On Mon, Aug 27, 2012 at 02:50:54PM +1000, Ben Finney wrote:
> Adam Bolte <abo...@systemsaviour.com>
> writes:
> > On Sun, Aug 26, 2012 at 10:04:05AM +1000, Ben Finney wrote:
> > > First you'd need to show that we're treating graphics firmware
> > > specially. I think the same criticisms are applied to vendors who
> > > act against freedom in network interface firmware, graphics
> > > firmware, radio firmware, etc.
> >
> > Like yourself, instead of purchasing computer hardware from perhaps a
> > local computer retailer, Ben has elected to import hardware from the
> > US on the basis that these Think Penguin machines are tested to be
> > "compatible" with free software - or at least that was my
> > understanding.
> Close. They go to that effort in benefit of customer's software freedom,
> advertise it as a distinguishing feature, and say what devices are in
> the machine so we can verify exactly what free drivers will be used.
> That puts them a huge stretch ahead of most Australian notebook vendors
> in the advance of software freedom for customers.

Interesting. Out of curiosity, how do you feel Pioneer Computers fair? Say,
the DreamBook Ultra Power W11.

Product page:

Customisation page:

Like Think Penguin, they don't say exactly what kind of SSDs or HDDs are
used... they also don't say exactly what the wireless card is (although as
Ubuntu GNU/Linux is an option there's a good chance it's free software
compatible - and you could likely just call up and ask about the chipset used
- and it's cheap and easy to replace anyway. Pretty much all the major
components are known and can easily be researched, so one could have a strong
degree of confidence.

Out of curiosity, do Think Pentuin guarantee that the firmware updater for the
SSDs and other devices are not proprietary? Given that the firmware is
proprietary anyway, should this be on our radar?

> > However, even those machines provide the option of various SSDs,
> > HDD&SSD hybrids (all surely requiring non-free firmware), and even
> > non-free BIOSs.
> Which makes them no different from Australian vendors in that regard. On
> the other hand, I know of no Australian vendor that goes anywhere near
> close to the level of we-guarantee-it-works-with-only-free-software
> effort and proactive advertising on the basis of software freedom.
> If you can find one which goes *even further* than Think Penguin,
> ZaReason, Gerlach44, and so on, please let us know. Bonus, of course, if
> they're Australian.

Shouldn't be too hard to make a few calls or send a few e-mails I'd imagine.
Surely local stores that already support GNU/Linux installations would like to
sell a few extra units at minimal effort. After all, they would just need to
throw in a Trisquel disc, make sure everything appears working (perhaps an
application is available that could automate much of this), and label it as
being compatible.

Heck, I'd volunteer a few hours of my time over a weekend each month or so to
let a store know if new models meet our requirements - and then we could just
point our fingers to that local store when making recommendations. What are
your thoughts on something like this? Is there perhaps a better way that
should be considered?

> > Yet, these issues are rarely given any attention. Instead, most
> > efforts seem to be directed towards network and graphics firmware.
> I think that's a function of the long-standing intractability of nVidia
> and ATI on software freedom, and the rather recent advent of SSDs. I
> agree with you that they are both important issues for software freedom,
> and I don't treat either of them as less important than the other.

That's a fair call. Graphics drivers have largely been problematic for free
software driver authors and users up until the last few years (and they're
still generally problematic when buying the very latest models) so that's
probably given them some extra attention.

> In the case of my SSD, you may recall that I was the one who raised the
> problems of SSD non-free firmware updates and HDMI+HDCP, at the Free
> Software Melbourne meeting where I discussed this machine and my efforts
> in buying it.
> I was unaware of either problem when I was researching the machine, so I
> deny the charge you're bringing that I treated them as somehow lesser
> problems.

Fair enough. There's potentially a public awareness issue here. We should
research free alternatives to traditional storage devices that are more free,
which we can recommend to people.

While having a USB hub (preferably transparent with lots of flashing lights)
and USB key RAID0 array duck taped to the lid of your laptop might get you
strange looks, it could be a valid option for people who want to reduce their
reliance on proprietary firmwares (particularly with USB3 now readily
available). As a bonus, it's guaranteed to gain you geek points. :)

> > For the most part however, Intel doesn't issue microcode updates. AMD
> > has only enabled users to update microcode since 2009 (on GNU/Linux
> > systems at least). Out of sight, out of mind?
> No – as I said, if the vendor is not in a privileged position to deploy
> updates to the device's behaviour, then the customer's freedom is
> significantly more secure. That's good reson to treat it as less of a
> problem.

Maybe I'm not clear after all on what "privileged position to deploy updates"
is.  Obviously if we're running a free software distribution, we choose what
is deployed to our own systems - proprietary or otherwise. If AMD publishes a
new microcode update today on their website, I'm the one who decides if I push
it to my device - not AMD. So if that's what you meant, fine.

However, I thought what you were trying to say was "Can the vendor issue
firmware that adds features or functionality to the device as *they* want,
whereas I don't have that control due to the proprietary nature of the
firmware?". In that case, if Intel can issue updates that improve clock speed,
unlock CPU cores, add or remove a unique CPU identification tag, etc, and I
cannot, then obviously Intel *is* in a privileged position in that it could
utilise the hardware more than I possibly could due to the proprietary
nature of the update.

> > But do these graphic card firmwares really see proprietary updates
> > from vendors that modify the behaviour in some useful way? Or is this
> > something you are assuming just because a firmware needs to be loaded
> > at boot, and proprietary graphics card drivers (which include the
> > firmware) regularly get updates?
> Either the firmware update makes a significant change to the device's
> behaviour, in which case the customer's freedom to choose to load
> different firmware is important to their freedom; or it's not
> significant, in which case it's not important.

I see. You still said "firmware update". I don't think the AMD cards actually
get firmware *updates*, as per my previous e-mail. It's just the same firmware
which is always loaded.


Attachment: signature.asc
Description: Digital signature

Free-software-melb mailing list

Reply via email to