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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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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.

"Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine." -- Bill Gates

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