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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 2.6.21.4 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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warranty
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.




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