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Wireless Networking Software Hardware Linux

Atheros Hardware Abstraction Layer Source Is Released 117

Posted by kdawson
from the no-blobs-here dept.
chrb writes "With the recent discussion here on proprietary blobs in the Linux kernel, it's nice to see that today Sam Leffler has released the source for the Atheros Hardware Abstraction Layer under the ISC license, which is both GPL and BSD compatible. The Atheros chipset is used in many laptops, so this is another important step towards running a completely free distribution."
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Atheros Hardware Abstraction Layer Source Is Released

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  • YAY (Score:5, Interesting)

    by iamwhoiamtoday (1177507) on Sunday November 30, 2008 @12:25AM (#25930281)

    I have a Macbook from just over a year ago, and it uses a Atheros wireless card, and it's the biggest pain to get running in Linux. Hopefully, with the Source released, it will be easier in the future to get the wireless working on this model of computer.

    • by porl (932021)

      i have a similar issue. it usually works on mine (first gen intel macbook pro) and i am in fact using it now, but often it won't connect properly and i get the syslog fill with 'calibration' errors. hopefully this will help with that :)

    • by ch0ad (1127549)
      i have a samsung nc1 netbook with a "AR242x 802.11abg" wireless chipset. currently i have to compile the drivers for it to get it to work... does this mean in subsequent releases of the kernel that it will just work?
    • I really hope the programmers behind KisMAC are reading this thread.

      We MacBook users are really hoping that we can run injections and other advanced features using our built-in network cards now. Until now, all our packets were trash and we couldn't work out the SSID.

      Sad days they have been, but now we have reason to be optimistic!

    • by noundi (1044080)
      Cutting your leg off with a chainsaw is the biggest pain. Compiling the hal source and reboot your machine is just annoying.
  • Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Sunday November 30, 2008 @12:28AM (#25930303) Homepage Journal
    This is interesting, as there are three Atheros drivers, all different. Madwifi uses the HAL. Ath5 is in the Linux trunk and doesn't (I think). Ath9 was developed by Atheros and probably uses the HAL but I didn't check. Sam was mostly interested in this because he wanted to work on mesh networking - it's good to see he's still involved.

    The argument about BLOBs - binary loadable objects in the kernel - is not new, despite Bruce Byfield's recent report. I guess he just doesn't read the kernel list and other distro internal discussions, where this has been going on for a decade. And FSF did not "redefine" anything, they've always held that opinion.

    It would be nice to draw a line at the hardware bus, with all above that Open Source and all below that whatever the hardware manufacturer likes because we don't deal with it. But BLOBs break that, because they are both above and below the bus. If we're going to handle the code, we can't really deny that there's a computer there running closed-source code. And given the degree to which wifi firmware sucks the world would be nicer if it was Free Software. Now, we just have to drive some sense into FCC, etc.

    Bruce

    • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

      by cheater512 (783349) <nick@nickstallman.net> on Sunday November 30, 2008 @01:41AM (#25930711) Homepage

      Actually ath9k is fully open source by Atheros.
      http://mobile.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/07/26/2138228 [slashdot.org]
      No firmware, no HAL, nothing.

      I've bought two of the cards to support Atheros even though the drivers arent 100% just yet.
      I also have a older b/g card which works superbly.

      • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Informative)

        by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Sunday November 30, 2008 @02:27AM (#25930925) Homepage Journal

        I have a new Acer Aspire One, with Atheros wireless, and have mostly got it running Debian properly - the biggest bugs I'm seeing may be in Debian Lenny rather than anything about Aspire One. A nice thing about this HAL release is that it makes Sam's virtual WAP software unquestionably Free - even from the BSD perspective. Did you ever want to connect to all of the WAPs you can reach at once, and be two or three different WAPs for others at the same time, all without carrying extra hardware? Sam's code can do that.

        Being someone who speaks publicly about Open Source, I want to be seen using 100% Open Source. If you're going to talk the talk, you should walk the walk too.

        • Its good to see someone practising what they preach! Bravo
        • Did you ever want to connect to all of the WAPs you can reach at once, and be two or three different WAPs for others at the same time, all without carrying extra hardware? Sam's code can do that.

