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Part 2 Of Nouveau Saga: The Microcode

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  • #16
    Linus was talking to paid Red Hat employees, not volunteers. His point is valid, the OSS community tends to improve faster when the code is consolidated upstream rather than having everyone maintain their individual patch sets. That said, I have no opinion on this matter in particular, I'm sure the red hat guys have good reasons.

    I don't think the legal issues with the microcode stems from patent issues, but rather copyright. What they've done is simply reverse engineer the binary drivers to see what they send to the hardware in order to make it work. So, if the microcode is just like any other signal that gets sent to the chip the reverse engineering should be sufficient. However, I think you could make an argument that the microcode itself is a completely separate program which would itself need to be reverse engineered as well. (IANAL)

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    • #17
      Originally posted by smitty3268 View Post
      I don't think the legal issues with the microcode stems from patent issues, but rather copyright. What they've done is simply reverse engineer the binary drivers to see what they send to the hardware in order to make it work. So, if the microcode is just like any other signal that gets sent to the chip the reverse engineering should be sufficient. However, I think you could make an argument that the microcode itself is a completely separate program which would itself need to be reverse engineered as well. (IANAL)
      It would be nice to reverse-engineer the microcode, but not necessary to have the driver go upstream. At least one other driver (b43, for broadcom wireless cards) uses firmware the cannot be distributed as part of Linux, either in the driver itself or in the firmware git repo. It is up to the end-user to obtain correct firmware and place it in /lib/firmware. Typically, distributions provide scripts to download the binary driver and extract the firmware images from it.

      It does seem the situation is a bit hairier than even that, as it is not clear that there is a reasonable way for an end-user to legally obtain the nvidia firmware for their card (assuming it is copyrightable after all) . Apparently, the firmware bit-pattern that the binary nvidia driver emits to the hardware is not present anywhere in the driver binary image itself. I guess they have some kind of generic firmware image, and the driver customizes it for the hardware at runtime....

      However, RedHat and the Nouveau project are currently distributing these firmwares as part of the nouveau source code. I don't see any reason they can't just keep doing so, and let users download it from there. And if their lawyers make them stop distributing it, there is always bittorrent. As long as it is not in the source that goes upstream, the legal gray area should not impact Linux itself.

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      • #18
        The part that makes no sense to me is that apparently Red Hat's lawyers are saying it's fine to develop this ourselves inside Fedora, but not in the official Linux kernel which we don't control. I mean, in any reasonable universe, wouldn't it be the opposite? I would think that putting it in Fedora only would mean more legal risk to them, and it would be less if it was in someone elses repository.

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        • #19
          From what I understand (from recent messages on the mailing list), the issue is providing the Signed-Off-By: line on the patch. This would be an assertion that the code (including microcode/firmware if submitted as-is) is licensed GPL2-compatible. That is what their lawyers are telling them not to do.

          Breaking the firmware out into separate files would allow them to sign-off the actual driver code in good faith.

          And no, if there is a problem with copyright, it provides no legal protection if someone else is also distributing the same work.

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          • #20
            I like linus his tone in most of the cases... very clear. But why is he communicating this kind of dirty laundring to the world. This seems more like an inside matter to me, not something worth talking about. I thought he nowdays gets paid to solve this himself.

            In anycase, if they are indeed making excuses than he should now how to proceed. What a crap mail.

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            • #21
              His point is valid, the OSS community tends to improve faster when the code is consolidated upstream rather than having everyone maintain their individual patch sets.
              just a few months ago i would nitpick that linus wants as much as possible developed in-tree, but he rejects crap code.

              fortunately staging drivers feature appeared and it makes it possible to develop incomplete/testing code in-kernel, so i find his point valid.

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              • #22
                markmail

                Originally posted by Fazer View Post
                "I will not link to SourceForge mailing list archives."

                They are crap to navigate. In fact, I have no idea how I can easily go to previous/next message in the thread there.
                The markmail.org interface is really nice. Here's a link to the nouveau discussion:

                http://markmail.org/message/wgczkuh55ehvcwsw

                Their search and filtering is also pretty good.

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                • #23
                  Originally posted by smitty3268 View Post
                  The part that makes no sense to me is that apparently Red Hat's lawyers are saying it's fine to develop this ourselves inside Fedora, but not in the official Linux kernel which we don't control. I mean, in any reasonable universe, wouldn't it be the opposite? I would think that putting it in Fedora only would mean more legal risk to them, and it would be less if it was in someone elses repository.
                  You have certainly missed a key part of the debate. Dave Airlie from Red Hat explained this at

                  http://sourceforge.net/mailarchive/m...mail.gmail.com

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                  • #24
                    It look like the nouveau driver was finally pulled into staging (at least linus was finally requested to do so : http://sourceforge.net/mailarchive/m...ynet.skynet.ie).

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                    • #25
                      Originally posted by Xheyther View Post
                      It look like the nouveau driver was finally pulled into staging (at least linus was finally requested to do so : http://sourceforge.net/mailarchive/m...ynet.skynet.ie).
                      Nice. If it goes in, maybe Ubuntu will re-think their decision with 10.04LTS&2.6.32.

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                      • #26
                        It's interesting how quickly, one the roadblocks are identified, something can be resolved (at least in part)

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                        • #27
                          Originally posted by deanjo View Post
                          Reverse engineering does not protect you as far as possible patent restrictions. If nvidia for example has a patent on a process and that the reversed engineered firmware duplicates obtained in a clean room environment, from scratch or copying knowingly or not, it may very well infringe on patents made by nvidia or partners they license from. A simplified example:

                          Two guys are inventors, they both are developing mouse traps. Guy A has a piece of wood, a spring, and some stiff wire and comes up with the spring trap and patents it. Guy B with the same materials without even knowing it has already been patented comes up with a design looking very similar in looks and functionality and uses the same principals. Guy B is in patent infringement if he tries to market it (price really isn't a issue here, could be a freebie or charging for it).

                          Bottom line is patent infringement, no matter if it is ignorant of the patent or not, is still illegal in the eyes of patent law.
                          Good point. Just what I meant in my earlier post. Nvidia should say something about this issue as well. If there's IP in the microcode they want to protect, whether theirs or the 3rd parties, they need to say something so the developers are aware of the patent implications

                          I would suggest that the firmware be at least nonfree and restricted...and kept in a separate package or at least be made available for download from appropriate locations
                          Last edited by DeepDayze; 12-11-2009, 02:34 PM.

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                          • #28
                            Originally posted by DeepDayze View Post
                            Good point. Just what I meant in my earlier post. Nvidia should say something about this issue as well. If there's IP in the microcode they want to protect, whether theirs or the 3rd parties, they need to say something so the developers are aware of the patent implications
                            True, nvidia are the only ones that can verify this. It would be in the best interest of the nouveau devs to be pro-active and ask nvidia to take a look at it to check for these possible infringements. If none are found then fine. If there is then see if some sort of solution like On2 and Xiph.org did with the patents utilized in theora.

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                            • #29
                              Originally posted by deanjo View Post
                              True, nvidia are the only ones that can verify this. It would be in the best interest of the nouveau devs to be pro-active and ask nvidia to take a look at it to check for these possible infringements. If none are found then fine. If there is then see if some sort of solution like On2 and Xiph.org did with the patents utilized in theora.
                              That'll be the good way to go about it. If nvidia gives its blessing then all's good

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                              • #30
                                Part 2 Of Nouveau Saga The Microcode

                                Ubuntu vote here. Ive tried RedHat and Fedora in the past but just didnt get on as well them.

                                I like ubuntus wiki as well which has probably helped my learning process.

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