back to article Dell Streak GPL snub enrages Android fans

It seems Dell hasn't quite got used to working with the GNU General Public Licence - it has failed to release some of the core code used by its Streak tablet, much to the annoyance of the open-source community. Users of Dell's tablet/phone hybrid wouldn't notice, but Android fans are prone to a little hacking, and while some …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Simple solution

    Post to Twitter that the 2.2 Android release has been delayed by 6 months, whilst we satisfy the requirements of a handful of OpenSource Nutters....

    1. A J Stiles
      Thumb Down

      So .....

      Are you calling FAST a handful of Closed Source Nutters?

      1. Dazed and Confused

        FAST are a handful of Closed Source Nutters

        BTW, do you think you'd get away with telling M$ that "It's OK I'll pay for this software eventually, but you'll just have to wait"

        The Linux kernel is not "completely free" it comes with obligations attached. You get make use of millions of hours of development and testing time without having to get your cheque book out. But in order to gain this colossal benefit you have to play by the rules and contribute your code back to all the people who's hard work you are benefiting from.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          @Dazed and Confused

          "But in order to gain this colossal benefit you have to play by the rules and contribute your code back to all the people who's hard work you are benefiting from."

          No, this is misinformation. You ONLY need to do that if you want to DISTRIBUTE the GPL code with your changes(to that code) included (note: whenever you distribute GPL code,changed or not,you need to include the source and a copy of the GPL license). So, you are FREE to use the code, FREE to donate code, FREE to do whatever you want (minus DISTRIBUTION without source code) but OBEY to some rules, like not interfere with the RULES itself (by including code covered by patents for example). But you are FREE to not follow the RULES if you keep your changes for you, like I said. But then, you wouldn't benefit from the FREE will of others :-).

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Selling is distributing

            ...and so they are obliged to release the souce ...

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          FAST are a handful of Closed Source Nutters

          <i>BTW, do you think you'd get away with telling M$ that "It's OK I'll pay for this software eventually, but you'll just have to wait"</i>

          I have, on more than one occasion.

        3. Blain Hamon

          Don't forget, this is Dell we're talking about

          > Do you think you'd get away with telling MS that "It's OK I'll pay for this software eventually, but you'll just have to wait"

          Dell does that to even HARDWARE. And the wait was made even longer in June

          The same Dell that sold known bad hardware

          So yes, the Linux kernel has obligations. It's just that, well, Dell doesn't exactly honor obligations unless the lawsuit is more expensive.

    2. Ben 56

      Narrow minded view.

      But the following 6 months will mean that you now have a new alternative OS to play with without spam/advertisements with new bug/security fixes, likely more corporate unfriendly (filesharing/VOIP etc etc) features, removal of OS restrictions, and lack of branding. Finally when Dell decide to no longer support the device the community will still be there to do it.

      Dell should have factored the GPL source release timetable in advance, or even better released it while they worked on it, so it's not the open source "nutters" fault if Dell cut corners (hypothetically - they probably can just release it).

      Average Joe (c/o Anon Coward) needs to see the bigger picture of open source instead of narrow mindedness that only a few "nutters" need it - it'll benefit everyone and competition is always good. Where would we be today if Netscape Navigator wasn't open sourced (Firefox)? or Sun's Star Office (Open Office), Minix (Linux/Unix/Ubuntu etc), Berkeley sockets (networking layer in Windows) etc etc.

      Rant over :)

      1. Chris Thomas Alpha


        they must already have the files in order to release the device. So they don't need to "do" anything, they just need to make a zip of the real source fcode and put it up.

        if they can't do that because of legal restrictions, then surely the code cannot be distributed because it breaks the GPL licence.

        if the code is clean and there isn't a problem, then why didn't they just release all the code at the same time? why did they release the code with files missing? It takes more time to release the code with deleted files than it does it release all the files, because deletion costs time and money.

        So basically, it's done on purpose, they probably want to get an unfair advantage on other tablet providers by not giving out code which does the job better, so their tablet looks better for the time period the code is not released.

        pretty fricking obvious tbh.....

    3. The Other Steve

      Made of Fail

      Firstly, there should be no need for any kind of delay since the relevant source should be in a stable branch of the dev teams source repository. Unless they're remarkably stupid they won't be directly modifying the code that they released.

