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GNU is Not Unix Wireless Networking Hardware

Harald Welte Calls Out Netgear's Open Source Sham 199

Posted by timothy
from the they're-workin'-on-it dept.
Simon80 writes "Harald Welte, known for his involvement in various open source communities, has pointed out the shortcomings of Netgear's open source router hype. Netgear's own astroturfed community site reveals that the router requires the use of binary-only kernel modules for the wireless and ethernet hardware, which is supplied by Broadcom. Also worth noting are the missing features in third-party firmware versions supplied by Netgear."
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Harald Welte Calls Out Netgear's Open Source Sham

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  • by noundi (1044080) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @02:53PM (#29684247)

    One of the open firmware shortcomings is "WPA and WPA2 are not working." That is a pretty big shortcoming.

    Or as in this case, one of the open firmware shortcomings: not being open. Epic fail Netgear, epic fucking fail.

  • Re:Old Argument (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 08, 2009 @02:59PM (#29684311)

    *looks at his brand New Atheros 9k powered wifi card which requires no firmware.*

    Yes, I have no plans to utilize any cards requiring a blob again. The bar has been raised.

  • Re:Old Argument (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kimvette (919543) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @03:04PM (#29684343) Homepage Journal

    Some problems:

    1. They are proclaiming it to be open source, which is deceptive. It's "open source" except where it matters (device drivers/modules) from a maintainability perspective.

    2. Their employees are astroturfing

    3. Releasing open source drivers does not in any way reveal your chip mask and hardware architecture. Atheros' real competitors have access to electron microscopes and everything else it takes to buy a router off the shelf and copy chips exactly; simply keeping the drivers closed is not going to deter, say, realtek or broadcom in the slightest.

    Besides, Buffalo is supporting open source through action (money) not just in press releases - beating Netgear to the punch by a couple of years. Netgear is just playing the "me too! Signed, metoo@aol.com" game.

  • by petrus4 (213815) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @03:07PM (#29684365) Homepage Journal

    Are there any routers available that do have completely open firmware/whatever else?

    If so, buy those, the end. Activism means nothing, hate sites filled with spam like the FSF produce mean nothing. Businesses don't care about those, because they don't have to.

    As the saying goes, money talks, and bullshit walks. Give yours to companies who produce the types of products that you want to buy.

    No flaming, no flaps, no noise, no controversy. It's simple, it's quiet, and it can be effective.

  • Re:Old Argument (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nurb432 (527695) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @03:09PM (#29684377) Homepage Journal

    Some problems:

    1. They are proclaiming it to be open source, which is deceptive. It's "open source" except where it matters (device drivers/modules) from a maintainability perspective.

    >

    I'm seeing that more and more in marketing hype. "look we are opensource" but when you get there, its a scam. OSS must be teh buzzword of the year.

  • Re:Old Argument (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cream wobbly (1102689) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @03:12PM (#29684401)

    The FCC will consider what is submitted for certification, and that is what manufacturers are allowed to sell under the certification. The FCC certification process doesn't control modifications by the end user.

    I mean, you could modify a wireless router by stuffing a huge RF amp on the output, and that wouldn't pass FCC certification; but you're just an end user, so they don't care about breaking certification. They'll deal with you when the complaints from others start rolling in.

  • Re:Old Argument (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheMMaster (527904) <{hp} {at} {tmm.cx}> on Thursday October 08, 2009 @03:13PM (#29684409)

    It's idealistic to want all software to be open - but for companies which pour a lot of intellectual property into their drivers and firmware, I find it understandable that they wouldn't want their work made available to competitors' products.

    No, they might not want to show people just how technically bad their products are though. There is no 'intellectual property' in drivers, you cannot copy a chip's design by looking at it's drivers. MANY people in the chip design field have stated this already, in fact it has been mentioned so often by now that I'm surprised you didn't know this.

    And even then, you should demand freedom from the companies you buy products of, you need this freedom to protect your rights as a consumer. Finding apologies for and sympathizing with the company that is trying to take away your freedom is much like saying "Yes Bob beat all the teeth out of my mouth, but I understand he had a bad day at work."

    And if you feel that the freedom to do as you please with the devices you own is not important to you, then why did you post this? You talk about "Idealogical" and yes it is, partially. But the ideology is not that all software should be free because all software should be free. All software should be free so that writers of software do not have the power to abuse users of the software. Or in this case sell buggy hardware without any way for the consumer to find this out until it is too late.

    OR being able to apply security updates
    OR being sure that your router doesn't inject advertisements into your webpages
    etc. etc. etc.

    If they're not using any open-source in their binaries themselves, it's no violation

    Yes it is, it says so in the license of the software we're talking about (Linux) This is not open for interpretation.

    My opinion is this - if you don't like it, don't use it.

    Indeed if Netgear doesn't want to play by the rules of the GPL, then they don't have to use GPL code. But they do want to use GPLd code because it saves them an asston of licensing on VXWorks or other router operating systems. They want to use Linux, so they have to play by the rules of Linux which are : If you link code to Linux code code, your code needs to be free.

