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Operating Systems Software Linux

Linus Puts Kibosh On Banning Binary Kernel Modules 494

microbee writes "On LKML's periodic GPL vs. binary kernel module discussion, Andrew Morton hinted that he favors refusing to load binary modules in 12 months. Greg Kroah-Hartman then posted a patch to do exactly that. Surprisingly Linus chimed in and called it 'stupid' and a 'political agenda,' and even compared it with the RIAA's tactics. Later in the same thread Greg withdrew his patch and apologized for not having thought it through."
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Linus Puts Kibosh On Banning Binary Kernel Modules

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  • by bconway ( 63464 ) * on Thursday December 14, 2006 @10:17AM (#17235780) Homepage
    I'm not sure what kernel list the poster has been reading. Linus is a pragmatist. He has constantly favored using the best tool for the job over religious fanaticism. There's no surprise here.
  • by i_should_be_working ( 720372 ) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @10:28AM (#17235948)
    Before people start bashing those who proposed this, think of the devs who put so much of their time and effort into getting us Linux. And note that the proposal arose from a technical issue, not from a 'everything must be Free' stance. From the last thread /. links to, part of Greg's retraction:

    It's just that I'm so damn tired of this whole thing. I'm tired of
    people thinking they have a right to violate my copyright all the time.
    I'm tired of people and companies somehow treating our license in ways
    that are blatantly wrong and feeling fine about it. Because we are a
    loose band of a lot of individuals, and not a company or legal entity,
    it seems to give companies the chutzpah to feel that they can get away
    with violating our license.

    So when someone like Andrew gives me the opportunity to put a stop to
    all of the crap that I have to put up with each and every day with a
    tiny 2 line patch, I jumped in and took it. I need to sit back and
    remember to see the bigger picture some times, so I apologize to
    everyone here.

    And yes, it is crap that I deal with every day due to the lovely grey
    area that is Linux kernel module licensing these days. I have customers
    that demand we support them despite them mixing three and more different
    closed source kernel modules at once and getting upset that I have no
    way to help them out. I have loony video tweakers that hand edit kernel
    oopses to try to hide the fact that they are using a binary module
    bigger than the sum of the whole kernel and demand that our group fix
    their suspend/resume issue for them. I see executives who say one thing
    to the community and then turn around and overrule them just because
    someone made a horrible purchasing decision on the brand of laptop wifi
    card that they purchased. I see lawyers who have their hands tied by
    attorney-client rules and can not speak out in public for how they
    really feel about licenses and how to interpret them.

    Please think of the coders, and the shit they have to put up with while making your free operating system the next time you start clamoring for these closed source binary blobs.
  • Oh irony (Score:4, Informative)

    by Improv ( 2467 ) <> on Thursday December 14, 2006 @10:32AM (#17236020) Homepage Journal
    "Let's put it this way: if you need to ask a lawyer whether
    what you do is "right" or not, you are morally corrupt.
    Let's not go there. We don't base our morality on law."
            -- Linus Torvalds

    Apparently our morality is simple pragmatism?
  • by walt-sjc ( 145127 ) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @10:33AM (#17236042)
    I think he was wrong at simply /I realize nobody is likely going to listen to me/

    I think he was referring to the RMS crowd, who won't.
  • by BigBuckHunter ( 722855 ) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @10:35AM (#17236066)
    If Nvidia doesn't release their source because it's not "derived" from the linux kernel (they only use a GPL kernel interface to bridge it to their driver), then why TF do they have a seperate driver download for linux? Why don't they didn't they just build a kernel interface to their windows driver? When their driver stops working with newer kernels and they patch it to work again, isn't that patch "derived" from the linux kernel, otherwise where esle would the patch be derived from?

    What Linus is saying may not exclude the possibility of a single kernel dev suing Nvidia for GPL license violations or possible copyright infringent.

    Just a thought,
  • Re:Licence terms (Score:4, Informative)

    by saforrest ( 184929 ) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @10:54AM (#17236406) Journal
    Or is the GPL a magic copyright that should be extended indefinitely past an author's death?

    What gives you the impression that copyright does not extend past the death of the author? It most certainly does.

    In the United States, it is life of author plus 70 years (see How long copyright lasts []).

    So if you wanted to change the licence to BSD, you would need to contact the heirs of these dead people.
  • Re:Licence terms (Score:3, Informative)

    by walt-sjc ( 145127 ) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @10:58AM (#17236484)
    Whoops - I'm wrong and the other responder is right. It's life + 70 years (I misread the article.)
  • by rkcallaghan ( 858110 ) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @10:58AM (#17236486)
    GauteL wrote:
    But the fact is that there is a large number of copyright holders for the Linux kernel, not just Linus himself. Not all of these copyright holders accept binary kernel modules, and thus they should be considered illegal to distribute with the kernel.
    The kernel accepts binary modules by design and default. Even if the "other copyright holders to the Linux kernel" mattered in this case (they don't, see below); they submitted their code and efforts in agreement with things as they stood then, not some potential future version that Morton might want to make. So you're wrong on that point, despite any arguments they might make or political positions they might support, when the chips were down they did support kernel modules and there is no reason at all they should be illegal.

    Further, a large majority of said other copyright holders wouldn't matter if they wanted to. A contributor might have given something great and valuable to the linux kernel. Unless they're the maintainer of the portion that actually handles loading modules, too bad so sad. If I'm not mistaken that's Torvalds and Morton. Everyone else, no matter how great their bluetooth subsystem is, can no more demand linux "make binary modules illegal" than you could of Microsoft.

  • by damiangerous ( 218679 ) <> on Thursday December 14, 2006 @11:02AM (#17236574)
    Currently there are only few closed source drivers in Linux, so the system is working pretty well.

    If that were the case this patch wouldn't have been submitted. If you read the withdrawal email you'll see that there are "hundreds".

    [side diversion, it's not the video drivers that really matter here everyone, those are just so obvious. It's the hundreds of other blatantly infringing binary kernel modules out there that really matter. The ones that control filesystems, cluster interconnects, disk arrays, media codecs, and a whole host of custom hardware. That's the real problem that Linux faces now and will only get worse in the future. It's not two stupid little video drivers, I could honestly care less about them...]

    You as an end user just don't see them because they're all specialized for certain tasks or equipment. Most people just see the video drivers.

    Hopefully nvidia will also publish open source drivers.

    Not going to happen. NVidia and ATi have stated they couldn't open up the drivers if they wanted to. There's just too much licensed IP they don't have the rights to open.

  • by drsquare ( 530038 ) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @11:31AM (#17237156)
    The problem is you're assuming everyone uses Linux because it's open source. I use it because it's free and I prefer using it to Windows, I couldn't give a damn whether it's open source or closed source written by Satan himself.
  • by damiangerous ( 218679 ) <> on Thursday December 14, 2006 @11:38AM (#17237304)
    So I'm a little hazy on this one. If proprietary hardware vendors release proprietary drivers, what exactly is the harm?

    There isn't any, as long as they're not derivative. When Greg withdrew his patch he said he was driven by the hundreds of other closed source modules that are closed despite being GPL-derived. Forcing all modules open would help put a stop to that. Linus pointed out that it would force open perfectly legal modules as well, and he wasn't going to be put in the position of forcing his ideology on someone else, equating it to a form of DRM. His point was that if they wanted people to respect the GPL they needed to respect license choices of other peoples' non-derived code.

  • by cyclop ( 780354 ) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @11:41AM (#17237368) Homepage Journal

    Using free code that links/attaches into GPL-ed code is the license _requirement_

    No. The license requirement is that I cannot _redistribute_ GPL-ed code with binary code mixed. But if I pick up proprietary code, I mix it by myself on my machine, I compile it and I use it, I'm perfectly GPL-compliant, provided I don't redistribute it.

  • by Andy Dodd ( 701 ) <> on Thursday December 14, 2006 @11:58AM (#17237684) Homepage
    S3 Texture Compression (S3TC) - The initial cause of ATI going closed-source with their drivers after a long track record of being (nearly) fully open source.

    I'm sure there are plenty of other examples, but S3TC (the reason Unreal Tournament 2003 only ran with NVidia cards with the NV binary drivers until ATI released their first binary drivers) is the first well-known example.

    Implementing S3TC goes WAY beyond documenting a few registers. Modern video drivers do far more than you realize, they aren't just some low-level glue.

    Speaking of low-level glue, most if not all of the NVidia kernel module is in this category and source is available, but it's useless without the (non-kernel) userspace X11 driver.
  • Re:Exactly (Score:3, Informative)

    by drzhivago ( 310144 ) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @11:58AM (#17237690)
    Windows does allow home-coded drivers. Nothing stopping you from grabbing the Windows DDK and having a go at it.

    The difference is that generally there isn't a need to do so for that OS, whereas not every company makes drivers available for their hardware in Linux.
  • by kv9 ( 697238 ) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @12:04PM (#17237822) Homepage

    Perhaps you should actually learn the history of Linux before you open your mouth and prove your ignorance to the world.

    practice what you preach. Linus named it "Freax" -- it was his friend Ari Lemmke, the FTP admin where the code was hosted, that named it "Linux". calling him "the community" is a bit pushing it.

  • Re:Exactly (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ponies_OMG ( 965954 ) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @12:05PM (#17237850)
    I always say "Linux is free, if your time is worthless" (I really should say OSS instead of Linux there of course)

    I spend more time dealing with Windows problems (XP home & pro) at home, than I do with Linux problems. Windows isn't free, and it costs more of my time.

  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @12:09PM (#17237916) Journal

    So I'm a little hazy on this one. If proprietary hardware vendors release proprietary drivers, what exactly is the harm?
    Do you use a graphics card? Do you use a graphics card in a corporate environment? Here's an example of what could happen:

    The closed driver has a security hole in it, which can be exploited remotely (e.g. by viewing a web page) and gives the attacker the ability to exploit code. If you want a fix, you have to update to the newest version of the driver. There's a catch though; the newest version doesn't support some older cards. If you want those older machines to not be vulnerable to infection just from viewing a web page, you need to upgrade their graphics cards as well.

    Sounds unlikely? Well, that's exactly what happened to users of nVidia hardware. If the driver had been Free, then any users that cared enough could have back-ported the fix, or paid someone else to do so. The biggest problem with closed drivers is that, once a newer version of the hardware is released, it is in the manufacturer's interest to 'encourage' you, the user, to upgrade.

  • by gbjbaanb ( 229885 ) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @12:24PM (#17238206)
    I thought the problem was that in order to build a driver, you have to use the C headers to get the data structures and other API code, so all binary drivers are technically licenced with the GPL and should be open sourced.

    If this is the case (and I'm not 100% sure I'm right here) then I think the linux licence needs these 'APIs' to be released differently.
  • Re:Exactly (Score:5, Informative)

    by CrazedWalrus ( 901897 ) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @01:02PM (#17239074) Journal

    And Windows doesn't take LOTS of time to get working? Ever tried setting up IIS with LDAP and wikis? Spent hours trying to find out why files on the network were being mysteriously and only very occasionally corrupted? (Thanks, DLink and your buggy network card drivers for Windows.) Have that fresh Windows installation get pwned in less than a minute because you didn't know it must be patched before it touches the Internet? Maybe you really believe MacIntoshes "just work"? They're pretty good, but they aren't perfect either.

    OSS gets a LOT of flak it shouldn't. Double standards. When a device doesn't work with Windows, that's the device's fault. When a device doesn't work with Linux, that's Linux's fault. But you know, if those device drivers are OSS, you at least have another option. Lot of talented people out there will be able to work on the drivers.

    Indeed. My sister-in-law just bought a Dell, and I spent *hours* installing patches (about 50 for a fresh SP2 install), removing all of the "free trials" and "buy me" nags, installing windows versions of open source stuff (Postgres, Open Office, Firefox, Thunderbird), and setting her up to run as a limited user instead of administrator.

    On the average Windows box, you then repeat this process ever 6 months because it got fricked up somehow. Nah -- it's as much trouble or more than linux, *AND* it costs me money to boot. Insult to injury. No thanks.
  • by IdleTime ( 561841 ) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @01:42PM (#17239782) Journal

    Erm, no, the only commercial software made possible by this is hardware drivers - I wouldn't necessarily call that a "good thing". Yes, it means you can use your 3D-accelerated nvidia/ati-card right now, but it may also mean that there will never be a "proper" driver for those cards.

    Larger commercial software products, like games, database systems, or what-have-you are not touched by this issue.

    * sigh *

    Wrong! See Oracle's ASMlib [] for one example of why you are wrong.
  • by EvanED ( 569694 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [denave]> on Thursday December 14, 2006 @02:03PM (#17240160)
    The closed source drivers lag on the bleeding edge?

    Which has driver support for XGL-like effects: the nVidia closed source driver, or the nv open source one?

    To make such a blanket statement like that's silly.

e-credibility: the non-guaranteeable likelihood that the electronic data you're seeing is genuine rather than somebody's made-up crap. - Karl Lehenbauer