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Re: [libreplanet-discuss] [Arm-netbook] EOMA68 and freedom in digital te

From: Paul Kocialkowski
Subject: Re: [libreplanet-discuss] [Arm-netbook] EOMA68 and freedom in digital technology
Date: Sun, 11 Sep 2016 15:04:11 +0200


Le samedi 10 septembre 2016 à 20:38 +0100, Luke Kenneth Casson Leighton a
écrit :
> > > 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.
> > 
> > See what Olimex has been doing for years then.
>  you're aware that olimex operates as a criminal cartel,

This is a very strong accusation and I definitely do not share that perspective,
at all.

>  from shipping
> GPL-violating A10 bootloaders and kernels provided by Allwinner, back
> around 2011/2012?

Olimex has always been about producing community-friendly boards, not about the
software. Nevertheless, Olimex has been involved with the linux-sunxi community
from the early days and has always been very supportive, by providing developers
with hardware to work on, taking part in the community, etc.

What software they ship, or used to ship by default is IMHO a bit irrelevant.
They shipped whatever Allwinner provided but always supported community free
software effort. Also, when they started with Allwinner, mainline software
wasn't an option.

>    you're also aware that with the sole exception of
> the olimex laptop's PCBs the only thing that they provide is
> auto-generated PDFs *from* the schematics source code... not the
> actual schematics and certainly not the PCB design files?

Huh? This is factually not correct. Olimex has released the PCB source designs
of a number of Allwinner boards. That's what those .brd and .sch files are at:

Better yet, the latest one (A64) was designed with KiCad, so those design
sources can even be handled with free software! This is an unprecedented
achievement that even the EOMA68 project has not reached (yet).

linuXino_Rev_A and open it up with KiCad if you wish to see for yourself!

> > They're also coming up with a laptop design.
> ... where they've taken off-the-shelf china-sourced (proprietary)
> casework: i started the GPLv3+ casework project for the EOMA68 15.6in
> laptop housing *two years* ago as a completely and fully libre
> project.  you can verify that by looking at the git commit logs.

Of course, I do agree that free mechanical designs are important and a great
thing to have, so I'm very happy that the EOMA laptop housing design is free.

But my focus here was about digital technology, not mechanical parts. This is
out of that scope.

> tsvetan has caused a hell of a lot of trouble for the EOMA68 project
> and has sponged off of the resources of a *lot* of people.  he truly
> doesn't understand the word "libre".  at all.

I don't share that perspective. I think his contribution to freedom in digital
technology has been solid and significant. The devices he's producing show as

> also, the A64's processor - which tsvetan is using for the olimex
> laptop - requires a proprietary early-bootloader.  in fact, the first
> A64 SDK that came out was an absolute mess, comprising several GPL
> violations in both the early-bootloader, the u-boot source *and* the
> linux kernel.  the SDK was even exclusively distributed over a chinese
> illegal filesharing network (this is an "official" released SDK from
> allwinner!)

Of course, we all know that, but that's how you move forward! We can't just wait
for the situation to be magically resolved before considering producing hardware
with it, and staying away from it with a teen-feet-pole before. Simply because
no change will ensue of that. Olimex has the ability to create boards early-on,
that will encourage the community to work on this chip, and also create leverage
with Allwinner.

So it's really not about what the situation is right now, but about what it can
possibly become. Allwinner chips have *always* been a mess to deal with at
first, but efforts from companies like Olimex and the community made it possible
to have the kind of support we know today for chips like the A20.

Also bear in mind that you were able to get the EOMA68 together, with that level
of free software support, in part thanks to people like Tsvetan who put together
(free hardware) boards for the community to work on those chips and supported
their efforts early on, when the situation is indeed a mess.

> over a considerable period of time, pine64 and the sunxi community
> worked to eliminate as many of those GPL violations as they could, but
> Allwinner insisted on keeping the early-bootloader proprietary.
> so at present the A64 is classified as a "non-libre" processor.  that
> it's the basis of the olimex laptop tells you everything you need to
> know.

Again, you're looking at the situation right now, which indeed matches what you
describe. However, I think Olimex sees a lot of potential in A64 and so do I.
Only time will tell whether it was a dead-end or not.

> now, whilst tsevtan is making money selling you hardware that requires
> non-free components to operate basic functions, i've put my foot down
> and said NO, i will NOT sell GPL-violating product.  i don't care if
> that means it's harder to deliver ethical products, i'll deal with
> that on an ongoing basis, but here's the thing: it means i've
> established a reputation for setting some ethical rules *AND STUCK TO
> THEM*.

Frankly, I don't care that a device doesn't work with free software right now if
it has potential to be liberated eventually and if producing that device can
create the leverage to drive exactly that effort. This is what has always
happened with Allwinner chips.

But of course, Olimex and you are not in the same position. They can afford to
produce boards with chips that still have very early free software support. On
the other hand, you need something that has good free software support. One
comes after the other.

I'm really surprised that you don't see things this way and attack Olimex for
what level of support their latest products have *right now*.

