[Top][All Lists]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: Attorney fees

From: Alexander Terekhov
Subject: Re: Attorney fees
Date: Wed, 16 Jul 2008 18:13:15 +0200

Hyman Rosen wrote:
> It simply means that there may be many ways to force a code
> grabber to disgorge the source code of GPL-licensed software
> that he distributes, which is the goal.

Futile goal.

Right from the mouth of German GPL enforcer extraordinaire Harald Welte:
(Some more thoughts on the results of GPL enforcement)

How many times have you seen some code coming out of a "GPL code
release" from one of the many (mostly embedded) vendors that was
actually useful to be contributed back to an existing Free Software
project, or even that spawned a new Free Software project? I for my part
am certain to say: Zero. The actual number might be close to zero, but
very small anyways. 

The next logical question is to ask ourselves, why it is like that.
First of all, the code quality is usually extremely bad. Looking at
kernel patches from the various vendors, I'd say the code quality is _by
far_ off any scale that would ever even remotely be considered to be
suitable for upstream inclusion. Not only do those vendors not care
about any CodingStyle (which could be easily fixed), but they ignore any
existing standard API's (why use them if we can reinvent our own?),
don't ever spend a single second on portability issues such as SMP, DMA
safe allocations, endian issues, 32/64bit, etc. This code is "throw-away
software". Fire and forget. The complete opposite of the long-term
maintainability goals of about any FOSS project I know. 

I would be the most embarrassed man if I ever was involved with any such
software. Having your name associated with such poor quality would be
like a stigma. Any technical person would laugh. And yet, the managers
of those respective companies proudly announce the availability of their
so-called "GPL code releases". If they only understood how ridiculous
they make themselves in the technical community. It's like if they were
proudly presenting a drawing from a three-year-old kid as the new
Picasso. They just don't notice because the number of people with a
taste of art is apparently larger than the number of people with a taste
of source code quality and aesthetics. 

The next big problem is the perpetual preference of vendors, even in a
market with only six month product life-cycles, to use ages old software
to base their code on. Of what use is e.g. an obscure netfilter patch
that was developed against kernel 2.4.18, something that is many years
old and of no relevance to current stable kernels or even current

Now you might argue "What about projects like OpenWRT?". While they are
no doubt very useful, it is quite simple. Those projects mainly benefit
only the customers of the (probably formerly GPL infringing) embedded
devices. Therefore, they benefit specific customers, and not Free
Software Users in general. Even if OpenWRT or others invest huge amounts
of work and manage to clean up / re-implement some of the awkward
sources released by embedded manufacturer X, and push it into the
upstream project (e.g. Linux kernel), it is something that most often
only a very specific user base that benefits from it. All the really
interesting bits, if there are any at all, are kept proprietary by the
respective manufacturers, using legally extremely questionable practises
such as binary-only kernel modules. 

If one thinks a bit more, this whole sad process could have envisioned
before. It's a myth to believe that Linux and other FOSS is so popular
in the embedded market because vendors think it is more reliable, or
secure, or even because of the maintainability, audit-ability, or even
the benefits that users and developers get from being able to run
modified versions of the software. If they were, we would see clean code
and regular security updates. In reality almost every product is one
gaping security nightmare. None of those potential benefits are of any
interest to embedded vendors. 

The response to the 'why' question is quite simple: They use GNU/Linux
because this way they can avoid per-unit royalties that are very popular
with alternative (proprietary) embedded OS's. It's a cheap commodity.
Thus, it's not surprising how they treat GPL compliance. Disgruntled,
not understanding the issues behind, releasing only the most incomplete
non-building source code snippets that make any reasonable developer
vomit at first sight. And since they themselves lack the skilled
developers internally (they're not cheap!), their management goes ahead
and releases something that is embarrassing. If I wanted to evaluate the
technical skill-set of a company before making large-scale business with
them, I'd [have somebody] look at their source code releases. It can
tell a lot about technical expertise and corporate style :) 

Please don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining that there is any legal
shortcoming in those "GPL Code Releases" though there often is, but that
is not the point of this article). But if somebody asks me, how much the
actual Free Software source code benefits from the code that was
released by the vendors, my honest reply would be simple and sad: None. 

While this whole post might sound bitter and resignated, and like I
wanted to give up GPL enforcement since it's not worth it: This is not
the message that I want to put out. GPL enforcement remains important. I
never assumed that there would be a lot of actual mainline-mergeable
source code coming out of it, so I'm not disappointed with the
enforcement. I just have the constant feeling that many people are
driven by misconceptions, and nobody outside the hacker community really
knows what's going on on a technical level. 


(GNG is a derecursive recursive derecursion which pwns GNU since it can
be infinitely looped as GNGNGNGNG...NGNGNG... and can be said backwards
too, whereas GNU cannot.)

reply via email to

[Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread]