Project Log: Random GP2X hacking

Thursday, November 24, 2005

GP2X GPL Situation

Time for a quick comment on the GP2X GPL situation as I can see it getting out of control very soon if not checked.

This is a quick and not very well edited comment. I will clean it up during the day. It does not read well but what the hell, I got one too many snotty e-mails about the GPL today ;).

In response to numerous posts on the various GP2X boards and continuing grumbling regards GamePark Holdings release of the GP2X Linux Kernel (2.4.25 ARM derived), bootloader (U-Boot 1.0) and distribution tools (BusyBox) I thought I would take the time to put a quick post up with what is being done to resolve the situation in an amiable and responsible fashion.

With that in mind I ask people to consider what the lack of source is currently doing to personally hurt them, is the lack of the BusyBox port causing you sleepless nights, no, I did not thing so ;).

A lot of effort is going into resolving this and frankly all the shouting and stamping of feet is not going to really help. In fact it seems to be causing issues to bubble up that are not really issues.

Please, please have constructive debate, offer to help if you can but all this talk about suing GPH, injunctions and the like really has to take a step back. If you feel so personally aggrieved read and understand the GPL and the role that the owner of that source, copyright etc. plays in starting any enforcement of it.

So now for a bit of a statement of where I personally have got to regarding the source (and no, I am not the only one coaxing GPH).

Open source is really important to me and there is no way I would put a really substantial amount of time into backing the product of a GPL violator. I honestly believe this can be resolved and that GPH have full intention to comply with the licences of the components they have used to bring the GP2X to market. Just give us a little time to work things out and put fears to rest. The best way to enforce the GPL is with discussion and debate not threats.

Here is some background (my own views etc. etc.)

Also, please understand that I have nothing to gain by doing this and it is ‘on my own time’. Open2x is a project I created to work as a repository for this information and is not affiliated to MagicEyes or GPH.

Hint: I want NO more threatening e-mails; I am not tied in any way to GPH other then being a pro-active user. I am withholding nothing. I would see Open2x as proof enough of what I am trying to do.

Negotiating with MagicEyes to get them to release there full Linux Kernel source, U-Boot, distribution etc. etc. was a drawn out an delicate process including some checking of what is there IP, source review etc - This was resolved in a very agreeable fashion and I have nothing but respect for MagicEyes.
This also sets a precedent for GPH and addresses some of there nervousness (after all, they would be releasing MagicEyes source and until recently MagicEyes did not volunteer that source to non-partners, GPL aside MagicEyes provide GPH with the core chips used in the GP2X and no sane business would go out of there way to piss off there only core logic supplier, small delicate steps again).

What would GPH release?

GPH felt very pressured to get the unit out to early adopters as soon as possible with beta software on the device. This was a good thing (tm) ;-) as the device is out there and some of the things people are already working on are truly great (trust me).

The pressure on a small company to get the unit out in volume and fix up the firmware is immense and GPH/GBAX etc. have to get my thumbs up for having the balls to do it, people have put a lot on the line for this. I can testify to that.

GPH are also genuinely concerned so I am told about this possible Chinese clone unit (China, Korea and right and wrong seems a little grey these days) and view releasing the full source as giving the keys to the car away. Reassuring of GPH that this can be mitigated is going on as I write this.

One question I see a lot is what is GPH’s IP (Intellectual Property). It is actually quite simple as I see it, anything that is developed by them for the device that is not routed in a form of open source licence.

As it stands I believe this includes there launcher code, SD based DRM and USB driver code (implemented as user space apps or in silicon). Some of this may be released in time.

This does not include the Linux Kernel (currently NOT using loadable binary modules), U-Boot, BusyBox, Main Mplayer bits and GPL libraries that make up the SDK. They should be open.

The other big question is DRM, well DRM is part of the SD card standard for a start so anything with an SD slot can potentially use it, yes, this does include things like the Sharp Zaurus. DRM is there, it does not have to be used. GPH have stated publicly that they will only use the hardware DRM to protect commercial released published in conjunction with themselves. My understanding of the DRM is that it would not be a great deal of use for anything much else anyway.