          This is something that I never knew was possible.
          Thanks for spreading this knowledge!

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          I have an Aspire One as well. Mine is running FreeBSD, with wireless networking via the ath_hal kernel module.

          I had to recompile the kernel using the latest 7.1 source snapshot to get the Atheros card working. The link/activity light doesn't work (no big deal, really!), but the wireless connection 'kill switch' on the front of the case works. I haven't tried running it as a WAP yet, but now I want to give it a try! The ath kernel modules in BSD have supported AP mode for some time now; if it doesn't w
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      This is interesting, as there are three Atheros drivers, all different. Madwifi uses the HAL. Ath5 is in the Linux trunk and doesn't (I think). Ath9 was developed by Atheros and probably uses the HAL but I didn't check.

      I dont quite get the point of this then TBH, i mean it is nice to open source their code, but given that it has pretty much been reverse engineered already, isn't it a bit late!?

      • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Informative)

        by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Sunday November 30, 2008 @03:52AM (#25931221) Homepage Journal

        i mean it is nice to open source their code, but given that it has pretty much been reverse engineered already, isn't it a bit late!?

        Especially since the kernel developers aren't going to let anything with a HAL into Linus' tree, entirely for architectural reasons. But it makes the best version of the driver at the moment fully free.

      • I dont quite get the point of this then TBH, i mean it is nice to open source their code, but given that it has pretty much been reverse engineered already, isn't it a bit late!?

        Full feature support
        Support for more chip revisions
        Manufacturer supported testing and debugging

        I'm speaking in general here, since I don't know if the reverse engineered version supported 11n, was stable, and offered high performance, but wireless is one area where I would much rather use a driver developed with full knowledge of th

  • Sweet (Score:3, Informative)

    by bsharp8256 (1372285) on Sunday November 30, 2008 @12:32AM (#25930333)
    I didn't see this coming, although I have to say I don't keep up with MadWifi news anymore since they fixed 64-bit support for the AR5007 chipset...
  • Working sleep mode? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Picass0 (147474) on Sunday November 30, 2008 @12:34AM (#25930349) Homepage Journal

    Does this mean the sleep function will finally work as it should without draining the batteries? I have yet to see a laptop running Linux go into hibernate mode and not bleed off the batteries.

    • by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Sunday November 30, 2008 @12:42AM (#25930397) Homepage Journal
      If you can prove that it bleeds off the batteries more than Linux, we would like to see numbers, please. Linux isn't in charge once the machine is asleep. It would mean that some device is left in a power-drawing mode. I can't say for sure that Atheros has anything to do with this. Are you confusing it with the other HAL on Linux systems?
    • by LingNoi (1066278)

      No, open sourcing this means nothing much and I doubt that now it's open source any part of the code will be changed because it's firmware.

      • by spazdor (902907) on Sunday November 30, 2008 @02:14AM (#25930869)

        It means that community developers will be able to write a driver that works as well in any OS as the Windows one, in every way.

        It means all those Linux netbooks that were sold with cheap Aths, will soon have completely robust, standards-compliant wireless. And all those sniffing network-trickery programs that the haxors love, will Just Work(tm). And development can proceed with mesh networking on a much wider scope.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Bruce Perens (3872) *
        The Slashdot article was confusing, and I didn't help. Sorry. It's not firmware in this case.
    • WTF! i mean WTF!!! how did this get modded insightful? Any Linux system that is properly configured can hibernate there is no need for any hardware support for hibernate to work, all dodge drivers can just be unloaded reloaded!

      Now if you meant suspend to ram, well madwifi has never given my system any problems when suspending to ram but this does (in theory) mean that the developers can delve deeper into the code should there be any.

    • by andyn (689342)

      Draining batteries only while in sleep? Luxury! My old Fujitsu L1300 will drain its batteries in a day even when it has been completely shut down. Removing the battery makes it last for weeks.