> > I agree that you went steps further than most before, but this is
> > incremental improvement, not something truly new and groundbreaking compared
> > to
> > what existed before.
>  hmmm, an interesting perspective, which i feel may be based on not
> being aware of the sheer overwhelming number of issues being tackled
> (all at once).
>  yes it's "incremental improvement" but it's a MASSIVE stack of
> MULTIPLE "incremental improvements", all done at once.

From what I can see, the actual improvements (again, from the digital technology
side of things, so I'm not including the mechanical design) come down to not
including a Wi-Fi chip that requires proprietary software in a laptop design,
which is what had been lacking from the ARM Chromebooks. If you see anything
else, please state it clearly.

There are also rare occurences in your design, meaning that only few products
before (such as the ARM Chromebooks or the Novena) had reached that level of
support, such as: using a SoC that has few freedom flaws (GPU), having a free
software keyboard controller. We could also add free hardware design there (but
I'm still a bit confused about what the situation actually is and didn't take
the time to look it up properly).

If you feel like I'm missing something substantial, please let me know.

>  *nobody* has tried to do that before.  not Dell, not Olimex, not IBM
> - *nobody*.
>  for example you compare the EOMA68 Housing to the olimex laptop.  the
> olimex laptop's casework is proprietary (the EOMA68 Housing's is
> GPLv3+ libre-licensed).  so automatically you can see that it's
> nowhere near being a legitimate comparison.

Again, my point is about digital technology here, not mechanical parts.

> > > 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.
> > 
> > Again, I don't see how modularization changes anything here.
>  you can't focus on just the one aspect and conclude that "it's not
> significant".  bear in mind that this has been a 5 year project, where
> i've had 15 years of working near-exclusively with software libre,
> looking at the endemic and systemic problems and coming up with a
> *long-term* strategy to tackle *all* of the issues associated with the
> consequences of proprietary computing... *all at once*.
>  modularisation (and having open standards despite what the
> wikipedia-page-that's-already-scheduled-for-deletion would have you
> believe) is one - *one* - critical - *critical* part of that strategy.

Again, everything you can do with modularization you could do by producing new
versions of boards. It solves the environmental problem and is convenient to
users, but has little to do with freedom in digital technology. If you have
actual specific point to counter those points (other than vague statements like
"part of a strategy"), I'd be happy to react to them.

> > Hardware availability has never been the problem.
>  libre hardware availability has *always* been a problem.  entropy
> guarantees that it always will.  you actually have to make a concerted
> continuous effort to push back against the corner-cost-cutting of the
> mass-volume industry.

So if we're talking about free hardware projects, then I'll agree that the
situation hasn't been that great. As far as I know, only Olimex, Novena and a
few others have been producing free hardware computers that work well with free

But again, I'm still confused about the hardware freedom situation of your
device. The most meaningful part is, of course, the EOMA68 board with the A20,
not the carriers (even though having them as free hardware is very nice).

On the other hand, the availability of boards that have components that work
well with free software have never been a problem, there's not discussion to
have here.

> > For laptops, we only had minor
> > annoyances,?like Wi-Fi chips that require proprietary firmwares,
>  proprietary firmware for WIFI is a bit more than a "minor" annoyance, paul!

That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that there are easy and nearly painless
ways to solve these problems, by using external ath9k_htc USB dongles. This fact
(and this fact only) reduces the presence of a Wi-Fi peripheral that requires a
non-free firmware to a minor annoyance.

>  (the only exception being that
> we haven't got a libre MALI driver yet, but there's even a plan to
> deal with that).

Glad to hear it.

>  no, paul, what you're missing here is that there's an *active
> committment* to tackling the pain, cost burden and inconvenience that
> proprietary software (and hardware) causes.

Well, I have been talking about the freedom situation in digital technology all
along, not commitment. I do agree that commitment such as the one displayed with
your project is a rare thing. And that is indeed groundbreaking (even though
projects like the Novena were here before), because that kind of intent is
clearly lacking from e.g. companies producing Chromebooks, so it rather feels
like we got lucky (or that people inside these companies care a lot, but it
doesn't reflect in the company's PR).

Commitment is important for the long run, so I'm really glad you're around. We
can't just rely on sheer luck to get devices that do well with free software
from mainstream manufacturers, even though we've had good luck a great number of
times already (and bad luck an astonishingly greater number of times, too).

>  there's no *active* committment from any of these companies to
> *actually* try and solve the problems.... because they don't
> understand that there *is* even a problem!

I wouldn't include Olimex in that list, but I share your views on that.

>  .... it's a vicious self-sustaining cycle that has to be broken by an
> *active* committment.

Definitely, that's a (if not the only) reliable (but harder and perhaps more
dangerous) way to achieve progress for freedom in digital technology. Going with
luck has worked well in some areas (again, ARM Chromebooks), but we knows when
our luck will turn.

Even though this conversation may have taken a harsh tone at times and places, I
do believe we share the same views and only disagree on details (which fill up
most of our discussions here). I hope this is clear and this discussion doesn't
come across as a strong attack against what you're doing!


Paul Kocialkowski, developer of low-level free software for embedded devices

Coding blog:
Git repositories:

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