      Secondly, while the FOSS crowd may contain traces of nuts*, Dell - like any developer - are legally bound by the licence terms of any third party code that they use. The licence terms of the Linux kernel ought to have been DD'd by their in house legal bods and the implications rolled into the product release plan.

      Failure to abide by the licence terms opens Dell to liability, albeit not a massive financial liability such as would be incurred by ripping off an Adobe or MS, and Dell's board would be well within their rights to slap the Streak team hard for failing so badly at Due Diligence.

      It is of course possible that they did DD and decided that the risk/reward ratio was in their favour since they can go to court practically for free and the worst can happen is a compliance notice. Eventually. By which time they will have released an update. Perhaps they think some nebulous commercial advantage they've identified is worth more to them than the cost of this.

      On the other hand they might just be asshats, much like the OP.

      *Linuxu Akbar !!!!!

    4. Anonymous Coward

      @AC Simple solution

      If there was no those "OpenSource Nutters", you would be running WinMobile and 100% proprietary code from boot-loader all the way up to browser. So stop with the smears, just because hackers are minority compared to clueless consumers, doesn't mean they are less important. Quite the contrary, they are most important, there will be nothing without hackers[1]

      So simple solution is to respect hackers and give them their source code... or wait to get sued by Software Freedom Law Center.

      [1] Definition of hackers is perverted this days, some people use the word hacker for meaning security breaker. Here is what greatest hacker of all times has to say about that:

  2. Anonymous Coward

    Are you showing your age Bill?

    You appear to have muxed ip GPF (General Protection Fault) with GPL (General Public Licence).

    Don't worry, it happens to lots of us once we're old enough to not know everything (and admit that we don't know everything)

    Two sugars please dear.

    That ICL1900, in orange, now that was a proper computer y'know. <rambling expunged>

    Tell that to the young people of today and they won't believe a word.

    1. Chris Parsons Bronze badge


      Actually, 1900s where blue and grey. It was 2900s that were orange.

  3. Anonymous Coward


    I hope Ray don't get flooded with emails telling him what's the correct spell of GPL. LOL

    P.S. I've sent one muahahah

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Huawei too

    Dell aren't the only one, Huawei are refusing to release some of their code too (it seems because their new forum software can't handle large attachments!).

  5. A J Stiles

    Nothing gets the Linux crowd more riled than someone failing to follow the GPL

    "Nothing gets the Linux crowd more riled than someone failing to follow the GPL" .....

    and I dare bet nothing gets Microsoft more riled than someone failing to follow the Windows EULA.

    When all is said and done, what's the freaking difference? Breach of copyright (by failing to respect the conditions under which you were, very generously, allowed to perform certain acts above and beyond your statutory rights of fair dealing: try getting similar permission from Microsoft, or Adobe, or Oracle, or Autodesk!) is still breach of copyright.

  6. Milen A. Radev

    " timetable for releasing source code..."

    "The GPL requires no timetable for releasing source code..."

    Well, no really - as soon as you start distributing a covered work you have to start providing the source code.

    1. Neil Brown

      Perhaps a little more nuanced?

      The obligations on source code provision when a covered work is conveyed/distributed arise at the point at which the work is made available - there is no concept of "we might release the code at a future point."

      However, the "written offer" mechanism for distributing source code does not impose a particular reponse time - you would have to get into the rules of legal interpretation to determine whether the term "reasonably" would need to read into the sections in question. If Dell has made a compliant written offer, then, a slight delay is acceptable - but only for the processing of a request, rather than by need to get hold of the relevant source code, although, in reality, who would know?

      Howevre, if Dell has failed to make a written offer to supply the source code, has not accopmanied distribution of the binary on the device with the relevant source code, and is not making the source code available from its website (although, under GNU GPL 2, even making source code available on a website is not a compliant source distribution for a binary distributed in a physical product, although, in practice, is generally considered acceptable), it would appear to be an infringement of copyright, even if an unintentional one.

    2. Argh

      Other Android vendors

      Then other Android vendors such as HTC are also in breach of the GPL. They always get around to releasing it in the end but usually weeks / months after the device is on the market.

      Similarly after firmware updates there are delays before the updated source is available.

  7. gerryg

    Comment #300 - General Public License

    Calmer heads or not, if one were showing respect for the licence, one would just be pointing to the servers from which it would be possible to download the code, which doesn't seem to be too difficult (after all the code must be _somewhere_ mustn't it?)