  • Improved HAL (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rrossman2 (844318)
    I noticed this on the dd-wrt.com website a couple of months back (dated 8.28.08) We would like to announce the release of a new HAL for Atheros WLAN devices. The new HAL is the result of a collaboration between OpenWrt.org, DD-WRT and MakSat Technologies (P) Ltd. It is the first result of a common effort, and the present collaborators would like to share the product of this work. It is the intention to provide reliable and continued support for other projects using this new HAL for Atheros WLAN devices. T
  • OpenBSD likes the ISC license [openbsd.org]. deRaadt was a bit unhappy [kerneltrap.org] with the old arrangement.
  • by tecker (793737) on Sunday November 30, 2008 @12:59AM (#25930479) Homepage
    I wonder if this could be used to help port OpenWRT over to the atheros chipset. Currently the only routers that OpenWRT (and conversely by that DD-WRT) really work well on are the broadcom chipsets. Many routers that use the Atheros chipset have been written off as impossible to port to. Maybe they could be used if this proves any insight to how they operate.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Now that's just not right. OpenWrt works well with Atheros chips...

      • Tell that to my wrt54g v7 then sir. It has been gathering dust ever since the day I purchased it thinking it'd work with 3rd party firmware.

        • the v7 problem is likely tied to the horribly low 2MB FLASH, 8MB RAM compared to the earlier versions of the router.

          dd-wrt is indeed supported on many ath systems, I suggest you search the term "redboot"

    • Thats odd because all the Atheros chips are very open, and I think this is was the last bit that was closed.
      I dont think there is anything left that is closed.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by belial (674)

      When is the last time you've looked at this? The Nanostations [metrix.net], which are atheros based can run OpenWRT, DDWrt, etc. The big thing I see here is that with OSS HAL, maybe adhoc support on atheros will get better. Meraki, FON, and the ACCTON (openmesh.com) routers are all atheros too.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by camh (32881)

      Atheros-based access points do work with OpenWRT. It works better than Broadcom-based devices. I replaced a Broadcom-based device with an Atheros-based one so it would work better, and run with the Linux 2.6 kernel. Only very recently has OpenWRT been able to run a 2.6 kernel with Broadcom-based wifi because the open drivers are getting up to scratch, and even then some things still dont work as well as Atheros wifi.
      The Atheros wifi on OpenWRT uses the madwifi driver, so this opening up of the HAL will stil

    • Not really. My Fonera 2100 uses Atheros chipsets and DD-WRT works really well on it. It even supports Super-G mode on the Atheros chip.
    • I wonder if this could be used to help port OpenWRT over to the atheros chipset. Currently the only routers that OpenWRT (and conversely by that DD-WRT) really work well on are the broadcom chipsets.

      Just the opposite. Broadcom-based routers work, but they use a binary driver and hence they are stuck with a 2.4 kernel. Which makes them unusable for those of us trying e.g. to build IPv6 firewalls.

      The Atheros-based routers, on the other hand, are rock solid under 2.6.25. I'm running 10 of those in an experimental mesh network [jussieu.fr].

  • What if it is not just about running a completely free distro, but also about running a completely functional one? The WiFi hardware in my notebook fails to work for a mysterious reason and a certain transparency of hardware internals would not hurt when trying to make it work.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by cheater512 (783349)

      Erm...What wifi chip are you using?

      The good thing about manufacturers opening their drivers is you get a completely free distro and its fully functional.

  • Who is Sam Leffler? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    From the article apparaently he had "an agreement with Atheros" to "access to information about their devices". Does that mean he developed the HAL with little help from the company? (And apparaently he'll have no more access since the agreement is "concluded".)

    It is nice to have an open source driver released, but it is NOT nice that an individual have to go jump through hoops and write it himself to make it happen.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday November 30, 2008 @01:48AM (#25930749) Journal
    I was under the impression that the atheros HAL is not a binary blob in the sense the summary refers to, but a program executed on the host CPU [madwifi-project.org]. That makes this even better news than if it were a blob. It is debatable whether or not a system that needs to load a bunch of blobs onto its peripherals at startup is free or not(personally, I'm inclined to say it is, as long as the mechanisms for loading the firmware and interacting with the peripheral are open and the firmware is freely redistributable); but a system with a big binary lump running in kernel space definitely isn't.