GPH took the MagicEyes Linux distribution and somewhat customised this for use on the GP2X. Some of those changes are not the cleanest of hacks and GPH are working to clean up there code into a state where it is fit for release.

I feel this is fair and I for one am happy to work with them to that end. I would prefer to have GPH along for the ride rather then feeling pushed into a corner.

Trust me, if things stagnate then I will be the 1st person banging on there door but behind the scenes things are far from stagnant. In fact there going quite well.

Points of note:

The MagicEyes U-Boot source in Open2x’s CVS works on the GP2X as is, not that you want to flash to bootloader (You REALLY don’t).

The MagicEyes Linux distribution in Open2x’s CVS works on the GP2X without support for the SD/MMC hardware. You need to make a small hack to support the LCD, that is about it. Again there is not much point doing this other then an academic exercise (my reason for doing it).

John Willis


  • I don't think this is too rough at all. I think it's a balanced viewpoint. I'd definitely like to hear how this situation develops.

    By Blogger myGP2X, at 6:33 PM  

  • I hope this all works out and thanks for doing it.

    By Anonymous Flexinoodle, at 11:24 PM  

  • In a legal matter, they must release source code of *ALL* firmwares publicly released (Linux Kernel, BusyBox, Zlib...).

    They compiled the kernel in a monolithical manner, they must release *ALL* the source code (even that "copyrighted" by GPH). If not, they are doing an illegal act with possible several legal issues with the copyright holders. I think GPH want to be legally clean because it can't afford good lawyers experts in copyright laws, specially international ones and other countries (those that GP2X is being exported).

    The solution is very fast, releasing the source in a .zip or tar.gz, no excuses for waiting. The more time they not release, the more possibilities of law problems. Please recommend to GPH good lawyers in Korea, better with very good english knowedge.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:52 AM  

  • I mean all versions of firmwares publicly released...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:53 AM  

  • anonymous, why don't you learn Korean yourself and argue your case with GPH instead of telling them to get english speaking lawyer. Is there cultural superiority here?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:10 AM  

  • Simply because Korea is a very complex language and english is very easy to learn. Maybe asian cultures are too complex for occidental people ;)

    I only say stuff, if anyone can say to them, I was one of a lot people sending email to GPH without spamming, but ignoring us to most people...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:55 PM  

  • Gawd why give them such a hassle RIGHT NOW when they are/should be investing all resources in fixing the firmware problems in the pre-release version as to be ready for the new 'official' launch?

    Americans, I swear. Lawsuits are not the answer to everything, and oftentimes strangle the golden goose.

    As long as they have good faith intent to comply with the GPL, let em do their real work before coming down with the legal hammer.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:05 PM  

  • The chinese clone argument is totally void imo. GPH being afraid of someone not respecting their copyright gives them the right to not respect other people's copyright?

    I'm not saying that someone should sue GPH, but as it looks right now, someone *could* do just that. There have been precedents for this, even going as far as products being taken off the market.

    The conditions of the GPL are well known and very precise. Having a product out which violates these conditions makes the company look bad. This is like someone going to a store, taking some stuff and just leaving while saying "Hey, I'll pay sometime soon, I've got to figure out some issues first! Cut me some slack, you know I'm good for it!". That is, to say the least, bad style. If this had happened with WinCE or Symbian, GPH would be in court already.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:02 AM  

  • @anonymous/Christian: This is exactly why there is no more garage company mentality to spring new creativity like the legendary Apple or even Microsoft. Before you start anything you first will have to set up a legal department and pay $$$ to a bunch of lawyers to get evry legal tripwire out of the way.

    An engineer doesn't want that. He wants to start work and be productive and not pay people to go into the library and return with a bunch of binders describing what he is *not* allowed to do.

    But this is an excellent way to suppress any new idea from the start. I guess the 'Companies' have won. They even have managed to get the underground on their side.

    On the other side it is right, they are currently acting against the license. But let's see what the alternatives were:

    1. Not deliver anything.
    This would nullify the GPL problem but on the other side it will stop any cash flow to finance the future of the project.

    2. Give out the source.
    The GPL would be fulfilled and everyone would be happy. Especially anyone planning on building a similar device. They could now quite easily take over the headstart of GPH and invest all the time and $$$ into building and delivering a (probably better) device before GPH has ever seen a green dime for their work.

