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Re: [libreplanet-discuss] [Dev] Misleading information in EOMA68 news

From: Christopher Waid
Subject: Re: [libreplanet-discuss] [Dev] Misleading information in EOMA68 news
Date: Thu, 25 Aug 2016 14:24:27 -0400

On 2016-08-25 05:01 AM, Paul Kocialkowski wrote:

Le jeudi 25 août 2016 à 04:42 -0400, Christopher Waid a écrit :
The laptops we sell currently @ ThinkPenguin are not RYF'd and shouldn't be RYF'd, but we are working on something better than LibreBoot in that it solves the free software problems in a more permanent long term way:
EOMA68. X86 is dead and we do not need LibreBoot for non-X86 systems.

I'm very surprised to read this. How do we not need Libreboot in general?

Having a fully free bootup software distribution is IMO crucial to pave the road for free software support. Note that U-Boot includes proprietary software and should not be included as-is in or recommended by any FSDG-compliant dsitros.

Also, Libreboot is currently based on Coreboot (which, by the way, supports an increasing number of ARM devices, with Chromebooks) but there's not reason it can't handle U-Boot in the future too, or whatever other free bootup software.

So with upcoming ARM Chromebooks, the very large number of ARM devices that can boot up with free software and other interesting platforms such as POWER8 and
POWER9, Libreboot still has a bright future ahead.

We already have completely free versions of Uboot for various ARM and MIPS devices. All of our routers have shipped with the complete set of source code for the OS and bootloader. The devices are RYF certified and do not contain any proprietary bits in the version of Uboot run on our routers.

I want to make it clear that I don't dislike LibreBoot and I'm not saying it has no value. It's value right now to me is clear. It's 100% free software for what is otherwise proprietary. I value that. As we move away from X86 the value in it from a freedom-perspective will diminish as alternatives exist. In that position I would begin to think about alternative projects to work on if my primary focus was advancing software freedom.

What I believe will make it valuable to people down the line will be functionality (within the free software community and maybe even beyond). I don't know what this functionality is right now and I simply know that it's got value to some use case still. If I had to take an educated guess I'd probably say it has functionality which is useful to system administrators in server environments. From what I understand of CoreBoot from which LibreBoot is derived that functionality was what has in the past spurred CoreBoot's adoption by those outside the free software world.

If servers were a high priority for us (they aren't) I'd probably be pushing/sponsoring LibreBoot. I was the first person to suggest LibreBoot add a donation option. Right now our focus is on laptops, desktops, and typical end-user hardware. I want to see GNU/Linux and free software adopted by the masses. It's largely won in the server arena and there is a huge market opportunity here for free software servers to anyone who wished to pursue it.

The reason this issue hasn't been solved by us is because it's simply
not possible given Intel's hostility and refusal to cooperate. Reverse
engineering is a non-trivial task and the resulting code would not run
on modern Intel systems due to digital signatures.

Of course, we all agree that x86 is a dead-end, at least in the long run. There are still possibilities with somewhat old Intel and AMD hardware, but these will be outdated eventually. Also, note that most of these old x86 platforms are
much, much faster than the A20.

Of course. The solution isn't intended to outperform. It's intended to solve a problem. That problem is X86 doesn't work for us and it's too costly to have to design and manufacture our own non-x86 hardware (which is critical given all newer non-X86 hardware is dependent on other proprietary components such as 802.11ac wifi chips). The solution to that is modularization. This has a side benefit of making it easy and cheap (relatively speaking, and therefore feasible) to manufacture new 'models' in addition to giving us inroads to obtain source code for higher end CPUs [moving forward]. Even ones that aren't yet on the market! That's a huge change to the two steps forward one step back we were doing before. Right now we are several years behind because of our dependence on X86 and companies who won't cooperate. By moving away and modularizing we can let companies designing CPUs cater to our demands. This is what you get from competition.

We can do a lot more than what is feasible with LibreBoot, but it has taken years. Now that EOMA68 crowd funding campaign has succeeded though or is about
to succeed we can do a 100% free software system

Note that the level of free software support brought by the EOMA68 is not really
something new.

This is incorrect or a misunderstanding of the value here. Its taken years and a lot of reverse engineering to get the Allwinner A20 supported. While the first computer card is in part built off the work of others at a component level it's not the value for which I'm referring that EOMA68 adds in relation to free software. The value is in the modular standard and what it is enabling us to do in the free software world. To look at the CPU and components individually is to misunderstand the value in this project. It was not essential that we utilize the Allwinner A20. It just made a lot of sense given the work others have already done including the work of Luke (for which we sponsored). The value is we get to pick and choose each part that goes into a system and when one company upstream doesn't cooperate we can look elsewhere. We don't have to spend years reverse engineering parts thereof when we can work in collaboration with the companies upstream doing the design of these CPUs/SOCs. To achieve that we need control over the design and manufacturing process. This is not something we had before. This is not something most companies have. Most companies build off of reference designs and the product designs are little different than the reference designs in many if not most cases. A tweak or two at best.