    I think the respect is broadly equivalent (broadly... equivalent...) to respecting the need to fulfill one's obligations to pay for food before eating it. Y'know, that way everyone knows what's gonig one before anybody has to ask. Becasue everyone knows what's important

    I think failure to be clear about meeting one's obligations before doing something is a little like the "respect" given by recalcitrant schoolchildren to a teacher.

    Everyone knows how much "respect" is actually being offered.

  8. Lan ser


    "The GPL requires no timetable for releasing source"

    What a load of crap the GPL doesn't need a timetable simple if you distribute you release not when you're ready or at some specified or unspecified time in the future.

    I would love to see the look on the cops face next time I'm pulled over for speeding and I say "you can't give me a ticket as I was going to slow down in a week or seeing as the sign doesnt give a timeline"

    As for the anonymouse cowherd, its a legal requirement, not just to satisfy anybodies whim

  9. Jason Bloomberg

    To laugh or cry ?

    "The GPL requires no timetable for releasing source code"

    That looks to be a fundamental flaw in GPL as it seems anyone can avoid their obligations indefinitely and little action other than protest can be applied. Much like it's difficult to legally enforce an "IOU" as it may be a promise to pay but no contract to pay by any particular time.

    Perhaps some 'GPL evangelist' could explain the situation and how this came about, how such a thing could get overlooked (if it has been)?

    1. A J Stiles

      Yes it does

      You have to release the Source Code no later than you release the binaries. It really is that simple.

  10. George of the Jungle
    Black Helicopters

    Get cracking

    rms and his crack open source SWAT team should be parachuting into Round Rock any moment now to free the code...

    1. M Gale

      There's an XKCD for everything.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It's not the code that is free,

      it is the end-user that is (and must remain) free.

  11. Anonymous Coward

    Linux and GPL

    I don't quite get why Linux is used in embedded devices, because of the very issues that the GPL raises. Companies like Dell would be far better off using BSD or something else that is not subject to the GPL.

    BSD in particular would be an excellent fit - it's much simpler to administer than Linux, is more secure and stable, and generally more elegant. And there's nothing you can do in Linux that BSD can't do either equally well or (often) better. And there's no GPL to worry about.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      GPL is the precise reason why

      Apple and Microsoft prefer BSD while Oracle and IBM prefer Linux. This is also why compared to BSD, Linux has a larger installed base.

    2. Martin Owens


      Because the GPL isn't your enemy, it's a very good regulatory mechanism for protecting the commons.

      What you propose is anarchy and isn't very attractive.

    3. Blain Hamon

      When is Linux not Linux? When it's Android

      From Dell*'s point of view, the streak isn't running on Linux, it's running on Android. That is, Dell chose the Android OS because it gets the app store, browser, and all sorts of goodies without any extra work. Were it not for Android, Dell wouldn't be using Linux, or BSD, or anything else where they have to supply the bulk of the work.

      *I mean the side of Dell that sells consumer products. I imagine the corporate/IT/server side of Dell operates differently.

      1. Jonathan Richards 1 Silver badge

        Android runs on Linux

        Just because the names are different, doesn't mean that Linux isn't there. Linux is the kernel, i.e. the software that interfaces with the hardware. Android is then implemented in a virtual machine environment on top of that kernel. Android OR Linux is not a valid choice.

  12. Peter 39

    petition format

    The petition format that will be effective is the one placed in front of a Court of Law. More commonly known as a "lawsuit". A Petition for Relief.

    If Dell distributes stuff that is licensed to them under GPL and does not fulfill the terms of the licence then that's a breach of copyright. Pure and simple. They're in breach now so they've already lost their GPL rights. Restoration of rights under GPLv3 is a LOT simpler than under GPLv2. Since we're talking Linux kernel here, it's GPLv2 so Dell's lawyers have some fancy footwork ahead of them.

    If they don't move quick smartly then all Dell's Linux things could go poof. For their sake, I *do* hope that they have rights to the missing code.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    It's Dell..

    It's Dell.. they're only interested in the customer until they part with their cash and at that point they stop giving a shit. Sometimes they can't even give a shit long enough to ship the correct product to the customer. Why does anyone expect Dell to behave differently from the way it does normally?

  14. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge


    I really sympathise with the O/S crowd, but really... nobody saw this coming?