    It is very encouraging to see progress towards removing one of the most common causes of tainted kernels(probably second only to video card drivers); but it isn't really related to the blob question.
  • Can someone please explain to me what the advantage (presumably to the hw manufacturer) there is by having binary loadable code on the computer? Why not just store it on the hardware? Is the h/w somehow cheaper to manufacture because this is done? I really don't see how that could be.. the things have flash memory already.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by QuantumG (50515) *

      If you make the customer load up the bits, you don't have to do it in the factory.

      If the manufacturers could figure out a way to make the software build the card at install time and still manage to milk the customer of money, they'd do it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Tubal-Cain (1289912) *
      RAM must be cheaper than ROM. Easier to upgrade the firmware, too.
    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday November 30, 2008 @09:28AM (#25932633) Journal

      You are confusing blobs with firmware. Firmware is software run by the hardware's processor. It used to be stored in ROM, but ROM is expensive, and if the host has a lot of RAM (which any computer does in comparison to a WiFi card) it's cheaper to just give some of the RAM to the device and let it use that instead. This also has the advantage that it's easier to fix bugs in the firmware - just download a new version, rather than replacing the chip (some old cards had the ROM in a socket for doing this, but it was quite rare for anyone to actually do it).

      This is not firmware, however, it is a blob. The kernel module originally just took commands from a userspace driver and passed them over the bus, much like the DRI modules. Unlike the DRI driver, the HAL was binary-only. It was originally claimed that this was required by the FCC, since with the source code anyone could modify the driver to push the card out of regulatory compliance. It was a far from satisfactory solution, however, since it meant that no one could fix the blob, and it was limited to x86-only.

    • There is also the advantage of having less wireless card warranty replacements due to failed firmware upgrades. I imagine this is a source of frustration for both consumer and manufacturer. Kudos to Atheros for doing this ... may I point out that Ralink Technology has been doing this for a number of years now? I have found the Atheros and Ralink chipsets to be equally of good quality. Finally, it's time for Intel to follow suit. They have no competitive edge by keeping their binary blobs. Their stuff
  • by gringer (252588)

    What's the ICS license [wikipedia.org]? I think someone may have got their acronyms mixed up... of course, that person may be me.

  • I just wanted to say thanks for creating and supporting such a great product. I've been buying and recommending Atheros based wifi cards for years (for both Windows and Linux applications) specifically because of your fantastic support of open systems. They are rock solid and fast.

    Kudos!

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      And please don't let any money grubbing developer who only cares about money do any more "open source" work for you in the future! Sam stood up at Usenix and told the OpenBSD guys to stop their efforts to reverse-engineer HAL or else there would be no open source support at all. Now they've succeeded and not only is there open source support for Atheros, there's more support for it because now Sam's forced to open source HAL in order to keep the money stream coming in from a formerly proprietary monopoly si

  • As for existing installs, can it be used as a drop-in replacement for an existing blob hal?

    This should have come a lot earlier, not when it is marked legacy.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sam deserves a huge round of applause for all the work he has put in to wireless drivers and support. The long standing criticism of his work, that it was released as a BLOB, was Atheros' choice, not his. Sam stopped direct involvement in Linux drivers a while back, but continued to release BLOBs for many platforms. His release of the HAL source was accompanied by the announcement that his HAL was no longer the reference. Thanks a Whole Lot, Sam, you sure took a lot of grief that wasn't rightfully yours

  • As a user I found open source to be a lot more hassle free than closed source. Usually it open source is supported better and longer. I can download everything from Debian mirrors. When I used Nvidia I always had to do some additional steps.

  • legacy HAL (Score:2, Informative)

    by yupa (751893)
    Note that atheros already release a "legacy" HAL 2 months ago : http://marc.info/?l=linux-wireless&m=122246623707038&w=2 [marc.info]
  • If your are like me and you don't want to buy another card because you are broke and you like to distro hop, then this is a great thing! I do get tired of re-installing M/A and the like just to try it out.

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