluetooth, Audio Codec, and Wifi.

Unfortunately, the Wifi driver is closed source. However, the Wifi is a dedicated peripheral component. The use/choice of this Wifi chip on the NHK-15 is probably a bad design choice from an open source point of view. But: This proprietary Wifi does not affect the openness of the actual STn8815 SoC.

Included with the kit for the attendees also a full programming manual as well as register-level specification for the STn8815, as well as the complete schematics of the development board. No NDA required :)

As a summary: I welcome ST-Ericsson to join the Linux community and to provide Open Source friendly solutions, provide the documentation and holding this workshop. However, the STn8815 is already quite 'old' hardware, as it is still ARM9 based - while much of the competition is shipping ARM11 or Cortex-A8 today. Let's hope at some point in the future we will have more competitive hardware with just as much openness.

[ /linux/conferences | permanent link ]

TI tries to stop alternative operating systems on its calculators by the DMCA

Apparently, TI has been trying to use the DMCA and U.S. copyright to stop third-party developers from working on or distributing alternative operating systems for some of their calculators.

The stock OS that TI is shipping uses a cryptographic signature process to prevent the user from booting any non-TI operating system. However, the signature verification was broken and people have managed to run their own software, developed independent from TI's software.

TI is not claiming that the DMCA DRM restrictions are applicable to this case, and that the signature process constitutes a DRM system. This is obviously bogus to any technical person. The TI firmware is not encrypted, and you can copy and run it on other hardware or an emulator if you please. The protection mechanism is rather the other way around: The hardware authenticates the OS.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has taken up the case and is defending some of the affected people from the community against TI.

As you can see from the EFF letter to TI, the EFF cites a number of precedent cases where the courts have ruled in very similar cases that such mechanism is not a DRM system on the software.

That precedent summarized in the EFF letter is actually very exciting to me. It is directly applicable to all kinds of locked-down devices. Let's assume we're talking about a Linux-powered device like the Tivo, Motorola MAGX phones, the G1 phone (non ADP-Version). They all use GPL Licensed software that is cryptographically signed to prevent the user from exercising his Freedom to run modified versions of the GPL licensed program.

Precedent that indicates that such a system does not constitute DRM as protected by the DMCA means there is a lot more freedom for people to break such systems and freely talk about how it was performed, as well as distribute alternate software images for the respective devices - as long as the code they use is either their own or Free Software and does not contain proprietary bits of the device vendor.

[ /linux/gpl-violations | permanent link ]

Palm Pre privacy invasion

One great example of why we need more open source based mobile phones is that we can actually discover all the undocumented "features" of the devices that we use every day.

If I use a device for personal things like my private communication, my scheduling, contact information and similar, then I have to put a certain amount of trust into that device. I trust that the vendor selling this device will provide a device that is safe for me to use and where my information is stored securely.

However, the amount of closedness and control that equipment vendors and GSM operators traditionally have in the mobile world is a big conflict with my personal interest for privacy and security.

You can see this reflected by SIM Toolkit specifications that allow the operator to read and modify your phonebook, or with flash over the air where the operator is able to modify the software on your device.

In fact, in such cases the operators treat the device like they own the device, when in fact the customer has bought the device and owns it.

Since Palm's WebOS is [to a large extend] based on Free / Open Source software, we can analyze in more detail what they are doing. As it was pointed out in this blog post two months ago, they seem to regularly receive information when you were using which application, as well as the GPS coordinates of the phone!

This is outrageous, especially without any way for the user to switch it off - or even better: Have an opt-in, i.e. off by default but who wants it can enable it.

Palm has responded to it, but as that very same posting indicates: The Palm Privacy Policy is not even completely listing the information for which it is applicable.

I don't think Palm is particularly worse than other companies. But the question is: How do we know? How does the user know what his phone wants to communicate to the operator or the manufacturer without his knowledge or authorization? The only two ways I can imagine are:

  • by having more open source software on the phone, so users can study the code, determine what it is doing and then modify the software to remove such privacy invading surveillance features
  • by having more people with their own GSM/GPRS networks with projects like OpenBSC, where we can actually see from the network side what the phone is trying to do. Unfortunately GPRS support is still not finished in OpenBSC, but work is ongoing.

Since the Palm Pre units so far (CDMA and GSM) are not locked down, i.e. you can become root and modify the software, it will be much easier to have "custom ROMs" (where the name ROM is stupid since it is flash, ...)

I can only hope that people will quickly come up with custom Linux based firmware images for the Palm excluding the surveillance features.

In addition, everyone should write a letter to Palm, complaining about those features and the fact there is no way to opt out of them.

[ /linux/mobile | permanent link ]

Palm Pre GSM Version sells in Germany - No corresponding source code

Some 4 months ago, I wrote about Palm shipping the Palm Pre CDMA version in a GPL incompliant way. You should assume that the company has learned about their mistakes and created opensource.palm.com as a site to host their source code, compliant with the GPL and other Free Software licenses

Yesterday, the Palm Pre GSM model started to ship in Germany through O2 Telefonica. The WebOS version installed on the device is 1.1.2, and they are doing an OTA upgrade to 1.1.3.

Both of those versions are not available on the Palm opensource website!

Again the same mistake!

I wonder how much this tells us about the development procedures and release management inside Palm. We know they use OpenEmbedded to build their packages and filesystem image. OpenEmbedded can automatically generate the source code tarballs (+ patches), so the entire process of putting them up at the website could and should be automatized. No manual intervention, no mistakes, no license violations.

I have asked my lawyers to send a letter to Palm, demanding immediate release of the complete corresponding source code. If they do not comply, I am prepared to take legal action against O2 who is distributing the devices in Germany. I desperately hope we do not have to escalate to this point. If we go there, I'd better not imagine how upset O2 will be about Palm and how this will affect their business relationship.

It is so easy for Palm to have that source code on their website. We know that for technical reasons (see above). Why are they deliberately exposing themselves to the legal risk? Why are they willing to accept all the negative PR from them not respecting copyright and the GPL?

Please don't get me wrong. I am not set out to continuously complain about Palm. I would like to see more Linux phones. But why do they have to do everything wrong they can do wrong? Why do they not have somebody to advise them on playing nicely with the legal requirements of the technology they use?

[ /linux/gpl-violations | permanent link ]

The txtr e-book reader hardware architecture released

Today, the Berlin-baased start-up txtr has released more technical details on their first e-book reader.

They have also released their developer website including a wiki and access to a svn server with sources as well as fedora11 based source and binary RPM's.

What's also interesting is that they have disclosed a hardware block diagram and a PCB footprint on their developer website before the product even starts shipping to the mass market.

As few of you will know, some my friends and colleagues are behind the system-level software and hardware R&D. The electrical engineering is done by Milosch and Brita of bitmanufaktur, with whom I've had the pleasure to work on OpenOCD, OpenPICC, OpenBeacon as well as for a dedicated assignment inside Openmoko. Andy Green of Openmoko kernel + bootloader hacking fame has also been involved... last but not least for porting Qi (originally developed for the never manufactured Openmoko GTA03 based on the Samsung S3C6410) to the Freescale i.MX31.

[ /linux/mobile | permanent link ]