why free?

David GLAUDE dglaude at ael.be
Mon Jul 18 21:32:57 UTC 2005

There is a well known and controversial case in the 802.11a/g area.

One vendor do distribute a linux driver wich is partially closed source. 
He provide a binary only Hardware Abstraction Layer code. The API of the 
HAL was not design specificaly for Linux kernel but is the same for the 
*BSD driver.

Discussion wether or not binary (or partially binary) driver are 
acceptable within the Linux kernel or respecting the GPL is not the point.

The point is in the argument for not making a fully GPL driver. The 
vendor claime that this would be dangerous as the hardware does not 
limit the frequency and power acceptable for the card transmission. 
Those control that must be done to respect the 802.11a/g are done in 
software in the HAL piece.

If some peaple outside the company were to write their own version of 
the HAL and that this version would not respect the standard, it would 
have dangerous consequence such as disturbing military radar frequency. 
This could be by mistake or intentionnal. Also boosting the power of 
your 802.11 card will be very unfair for your neighborg and if everybody 
does like you it will make the system useless.

Is this a place where the potential harm of free software is more 
dangerous than the good it make.


PS: Just to make sure, I am all for the right to thinker with the 
hardware you aquire and I am all against binary driver in Linux 
kernel... however I repeat here the argument of that vendor FAW (from 
memory as I did not find the link or remember the name of that vendor 
but his name is not relevant).

Rui Miguel Seabra wrote:
> On Mon, 2005-07-18 at 03:09 +0200, Markus wrote:
> Easy. Show me a situation where non-free software is good (note: by good
> I don't mean technically better but that the fact that it is non-Free is
> good), and there you will have the exception that breaks the "always".
> So far I haven't found any situation where loosing one of the four
> freedoms is good, but I can be proved wrong. Can you help me?

> As I said above, prove us there's a case where it is good that some
> software is non-free. All evidence points in the contrary, but there's
> nothing like some hard-fact against it to make one sure.
> Rui

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