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ASUS Eee PC 4G  (Source: Notebook Review)
1.8GB "source" download doesn't have complete sources, and warranty-voiding RAM upgrades may be unenforceable

The ASUS Eee PC has been getting all manner of attention from various sites around the Internet, but recently an Eee owner has taken ASUS to task over potential violations of the GPL and of the long-standing Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. Programmer Cliff Biffle recently bought himself a Galaxy Black Eee PC as a birthday gift, but in attempting to play with the underlying Xandros Linux operating system, found a few major roadblocks in the form of proprietary hardware and software.

Biffle decided to disassemble the software -- which is permitted under the GPL -- and found that the asus_acpi kernel module was modified from the Linux version. While the modification itself is permitted, in order to comply with the regulations of the GPL, ASUS has not published its modified sources, retained prior module attribution (name, version, and author) and has apparently stripped all references to "asus_acpi."

When attempting to obtain the modified sources from the ASUS website, Biffle found that the 1.8GB zipped "source" file on the ASUS page contained only some kernel headers, and a collection of .deb (Debian package) files -- some of which were not even present on the installed Xandros Linux operating system.

This is not the first time that ASUS has been in violation of the GPL -- in 2004, the company's WL-500g wireless router, which contained a Linux kernel and netfilter/iptables, was distributed without source available.

While some companies might be quick to dismiss a GPL violation as inconsequential, the recent filing of a civil suit by the Software Freedom Law Center against two companies, Xterasys Corporation and High-Gain Antennas LLC, might set precedent for stiffer financial penalties.

Unfortunately for ASUS, bad news doesn't stop there. In addition to the possibility of trouble with the GPL, the warranty sticker over the access door to the single SODIMM slot on the Eee PC may be a violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act -- specifically the section dealing with warranty tie-ins. A snippet from the ASUS warranty information is provided (emphasis DailyTech):

The warranty only covers failures or malfunctions occurred during the warranty period and in normal use conditions as will as for any material or workmanship defect. The warranty will not apply if: (a) the product has been tampered, repaired, or modified by non-authorized personnel; ... (c) the warranty seals have been broken or altered; ...

By comparing this excerpt with the example provided by the Federal Trade Commission of an "unacceptable tie-in" it's easy to see where the parallels are drawn. Eee PC modders may have a safety net to fall back on if they've installed an aftermarket memory upgrade or Mini-PCIe card after all.

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lawsuit prevention or take the bull by the horns
By Screwballl on 11/23/2007 2:20:47 PM , Rating: 1
this reminds me of a tivo type lawsuit where they locked it down so that certain sources were not available because it could be used to release company secrets or something along those lines.
Will be nice to see if Asus just releases the source code or if they do take it to court.

RE: lawsuit prevention or take the bull by the horns
By stmok on 11/23/2007 5:50:43 PM , Rating: 6

I don't think you got that right.

TiVo found a loophole in the GPL v2 license, and they exploited it.

They provided the source code, but they implemented a mechanism such that when you try to use your own custom solution, it won't work. It doesn't violate the GPL v2 from a legal standpoint, but it does violate it from the view of intent. (violates the 4 freedoms)

* Freedom 0: The freedom to run the program for any purpose.
* Freedom 1: The freedom to study and modify the program.
* Freedom 2: The freedom to copy the program so you can help your neighbor.
* Freedom 3: The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits.

This was dubbed "Tivoization".

As a direct response to this, GPL v3 was created. (v3 also covered patent related issues in response to the Microsoft-Novell deal.)

By KristopherKubicki on 11/23/2007 8:42:23 PM , Rating: 2
Yep, excellent analysis.

By Screwballl on 11/25/2007 1:27:43 AM , Rating: 2
that is exactly what I was talking about... and my question still stands, does Asus release it or continue with the lawsuit and use that same loophole under GPL v2 or is it bound by the GPL v3? If so does this lack of code release violate v2 or 3?
I understand the hardware can be locked to only use a specific set of software packages but did Asus follow Tivo in this sense?
I apologize if I didn't make this a bit clearer.

By stmok on 11/26/2007 4:24:08 AM , Rating: 3
OK. I see what you're saying now. There isn't a lawsuit yet. Its just someone has discovered ASUS isn't complying with the GPL.

ASUS isn't using the GPL v2 loophole. Also, it is NOT doing what TiVo did. I highly suspect that they were rushing a product out, and became careless as the deadline of the release date approached.

So what did they do?

This is where I did a little digging. They customised GPL v2 software (in this case, the ACPI related bit of the Kernel), and modified it to make it work with the Eee PC hardware. They called it acpi_asus . Obviously, this is for powersaving features.

The Kernel is licensed under GPL v2. (Other parts of the kernel is under GPL v2 or newer).

The issue is: ASUS didn't release the changes they've made with the acpi. They should have included it with the 1.8GB source code download.

This is a DIRECT violation of the GPL.

While the tech news industry may sensationalise this a bit, I would suggest giving ASUS some time to correct their mistake before releasing the hounds on them.

The more you look at the issues with the Eee PC user experience, the more you realise they cut a few corners to get the product out.

It leads me to believe that we should wait for the 2nd or even the 3rd generation iteration of the Eee PC.

Thanks for saving me $350
By wordsworm on 11/23/2007 7:58:53 PM , Rating: 1
I was seriously considering buying this computer. I've been wanting to try Ubuntu server for awhile, but not on my main computer, and I just don't have the space for a real second computer. I was considering EEE, but clearly this machine has some built in pitfalls. Thanks for the heads up! I sure hope all those reviewers who gave it such high marks will include this information in their reviews.

RE: Thanks for saving me $350
By elpresidente2075 on 11/23/2007 8:47:11 PM , Rating: 2
Word of advice: Don't try any server software on a laptop. They're not designed with that kind of software in mind, and the software isn't designed with that kind of hardware in mind. You'll just run into a lot of trouble if you go down that route.

That said, an old desktop is great for that. It is exactly what I used and many, many others have used for this exact purpose. Get a cheap KVM and you're only out the space of the footprint of the case, which can be as small or as large as you want it. Also, don't forget that it's easy to upgrade that old desktop (a friend's throwaway?) to be solid and fast for real cheap ($70-80) these days.

Good luck with Ubuntu Server. I'd tell you it's a blast to work with, but it's just another command-line driven server: solid as a rock, secure as Fort-Knox, light on its feet, and nothing to write home about. If you just want the server softwares (web, ftp, etc) and not a whole computer, try WAMP, the windows-ized version of LAMP.

Sorry about that, kindof off topic... Good luck tho!

RE: Thanks for saving me $350
By wordsworm on 11/23/2007 11:09:25 PM , Rating: 2
I'm actually not thinking of using it as a real server, just to learn the ropes. Whatever route I go, I need something ultra small and portable. When I move, I use the airplane. So, my worldly possessions must fit within about 40kg of belongings. I thought about going WAMP, but I just don't like the idea of fiddling around with the windows machine.

I wasn't thinking of actually running a server, just learning how to run it. I think the objection to using a loptop is in the extended use, isn't it? Anyways, I have noticed that there are some very small computers being made these days through Via. Cappucino has some interesting computers... so, as you might say, that might be the better choice for me anyways.

RE: Thanks for saving me $350
By Torched on 11/24/2007 3:05:59 PM , Rating: 2
You could try one of the ARK PCs from Advantech.
Both are just hardware with no power supply or OS, but this makes them configurable. The first one is VESA mountable.
A number of other vendors sell cheap embedded systems that are similar. See Aaeon, Acrosser, Kontron, Lippert, etc.

RE: Thanks for saving me $350
By mjrpes3 on 11/24/2007 4:30:40 PM , Rating: 2
I don't know why you'd think a laptop would be a disaster as a play server. A computer is a computer, and if you're hosting off of a home connection chances are your bandwidth will be the weakest link, anyway.

For a while I hosted a LAMP server based on an old Compaq Armada laptop with a 600 MHz CPU & 192MB of RAM, and it worked just fine off of my home DSL connection.

The best part about it was the power efficiency: my Kill O Watt showed it using 20 watts on average, compared to around 80 watts for another desktop I had lying around. I don't have the numbers in front of my, but if electricity costs an average of 20 cents a kilowatt hour (California), that's about $80 you'll save per year on electricity if running a server 24/7.

RE: Thanks for saving me $350
By Darkskypoet on 11/24/2007 7:59:44 PM , Rating: 2
Ouch! 20 cents a Kw/h? Wow, I feel lucky.. we pay about 5 cents kw/h... and that's up a bit from where it used to be...

Wow. (worth saying it twice)

nice ...
By mforce on 11/23/2007 3:20:46 PM , Rating: 2
So it has a Linux OS but I can't even get another Linux installed and working properly ? Now that's just wonderful, thanks Asus for paying so much attention to the issue.
I'm sure they just grabbed some stuff and released them online: here's your GPL source code ...
They'll probably release the rest of the source code too , I don't think there's huge secrets in the ACPI part of this laptop , it's not like there's something groundbreaking about the hardware of the Eee PC, is there ?

RE: nice ...
By stmok on 11/23/2007 5:38:03 PM , Rating: 2
So it has a Linux OS but I can't even get another Linux installed and working properly ?

Correct. People have tried installing other distros on the Eee PC, only to find the key components to make it work 100% aren't readily available. (not in the source code.)

People have tried various workarounds, but its not 100%.

Basically, your hands are tied to that specific distro and its binary driver set. (I think wireless and networking are the big issues).

Considering ASUS has had experience with GPL software before, one wonders why they think they can get away with violating the GPL. (It may be a different team working on the product, but its still under the same brand from the public's eyes).

They'll probably release the rest of the source code too , I don't think there's huge secrets in the ACPI part of this laptop , it's not like there's something groundbreaking about the hardware of the Eee PC, is there ?

The binary drivers could be a potential issue. From both the GPL perspective as well as the third-party legal action ASUS may face. (the bits they licensed to use from another party).

They may have to get a legal/tech team to comb through the code to see what they can or cannot release without facing non-compliance with the GPL.

Its somewhat similar to what AMD/ATI is doing when they released the specs for their video cards. (to help development with open driver for Radeon cards)...In their case, they didn't release everything, but they released enough to assist you to build a driver. It doesn't make things easy, but it does point you in the right direction, instead of wondering around in the dark!

RE: nice ...
By Ringold on 11/23/2007 7:40:44 PM , Rating: 3
Considering ASUS has had experience with GPL software before, one wonders why they think they can get away with violating the GPL.

Given the initial BIOS holding back the stock frequency and various minor glitches reported in the different reviews, and adding these new bits of information, my general impression was a mad-dash to get the Eee PC out of the oven and on to the market by Christmas, perhaps specifically by Thanksgiving, in order to drive sales, with the final polish be damned in the hope that it can be patched up later. I suspect it was neglect, then, more then suspicious criminal intent hoping to get away with violating the GPL.

I could be wrong, just my impression, but that's definitely the feel I get. Rushing this out the door isn't the end of the world, the BIOS has already got a patch apparently and improved drivers are in the oven and source code can be published (at which point hopefully the open-source zealots go back to sleep), so it can all be fixed.

ASUS has released the source code
By Jack Ripoff on 11/27/2007 9:04:05 PM , Rating: 3
RE: ASUS has released the source code
By nemrod on 11/28/2007 2:53:27 AM , Rating: 2
ASUSTek is committed to meet the requirements of the GNU General Public License

The source code found here is complete to the best of Asus's knowledge. If you believe any additional source code files should be provided under the applicable open source license, please contact Asus at and provide in detail the product or code module in question. Asus is committed to meeting the requirements of the open source licenses including the GNU General Public License.

Nice and quick answer from ASUS

in order to comply?
By Lord Evermore on 11/25/2007 1:32:01 AM , Rating: 2
While the modification itself is permitted, in order to comply with the regulations of the GPL, ASUS has not published its modified sources...

There's a problem with that sentence. It lists things Asus SHOULD have done to comply. The way it's written now says that not publishing the source is the right way to comply with the GPL.

RE: in order to comply?
By Lord Evermore on 11/25/2007 1:34:27 AM , Rating: 2
Or to make it clearer, I think the intention was to say "While the modification itself is permitted under the GPL, Asus has not published...".

Are you guys kidding?
By mydogfarted on 11/25/07, Rating: 0
RE: Are you guys kidding?
By UNHchabo on 11/25/2007 10:38:59 PM , Rating: 2
So, how exactly do you know that he's American? I didn't see anything to indicate that.

RE: Are you guys kidding?
By Oregonian2 on 11/26/2007 1:44:44 PM , Rating: 2
If somebody does something bad, it's assumed to be an American. If they do something good, it's assumed they're not. Of course with this view, it's a self perpetuating opinion because of all those badly behaving Americans and good behaving non-Americans.

By Lord Evermore on 11/25/2007 1:44:34 AM , Rating: 2
Does the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act apply to "whole unit" type devices, like a set-top box, DVD player, and the like? Asus may have been thinking they could just call the Eee PC a "single electronic device" instead of being classed as a standard personal computer, and claiming that it's not intended as a user-upgradeable device. That probably won't actually stand up if anybody challenges it, but it might keep somebody who doesn't know what they're doing from opening the thing. Of course it leaves them open to the risk of a lawsuit from somebody who DOES know what they're doing and gets offended by the attempt to stop them doing it.

By oldman42 on 11/26/2007 12:14:50 AM , Rating: 2
I almost plotzed when I saw the dude's name. I actually went to school with that guy, and we briefly worked for the same company. He left 'cos no one else was as attentive to detail as he was. lol

Title not quite right...
By Oregonian2 on 11/27/2007 8:07:19 PM , Rating: 2
Seems that the title isn't quite right. It's not the EEE that is in violation, it's Asus that's in violation having to do with the EEE.

IOW - "correction" doesn't chamge the product itself any at all. Correction is something Asus would do perhaps on their website.

Picking nits...

"We don't know how to make a $500 computer that's not a piece of junk." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs

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