[conspire] "madwifi" is proprietary sludge (was: driver)

Daniel Gimpelevich daniel at gimpelevich.san-francisco.ca.us
Wed Jun 28 00:06:19 PDT 2006

On Tue, 27 Jun 2006 23:22:47 -0700, Rick Moen wrote:

> I'm curious about why you say that about Prism/Intersil, because for
> quite a long time I guessed that it (Prism whatever) is the one I'd buy,
> if/when I got around to replacing my Lucent 802.11b stuff.  It certainly
> looks to me like a perfect example of stage 2, with only the relatively
> trivial objection that Intersil / Globespanvirata / Conexant never
> _technically_ issued permission for the public to redistribute its BLOB
> files.  (So, the various sites redistributing them are committing
> technical copyright violation, but are comfortably in the "fortunately,
> nobody cares" category.)

There is that, and there is also the sad state of affairs of the
open-source drivers' support of the currently available hardware in that
category, as touched upon in Tim's post.

> Those BLOB files, as noted, are firmware equivalents, only, and have no
> OS-specific contents.  (I don't especially mind my Lucent's ROM code 
> being proprietary because it's not general-purpose software.  I don't
> especially mind that trait in the Intersil BLOB because it fills exactly
> the same role.)

It should be noted that there is also a project to fabricate an
open-source firmware for those cards, but it suffers from being in the
situation of development for stage 1 hardware that is no longer produced.

>> So other than temporarily making Intersil hardware a prized commodity,
>> prices remained what they were, where ipw2200-type hardware was the
>> cheapest. Now that the ipw2200 driver is mature, the hardware it
>> supports is known more for its limitations than for that support.
> I notice we have a difference of perception on weighting:  I consider a key
> piece of system driver software being proprietary (and especially of it 
> being binary-only) as being the most serious kind of "limitation" of
> all:  It guarantees that the software will not be adaptable to meet
> changing requirements and changing hardware, and ensures that it will 
> cease to be maintainable at all, the moment its owner loses interest or
> ability in doing so.  It becomes abandonware.

You also do not appear to make a distinction between a software limitation
and a hardware limitation. It is reasonable to expect software to overcome
a software limitation. It is not reasonable to expect software to overcome
a hardware limitation. A software licensing limitation is a software
limitation. If the hardware may be used without the software, e.g. using a
NIC without the CD it came with, the licensing limitation of said software
is thereby overcome. That is often not possible in the short term (stage
1), but possible in the long term (stage 2).

> This is one of the chief pragmatic reasons for open source being an
> operational advantage over the longer term.  (There are of course other
> sorts of reasons.)

The longer the term, the greater the percentage of hardware that has
reached stage 2, at which point, the comparison becomes moot.

>> Add to that the existence of the madwifi driver with its HAL, which
>> leads people to overlook the stage 1 status of Atheros hardware
>> because it fully works.
> Speaking just for myself (and not, to acknowlege your intent, speaking
> for the broader Linux market), I never "overlook" proprietary software's
> short-term advantages.  I just note its long-term unacceptability (in my
> view), especially where tolerable alternatives exist already.

You define it as good in the short term and bad in the long term. When the
short term is stage 1 and the long term is stage 2, that comes across as
rather sdrawkcab. It would be great if there were "tolerable alternatives"
among 802.11g chipsets, but there are none at this time. The proprietary
HAL has a high degree of long-term unacceptability, which ironically the
Atheros chipset consequently lacks.

> Over the longer term, those alternatives are likely to (themselves)
> improve:  Any advances (in it or even _similar_ projects for different
> but related hardware) become permanently available to everyone, not held
> hostage to the fortunes and intentions of a copyright owner.  By the
> same token, the proprietary software is, by contrast, doomed in the long
> term by the abandonware problem.

Exactly. Advances tomorrow will change what is advantageous or acceptable
tomorrow. However, what is advantageous or acceptable today depends both
on what is available today and on what will be available tomorrow.

>> I would compare this to the evaporation of nearly all efforts to
>> fabricate a fully functional open-source SWF player six years ago when
>> Macromedia released their first Flash player for Linux.
> Actually, I see a big difference:  Nobody's connectivity relies on a
> Flash interpreter, and it's largely mandated by advertising and online
> cartoons.  In other words, potentially motivatible coders, by and large,
> don't actually have an itch they're impelled to scratch.

Not quite sure I follow. Coders had an itch prior to six years ago.
Suddenly, it didn't itch as much. My point here was that Atheros support
isn't itching as much as it otherwise should.

> Personally, I go rather far out of my way to _not_ have a Flash
> interpreter, and to make sure any one that does happen to be present
> never gets triggered without my say-so.  (I.e., I install FlashBlock.)

Note that FlashBlock doesn't get triggered without your say-so, either
(i.e. your installation of it). Overlooking that simple fact is a recipe
for another "Cheryl's DNS" situation -- exactly what default settings
should aim to avoid. </OT>

>> Tim has just posted a perfect example of why Atheros is still the
>> preferred 802.11g chipset for Linux: because of the research
>> beforehand, not because of the lack of it.
> ...by those who haven't yet learned the lesson about avoiding getting
> trapped into proprietary software ghettos unnecessarily.  See also: 
> NVidia and ATI proprietary X11 drivers.

ATI has a history of contributing code to open-source drivers for hardware
that their crappy proprietary drivers no longer support. The history of
nVidia is one of zero open-source cooperation, coupled with relatively
meticulous maintenance of their proprietary drivers. I see this as ATI
doing more for the community than nVidia, but the prevailing
interpretation is that this means nVidia does more for the Linux
community. Clearly, ATI is the tolerable alternative here.

> (By "preferred", you probably mean nothing beyond "popular".  Lots of
> appalling things are that, up to and including Celine Dion.  ;->  )

In the case of Celine Dion, preferred to what? For something to be
preferred, it has to exude more usefulness than something else. That leads
to popularity; it doesn't represent it.

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