[clug] A most interesting read, most interesting

Michael Cohen michael.cohen at netspeed.com.au
Wed Dec 27 04:30:42 GMT 2006

On Wed, Dec 27, 2006 at 09:35:52AM +1100, Sam Couter wrote:
> This only holds true while the diversity of popular operating systems is
> low. Once there is high diversity in popular operating systems such that
> a manufacturer can't just say "Windows, Mac and Linux [which one?]" and
> have 99+% of the market, they will need to do more to support more
> diverse operating systems. Releasing specs and/or driver source code would
> be far more likely in such a world.

That depends on the amount of the market they will be happy with - if a
manufacturer has sufficient turn over to cater to 70% of the market, while
catering to the other 30% costs them more than they could justify, they will
simply leave the last 30% behind. Case in point are the many software and
hardware products designed specifically for Apple hardware, which are not
ported to the windows platform because the cost of porting them could not
justify the potential returns in competing in the windows marketplace (just
because you have a product that runs on windows doesnt mean you will be able to
compete against other windows only products).

Again the decision if specs should be released really relates to competitive
advantage not so much for os support. Generally a driver contains about 90%
common code on all OSs and the rest is some compatibility code (e.g. nvidia
drivers are pretty similar to their windows drivers - there is a binary wrapper
for the linux kernel which is what you actually compile, but the binary blob i
understand is very similar). A company would only be inclined to release specs
if they expect someone else to develop drivers/applications for them. That is
not such a bad idea - and we are starting to see a whole bunch of hardware
manufacturers releasing specs because the software they released with the
device is pathetic to say the least. Then the open source model helps these
companies to product excellent software to complement their hardware with
minimal investment from them - everyone wins. For example early WRTs were
simple to reprogram and projects like openwrt produced extremely capable
firmwares - much more powerful that originally shiped.

> But with Linux it's impossible to create the secure multimedia path that
> the big entertainment companies are currently having wet dreams over. We
> will always be able to record digital outputs directly from the drivers
> or the hardware. Linux and all Free Software gives control to the user,
> which is entirely the point of the GPL and other copyleft licences.

The so called "secure multimedia path" you refer to is a legal path not a
technological path. Even a closed source os such as windows has a well
documented driver interface, and it is always possible to do what you describe.
In fact I believe this is how DVDs were pirated long before decss was created.
It is impossible to stop anyone from technically circumventing a DRM software -
you can only try to create laws which deter people from doing this.

The GPL has nothing to do with making it impossible to create the "secure
multimedia path" you descrive as most likely any DRM software released for
linux would not be shipped as part of the GPL or any other open source license.
As you surely know there is no problem with shipping non GPL binary only software
on linux or any other platform. For example flash player is released for linux,
even though much of the specs of the language are not available.

> > On the contrary, in the current situation you might
> > have some moral (if not legal) right to reverse engineer DRM systems in order
> > to make them work on linux, but if an itunes client is released for linux,
> > there would be little justification for reversing it other than to pose a
> > threat to apple's commercial grip.
> And that's a valid moral reason! Just because you'd be happy with iTunes
> doesn't mean everyone else would be. From the practical point of view, my
> portable music player won't work with iTunes, nor will it play iTunes
> music. From an ideological or slightly more paranoid yet still practical
> point of view, closed source? How do I know what it's really doing?

I absolutely agree with you about the moral reason and would definitely hope
this was a legal reason too - but unfortunately by the introduction of DMCA and
USTA legislation to Australia the law does not seem to be aligned with morals
:-(. Just because you bought a player from brand X which is not allowed to play
music from brand Y you dont automatically have the right to transcode songs
sold by brand Y to format X. The law provides a monopoly for brand X to force
you into only buying music from X and not from Y. It might sound morally right,
but is not actually legally correct. This will not change if you were running
windows/linux/mac osX/ beos or whatever.


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