* Posts by bazza

2950 posts • joined 23 Apr 2008

Google location tracking to forget you were ever at that medical clinic

bazza Silver badge

Re: Poison the data?

That depends.

It happens naturally, accidentally. Take a WiFi router from one remote location to another and it can confuse mobiles that are using WiFi network SSIDs for location services, at least until the phone gets a GPS lock (which tells Google or whoever that the router has been moved).

The problem is doing it convincingly. The mobile can sense GPS, WiFi, cell base stations, the combination of all of which gives a pretty robust location. Spoof the GPS and that just looks like a spoofed GPS, because the cell network, local WiFi hasn't changed.

So poisoning would be more easily done at the output side of location services, not the input side. That's likely an OS change.

Soviet-era tech could change the geothermal industry

bazza Silver badge

Re: How deep?

Cloud is still the answer, or at least I'm sure they'll say so.

bazza Silver badge

Re: How deep?

I imagine too that it has something to do with the rock type. I'm assuming that rocks associated with oil are sedimentary, and likely quite soft. Whereas geothermal energy is something that might mean drilling through granite or rocks of that genre, which sounds a lot harder.

Arm says its Cortex-X3 CPU smokes this Intel laptop silicon

bazza Silver badge

Girding of Loins

I wonder if ARM are getting close to the point of taking on Intel head on? It's a big ask, but with MS and Apple being ARMed up (especially Apple), and literally every open source operating system also being ready too, there is perhaps a market there to supply.

Hangouts hangs up: Google chat app shuts this year

bazza Silver badge
Facepalm

Yawn

Isn't it only solipsists that use Google messaging applications anyway?

Intel is running rings around AMD and Arm at the edge

bazza Silver badge

Bottleneck

Perhaps part I problem is that, even with suitable designs, AMD and any ARM houses would not be able to get them fabbed, as TSMC is fully occupied as it is.

Big Tech silent on data privacy in post-Roe America

bazza Silver badge

Canada

It will be interesting to see what Canada does in response to this. Previously, US citizens have successfully claimed asylum in Canada after fleeing there to escape continuous legal persecution by organisations such as the Church of Scientology, the US state doing nothing to prevent such persecution.

If women start getting persecuted because of a choice they make, fleeing to Canada is probably a good option.

The asylum aspect is interesting, as there's an aspect of being granted asylum which probably involves being helped to set up life all over again.

Linus Torvalds says Rust is coming to the Linux kernel 'real soon now'

bazza Silver badge

Re: Seriously, are programmers that bad?

@Gene Cash,

Yeah, and I hope some day to see some. All the perl I've had to deal with has been 1200baud-modem-line-noise. I don't even attempt to understand it, I just rewrite it in something sane. I've yet to see any perl with comments

The way you describe it, I'm wondering if the "something sane" might include WhiteSpace, or BrainFuck (at least, sane in comparison)!

bazza Silver badge

Re: Remember when Scala was going to solve this problem for higher level languages?

Sure. But I think it's fair to say that there's far, far more to Rust than just guarding against buffer overflows.

bazza Silver badge

Rust was specifically design to interoperate with existing C code. It's pretty trivial to link to C libraries, etc. C++ is a different matter.

Time will indeed tell. It's interesting that it's got this far in Linux (and MS are reputedly looking at it too for Windows), in the sense that so far it's difficult to see a solid reason not to try.

bazza Silver badge

Re: Seriously, are programmers that bad?

I think it depends on the cost of a mistake.

That way of software development - building it on paper first - was / is reputed to run at something like 1 line of finished code per day per developer on the project. Slow, laborious, but if done right for the right reasons, there's likely no faster way, and it's cost effective (in the sense that it might cost millions to develop, but possibly untold billions if it ever goes wrong).

The Boeing 737MAX is a good example of the price of doing it badly; Boeing built MCAS "on paper", handed that over to another company to do the coding. That company's developers took one look at the paper design, and really didn't like it. Apparently, there was an exchange of emails between them and Boeing asking, "are you really, really sure?", and Boeing replied "yes, get on with it". Okaaaaaay. That messaging exchange probably counts as one of the most significant in the history of safety critical coding. I dread to think how muh money that mistake by Boeing has cost them, and of course it tragically lead to hundreds of avoidable deaths.

bazza Silver badge

Re: Seriously, are programmers that bad?

I'd like to see compilers get "voices", in the same way you could get different "Voices" for TomTom satnavs. I'd like the voice of John Cleese telling me whenever I've used an uninitialised variable, etc!

bazza Silver badge

Re: Error Types

I didn't know it could do that. That's fab. Dimensional analysis built into the compiler? Woohoo!

Ada could do something similar I think, but it relies on a runtime engine whereas Rust doesn't.

bazza Silver badge

Re: Seriously, are programmers that bad?

I agree with that. Though hopefully, the general average standard is raised (provided that code review work carries on as before).

bazza Silver badge

Re: Seriously, are programmers that bad?

I had a look at "memory safe" Rust and found the C problems it manages are the sort of problems that an experienced C programmer will never make. (OK, "never" is a big word, we all make mistakes but but...)

As you go on to say, it takes discipline. But the long, long list of major security / functionality bugs that have been found in lots of "really important old code" (including in the Linux kernel, and lots of open and closed source stuff written in C) is pretty solid evidence that the required level of discipline is not achievable.