    So they need to find a compromise between those two extremes to stay in business. And if you want to tell me that the second alternative is a void argument think again. How many plagiarized Hardware is coming out regularily? Counterfait memory, CPU and even complex hardware like Hard- and CD/DVD-drives. This is in my opinion a far for dangerous threat than someone not getting the source yet. Especially as I believe it's just to *have* the source, not really needing it for anything. But that's just my opinion and I may be completely wrong... wouldn't be the first time ;)

    - foxbow

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:55 AM  

  • A quick update ;).

    I am trying to deal with this the best way I see fit and precious few others have offered to help in any way other then regurgitating the GPL at me, I am very aware of the terms of the licence. Those that have helped me in this, it is very much appreciated.

    I am also aware that it is in everyone’s interest (well anyone who would not like to see the product fall by the wayside) to resolve this amicability.
    Enforcing the GPL is a delicate process and a degree of reasonableness and diplomacy followed by a little (not so gentle) sabre rattling has been proven time and time again to produce a better result then resulting to just lining the pockets of lawyers from the start :D.

    The introduction of lawyers into this process would not give everyone the source tomorrow and could possibility have the reverse effect. It is in the interest of most commercial lawyers to draw things out after all (I do not include Pro Bono and FSF lawyers in that comment ;)).

    Anyway, there has been some promising movement on this subject and I will hopefully know more about the way this will be resolved late on Monday (the UK/Korean time zone differences are a pain).

    As it is the weekend nothing is really going to happen (other then more random speculation no doubt) and anyway I have some other work to be doing then spending all my free time replying to the 15th person to mail me a copy of the GPL or tell me ‘exactly’ what they think is lacking in my approach!


    John Willis

    By Blogger DJWillis, at 12:20 PM  

  • @anonymous/Christian:

    3. Deliver but not violating GPL license, giving the sources since launch. :)

    The nº2 is pointless. Their work? Think about the original work of Linux developers, who get his work ilegally used closing the linux kernel source code. GPH's linux kernel is not of them, only a derivated work. They used a lot Linux (BSD systems could give *a lot* less marketing) and OPEN as marketing slogans, but they now not want to be OPEN and violating licenses because of their commercial interests. If they did their own OS or using a commercially license one or some with BSD/MIT license type then no problems, but they want good & cheap marketing that is only possible with Linux...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:48 PM  

  • @foxbow:

    I think the garage hacker spirit is *very* alive today, thanks to Linux and the GPL, which empowers developers to be independent of that big-bucks-intellectual-property-lawyer corporate world. It enables GP to build a powerful custom platform amongst the Nintendos and Sonys of the world. But they need to comply with the rules. And you don't need a lawyer to understand the most used open source license in the world that has been around for 20 years. You may need a lawyer though when you put out a product that is technically illegal.

    And you missed my point about the counterfeits: I'm not saying GP should not be worried about being ripped of. I'm saying two wrongs don't make one right - even if one is a bigger wrong than the other :) And the pirates may not even care about the source, they'll probably be happy to just copy the firmware and be done with it. Closed source and specs certainly haven't stopped them from making all those Nintendo clones.

    The real damage done here is to GPH themselves. It puts a dent in their reputation, especially since it is marketed to all those Linux-geeks like myself as the "open source handheld".


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:28 PM  

  • @Christian:
    Totally agree 100%, I'm another Linux user interested in GP2X because being the first open-source Linux handheld videogame system. They did a great marketing campaign because Linux and now fucking all the most of their interested users because stupid actions and taking possible several legal problems...

    The message starting with " @anonymous/Christian:" was to foxbow...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:44 PM  

  • John,

    Thanks for all your work on this, and I too agree that it’s not time to bring in lawyers – although it wouldn’t hurt if GPH knew that there are some very good FSF lawyers out there. You’re right with your description of how GPL enforcement happens - Diplomacy & Saber rattling. You provide the diplomacy and I’ll provide the saber rattling.


    By Anonymous Dijitao, at 6:28 PM  

  • Stephen,

    Thanks for your comments. There has been some sabre rattling already taking place. Mr Pearlmutter is a very pleasant and most helpful and co-operative chap in this regard.