There have been dozens of computers, some of which come with a
free board design, using platforms that are as good for freedom, especially with Allwinner (but there are lots of others). The linux-sunxi community has been working hard on those for years and years, so this is nothing new or specific to
the EOMA68.

Many ARM Chromebooks even go a step further, with a free software embedded
controller firmware.

I'm in many cases referring to laptop designs. This isn't totally correct though particularly as it relates to laptops. All of the ARM Chromebooks have fundamental problems in one way or the other. There are no free software friendly 802.11ac wifi chips and these wifi chips are integrated on every single modern Chromebook that is readily available [last I checked]. You can't easily replace these chips like you can with X86. To solve this problem and many others in the process is to gain control over the overall design and what you can utilize as your building blocks. With the laptop housing that is part of this crowd funding campaign you'll be able to get an Allwinner dual-core A20 on the Libre Tea Computer Card today and upgrade to a quad-core CPU tomorrow. It won't cost $500 either. It'll be under $100.

(that is LibreBoot doesn't magically make a computer 100% free, there are
other problematic components).

Of course, but nobody claimed that it does. It is only a very significant piece
in the software freedom puzzle.

It's one of many pieces. It's not quite as significant as people think. If it were gone it wouldn't really make any difference.

There are many components for which we are dependent and there are no alternative options. Wifi firmwares are a great example. We have only one driver and chip for modern 802.11n that we can utilize (AR9271) and nothing for 802.11ac (in any format, PCIE/M.2/USB). It won't be the case that we can get AR9271 adapters manufactured forever and at some point it will become critical that we work on obtaining sources [another project we're working on].

Wifi cards are fundamental to modern computers. You can still get away without 3D acceleration, but good luck with a system that doesn't have internet connectivity.

There are zero good options for graphics right now too. Graphics are not quite critical because we can ship without it for the moment and the user experience is still "good enough", but it is certainly more important than LibreBoot.

LibreBoot is a duplication of effort as far as critical components are concerned and we should try to avoid duplication of efforts given the limited resources available.

We've got the source code for LCD/Keyboard controller firmware,

Regarding LCD: are you talking about a MIPI interface done in software with a MCU? Please feel free to share details about this LCD controller firmware, I'd
be very interested to learn more about it, it sounds unusual!

I know a little bit about it, but not enough to give you details. The details are readily available though.

Unlike many 'free' projects everything has been and is being documented. There is one piece that hasn't been published yet (schematics, but this isn't a libre issue, you can have a libre system and a non-libre design, however full schematics will be released shortly, there is almost no libre-designs that are actually libre because most are dependent on non-free components like wifi chips that depend on proprietary drivers/firmware), but its coming. Luke was a bit concerned of attacks on our efforts before the campaign was finished. With good reason. There was already one effort to undercut the project that failed. Someone Luke had talked to began a crowd funding campaign to raise funds for a modular computer. They did not care about freedom nor did they have an actual prototype. If it wasn't a fraud they would have had to have designed it after the fact. They created fake drawings/mock ups and similar. Unlike the many crowd funding efforts out there we actually have working prototypes because we funded his work.

This said contact lkcl at and he can get you hacking on it if you want to help out. This is a community endeavor and there are other people working on adding support for different language keyboards and similar (a French layout).

bootloaders, CPU micro code

Huh? Again, please share details about the CPU microcodes. I am not aware of any ARMv7 implementation using a microcode at all, nor of any that was liberated.

Overgeneralized. As far as the A20 goes you are correct. I can confirm that there is no micro code in this particular CPU.

I'll throw out some other words that may make more sense here:

SPL uboot in mainline 2015-10- ddr3 timeings initialization and pll clocks.

and similar for the EOMA68 laptop housing and Libre Tea Computer Card. That's huge. And there are more significant developments coming including the release
of schematics and higher end CPUs.

I fully agree that this is great and I support your project. However, keep in mind that this is nothing new or groundbreaking (not to undermine the project
and the efforts associated with it).

I disagree. There is simply nothing you can compare this project to. We are achieving results that can't be demonstrated via any other means. If we could get here some other way at a lower cost with the same long term impact I would have gone that route.

The issue is your looking at one thing. A few specs. It's not the specs that matter. It's the standard, it's the modularization, it's the response and cooperation we are getting already as a result of our actions here, etc. Intel and AMD are not going to cooperate and building off of other companies products (higher up the chain) is not a reliable long term solution.

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