    The broadcom drivers link against Linux code and thus it needs to be free. If they don't want to do that, they can NOT USE LINUX, it's their choice. They can't have it both, they chose to use Linux themselves because they apparently found it beneficial to them, now they need to play by the rules. Or do you think that the authors of VMWorks wouldn't mind if Linksys decides to not play by their rules and just not pay?

  • Re:Old Argument (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bmo (77928) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @03:26PM (#29684573)

    But that's not their problem.

    It's yours. If you cause interference because you modified the firmware to get more than 1/4 wat, and you wind up interfering with licensed spectrum, Linksys isn't going to be on the hook. You are.

    There is no law against modifying electronics.

    Even if you didn't modify the router, if it was interfering with licensed spectrum, it's your repsonsibility to shut it off.

    The responsibility does not lie with the manufacturer. It lies with the operator.

    --
    BMO

  • Re:Silly netgear (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Omnifarious (11933) * <eric-slash&omnifarious,org> on Thursday October 08, 2009 @03:48PM (#29684891) Homepage Journal

    They will not be happy until you have given everything away and are completely unprofitable, like Sun.

    And unlike Redhat?

    Blaming management mistakes on the market is businessman blunder #1. There are counter examples where management got it right and continues to do so.

  • Re:Old Argument (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SwashbucklingCowboy (727629) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @04:03PM (#29685075)

    "Indeed if Netgear doesn't want to play by the rules of the GPL"

    Ah, but the rules of the GPL are not clear. Some claim that any LKM is a derivative work of the kernel, however from a legal perspective that is not at all clear.

  • by Nerdfest (867930) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @04:25PM (#29685375)
    Activism helps spread the word to others so that their dollars can vote too. It also more aggressively lets companies know that they've done something wrong ... sometimes they really don't know unless you tell them.
  • Re:Silly netgear (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @04:39PM (#29685631)

    Red Hat markets to enterprises, not freetards. Freetards do not purchase RHEL.

    And how is that different from Sun?

  • Re:Great idea! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ArsonSmith (13997) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @04:52PM (#29685797) Journal

    By the looks of this they are 100% completely closed source. The only thing that is open source is stuff that can be obtained elsewhere.

    They have only done the legally acceptable but frowned upon practice of taking open source software, writing closed source drivers and then touting their use of open source as some kind of gift to the community.

  • Re:Great idea! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by glassware (195317) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:04PM (#29685939) Homepage Journal

    In all fairness, Harald's original blog post isn't that rude to them; the Slashdot summary, I believe, is condescending and wrong.

    However, I and many other folks are not as concerned about binary modules as Harald is. I view a binary module as a good first step - once a company gets comfortable with part of the code being open source, they'll gradually be receptive to open sourcing other modules. In many cases, yes, this takes a long time; and in some cases it causes companies to get scared and backtrack on open source commitments.

    But still I view open source with some binaries as better than no commitments. I encourage people who view themselves as open source advocates to maintain a professional and respectful attitude towards companies who haven't opened up completely.

  • Re:Great idea! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rahvin112 (446269) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:06PM (#29685977)

    The problem isn't that they aren't "sufficiently" open, it's that they aren't open at all and are pretending to be. Binary modules and broken independent firmware's aren't open. Harold is right to call them out for false advertising. Astro-Turfing is a real problem, it's basically false advertising and the FTC is allowing it to happen.

  • Re:Great idea! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tweenk (1274968) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:08PM (#29685989)

    What a great way to gently remind them to have a positive attitude towards open source!

    So you say we should e.g. congratulate Nvidia for supplying an obfuscated 2D-only piece of shit driver to "encourage" them to open the 3D driver as well? No, positive motivation does not work with corporations. Nothing gets done until lts of people complain. Providing half-assed open source support is actually more harmful that not providing any support at all, because it takes away the manpower needed to implement proper support. If 90% of users are satisfied with the limited functionality, it usually means you have 10x less developers working on proper support.

  • by Hatta (162192) * on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:49PM (#29686461) Journal

    giving away the last bit of plausible denyability we have

    I'm less worried about getting caught doing something, and needing plausible deniability than I am about someone else doing something on my network and it getting pinned on me.

  • The cool thing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by symbolset (646467) * on Friday October 09, 2009 @12:10AM (#29688935) Journal

    Apparently they care enough about the geek market to try to appeal to the router-modders and to try to build some momentum with astroturfing.

    Now if they could just figure out that it's cheaper, more effective and more reliable to just do it right then everybody wins including them. Do it right and you don't have to astroturf - the grass roots want to grow.

  • Re:Great idea! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 09, 2009 @02:41AM (#29689505)

    However, I and many other folks are not as concerned about binary modules as Harald is. I view a binary module as a good first step - once a company gets comfortable with part of the code being open source, they'll gradually be receptive to open sourcing other modules

    Even if that's true (Via and NVidia are proving otherwise - but Via is probably just incompetent), which part of Broadcoms offerings is actually open source? It matters exactly zilch that some distributor of Broadcom chipsets is warming up to open source; we need Broadcom itself to warm up to it, and that will only happen if companies like Netgear stop choosing Broadcom chipsets over open ones.

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