    With the mobile device market as crammed and competitive as it has been for the last 5 years or so, don't tell me that nobody foresaw that these cut-throat product developers such as Dell would eventually cotton on to taking all of these freely available Open Source goodies, make their own bespoke modifications - and then try to game the system as far as possible when it came to returning those changes back to the community.

    Lol. GPL license notwithstanding - Dell et al have a lot of smart lawyers who I expect will gladly spend their days finding loopholes in any perceived requirements of them - and the people who affect these decisions are really only themselves interested in proving reductions in costs and increases in profits. They are fully aware that pissing off a few community developers won't affect their global sales enough to really worry that much.

    Sorry. But I think that is the truth of it. I agree with a previous poster about the seeds of some truly landmark products being in open source, but the reality today is that large corporations such as Oracle and Dell will rape anything and anyone to maintain and/or increase user base and revenues.

    1. gerryg

      Comment #300 - General Public License

      Over there there's the SFLC and over here there's - both enforce the GPL (they must, otherwise it becomes unenforceable)

      I do not beleive there is a single example of them losing.

      One of the great side effects of SCO is that the GPL is alittl more battle-hardened than it was

  15. Anonymous Coward

    GPL requires immediate availability of source code offer

    To all "GPL requires no timetable for releasing source code" commenters I suggest actually reading the GPL v2.

    The timetable is not needed because all three options of distributing the source code are effecitive immediately at the point of releasing binaries. There is no option of delayed release, so there is no reason to define timetable.

    3. You may copy and distribute the Program (or a work based on it, under Section 2) in object code or executable form under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above provided that you also do one of the following:

    a) Accompany it with the complete corresponding machine-readable source code, which must be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

    b) Accompany it with a written offer, valid for at least three years, to give any third party, for a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution, a complete machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code, to be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

    c) Accompany it with the information you received as to the offer to distribute corresponding source code. (This alternative is allowed only for noncommercial distribution and only if you received the program in object code or executable form with such an offer, in accord with Subsection b above.)

    Dell didn't cover any of a) b) c) option.

  16. Tim 64

    Wrong about time table

    Your statement "The GPL requires no timetable for releasing source code" is not correct. The GPLs copyleft provisions are clearly activated by distribution of the software, meaning legally Dell was obliged to release the source the moment they distributed the first device loaded with the modified kernel. While I'm sure Dell will correct the issue, there is really no excuse for a company of their size, with their experience working with FLOSS to have screwed up this way. Quite simply they should know better.

  17. blah 5

    Let's not get too excited quite yet...

    While I love a good flamefest as much as the next guy, I'm not 100% positive that one is warranted here.

    Here's what the original complainant says:

    "I've just spent few hours trying to build android-msm-2.6.32 Linux kernel for Dell Streak" says smokku on the MoDaCo forums, "It turns out that it is impossible, without device specific board files. These files are in the Linux kernel source tree Dell used to build kernel for Streak and Dell is obliged under the terms of GPL, to give this source to any owner of Streak requesting it."

    So, we've got one guy making an assertion with no specifics behind it. Is it possible he hasn't done his homework? Or, is it possible that the 'device specific board files' are really drivers built the way that Nvidia builds theirs? A small GPL shim and a binary, closed source driver on top of that?

    If the latter case, is this guy missing closed source binaries that Dell may not have rights to distribute, the GPLed shim, or both?

    If the guy _has_ done his homework and there are Honest to Ghu missing GPLed files, it may simply be an oversight on Dell's part. In which case, a polite query would probably have gotten them released pretty quickly. After all, Dell's track record is pretty good. They are generally very careful about making sure that the GPL source for the devices that they sell is readily available.

    How about we wait for Dell to take a public position before we go off the deep end, mmkay?

  18. James Hughes 1

    Depends on whether the code missing is actually under GPL

    If its device drivers, then perhaps Dell need to cough up, but (from my distant memory), if they are binary downloaded firmware then they don't need to release them under GPL. The comment from the article isn't particularly specific on this point. However, that fact that it won't build the kernel does point towards GPL code, although it could be as simple as it barfing on a non-gpl binary not being present.

    1. Jonathan Richards 1 Silver badge


      If these are device drivers *compliled into the Linux kernel*, then they must be released under the terms of the GPL v2.

  19. JaitcH

    It's amazing how many companies trip up over GPL

    Have all the Android manufacturers conformed? I don't think so.

    On another point, if a product is shipping the software should be mature enough to release.

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