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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.

"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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