    I hope getting the source to the kernel and distribution is the 1st step to getting GPH to view how important working with the community really is for the prolonged success of the device, concept and even there company.

    It will no doubt take a while to get the kernel into a good state (we already have U-Boot working from the ME source) and mould our dev-kits to suit the MagicEyes/GPH kernel source and build scripts (remember that all the existing code is built around a GCC 2.95 based tool-chain that MagicEyes support only on RedHat 7).


    John Willis

    By Blogger DJWillis, at 7:13 PM  

  • The more firmwares published, the more source codes will need to release, aka more "difficult" .zip/tar.gz proccess

    Irony mode OFF

    GPH people has no clue!

    John, please inform them again, they seems to not understand GPL, they must release source code of all binaries, even old ones...


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:53 AM  

  • Well, it's true that they should distribute all the sources related to GPL components... Well keep in mind that

    1) They may distribute it in whatever form they want... Paper listing is OK
    2) They are very busy fixing things... Do you really want them to stop working on updates and such to check what can be distributed, what can't, what has been modified and what hasn't, ... to give out sources that nobody will use anyway.
    3) Although my GP2X has been ordered for a long time, I only got it this week... I'll still have a long time testing, hacking, ... before beginning to worry about kernel sources and such
    4) before worrying about kernel and other, I'd appreciate programming documentation... How to use every bit of power from the device... And if it means delaying the kernel/busybox/.. source change, well, it's ok for me !!! The unit is meant to be made to allow people to tinker with it, to create their own applications, ... information on how to do it is the most important (after having it as stable as possible)
    5) With lawyers, there is only one winner : the lawyer. Calling them upon GPH would only result in GPH going down... and being unable to realease anything because it'd not exists anymore !!!
    6) AFAIK, GPH never said it would not distribute anything... it's only delaying... Looks like they've aknowledged that they'll have to distribute these sources...

    By Anonymous Vapula, at 4:58 PM  

  • vapula writes that GPH is free to release the GPL sources they used in any form they want. This is not true. Section 3 of the GPL states the source must be machine-readable. They are, however, allowed to just provide an offer to have the source code mailed or whatever to the users.

    Also, as a recipient of the program, you have no legal grounds to complain about them not releasing the GPL source. Only the copyright holders do. (This is why the FSF requests copyright donations: so they can enforce the GPL against violators.)

    By Anonymous Matthew Dempsky, at 6:40 AM  

  • 2. Give out the source.
    The GPL would be fulfilled and everyone would be happy. Especially anyone planning on building a similar device. They could now quite easily take over the headstart of GPH and invest all the time and $$$ into building and delivering a (probably better) device before GPH has ever seen a green dime for their work.

    Erm... I'm afraid that is exactly the point of the GPL and the deal you buy into if you decide to make a commercial product based on GPL software. You can't have your cake and eat it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:13 PM  

  • I just ordered a gp2x. it should be here tuesday.

    who cares about the source?! I mean for god's sake, is your brain going to melt if you don't get the source tomorrow? The gp2x is not a strategic resource, it does not make air, food, or water, nor does it dispense money at random.

    The gp2x is a toy. A very sophisticated, wonderful toy, but a toy nonetheless. Depending on your definition of toy, you might read this as a luxury item. As a toy, it does not deserve the amount of time and frustration some of you have put into it.

    It's neat, I want one, I ordered one, yay. anything beyond using it is not worth my time, since I bought it to enjoy. I'm not sending any emails to GPH to tell them to hurry up. I also understand how this kind of a release works. I developed a traction control system using the zilog Z8 processor - I had to release my code to SAE. It looked like hell and nobody could make heads or tails of it.

    I had to rewrite alot of it and add a few comments so people knew what the hell was going on.

    Get over it, be patient, and unless you personally have legal standing to sue, then don't post anything about what the company is doing legally or not.

    By Anonymous Rion, at 12:56 AM  

  • Rion,

    You do realise your ranting about a post made over a year ago ;).


    By Blogger DJWillis, at 8:37 AM  

  • so how did this resolve? has it?

    By Blogger nim, at 11:41 AM  

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