The interesting thing to ask is, with a strict disciplinarian compiler like Rust that won't let you make any mistakes of certain sorts, will that do the trick?

There's no solid answer, but I think that what we'll find is that the places where it remains possible to have made mistakes in source code are usefully pushed away from places where mistakes can have the severest consequences. For example, reading a network protocol stream. If you can't have a buffer overrun, that cuts out a ton of arbitrary remote code execution security hazards. Make a mistake in intepretting the protocol data can still cause problems, but this is more likely to end up with a straightforward (and fairly safe by comparison) program crash.

Years ago, the Institute of Electrical Engineers (now the IET) here in the UK did a study of different safety critical software systems (back in the 1990s). They looked at system source code, in-service support logs, the lot. What was interesting was that systems written in Ada - the "safety critical language du jour" - weren't actually any better in certain metrics (e.g, semantic errors per 1000 lines, run-time faults per 1000 hours) than any other language. The very best system covered in the report was an air traffic control system that IBM had built in C (the very last language one would even then have picked for a safey critical application). The reason why was because IBM had put its very best developers on the job, and that being IBM from a long time ago, they just didn't foul up very often. But, not never. (I think the report had an analogy, that writing an airtraffic control system in C and having to get it right was the same as cutting your toenails with a big, powerful chainsaw; you're going to be very careful!

Extend that to today, and use of Rust (in, well, anyhting), and we can expect there to be issues, even though Rust itself eliminates a whole class of error and despite the time saved in development / testing / code review.

bazza Silver badge

Re: Sounds good to me

I firmly agree.

I'm also relieved. I think that, long term, Rust is the way OS kernels will go, because of the pedantic compiler / memory safety / etc. The "proof" starts becoming a reason to use the OS, if one is security minded. If Windows / MacOS / FreeBSD all went towards Rust, and Linux didn't (or at least, didn't give it a go), Linux might in the long run have become a liability.

Bipolar transistors made from organic materials for the first time

bazza Silver badge

Electrical Efficiency?

I've got a nasty feeling that organic transistors are going to be pretty wasteful of electrons, compared to silicon, for a given application. If we started using them on a very large scale (and part of the attraction is that we could), what does that do to the world's electricity consumption / emissions / etc?

Of course, on the other hand, making silicon is an energy intensive industrial process all by itself, so perhaps it can balance out. But I suspect not...

Amazon fears it could run out of US warehouse workers by 2024

bazza Silver badge

(I'm pretty sure that someone doesn't know the relationship between margins and profits. Hint: volume of business done...)

John, Bezos is one small change in margin downwards away from running up a huge loss operating that tat bazaar, and that's the relevant side of Amazon's business; it's the bit that employs warehouse workers. Unless you think that Amazon's warehouse workers are somehow also pedalling a treadmill generating electricity to run the bit barns too.

bazza Silver badge

Running short of willing labour? Well there is a free market in labour, you just have to go out there and buy it for the price.

I'd be unsurprised if Amazon's profit is based on pretty slim margins.if so, a small labour cost increase could trash the entire business model.

Totaled Tesla goes up in flames three weeks after crash

bazza Silver badge

Re: Am I the only one

Sounds about right.

The question then is, how do further improvements happen, to make best use of whatever green energy supply we have?

For EV's there's probably limited room for improvement; motors are already close to the limit of what could be achieved, no one has come up with much lighter battery, tyres have to be grippy and are therefore lossy, etc.

The only big way to improve on the energy expenditure of an EV is to address the losses - friction and charging / discharging efficiency. If they made a cross section area : length ratio better, that'd do something for drag (long and thin is better). If they reduced the rolling resistance, that'd help too.

So, what's the limits here? Well, suppose you made the wheels out of solid steel, and ran them on steel rails? That'd be next to no rolling resistance. Of course, having rails then means traffic becomes a bit tricky, so perhaps they all get joined up into a long, organised chain. That also help with the aerodynamic drag. And as the rails are fixed, you could have a wire overhead to supply electricity too, so you could get rid of the battery weight / danger, and also the charing / discharging inefficiency.

Of course, I'm (facetiously) describing a train. That, really, is likely the best possible answer, because it also solves the transport problem for freight. At the moment, EV's look sketchy for heavy freight haulage, but trains have been doing that job electrically for a very long time.

Does This Matter?

Of course, it only matters if we have a limited supply of renewable / green electricity. If we get nuclear fusion going in a big way, then perhaps efficiency at the point of consumption becomes less relevant.

bazza Silver badge

Re: Am I the only one

It's reasonably valid to use price as a proxy for energy expenditure. Spend $40,000 on buying a car (or anything, in fact), and there's probably a relatively constant (constant between manufacturers) fraction of that is energy costs, somewhere down the line. I'd take a guess that it's pretty significant fraction - say, 80%? That will be energy for heating the factory, smelting the steel, the gas that the workforce burns to cook dinner at home, the delivery truck, etc. When one considers the amount of diesel / petrol represented by $32,000, it's years and years worth of buying petrol / diesel and driving about powered by it.

So in countries like Norway, there has been a headlong rush for electric cars (Norway has a lot of hydro-electric power). In doing so, they're junking a national fleet of one sort of car, and buying another sort of car. If that's Teslas, well, a fair amount of the money spent is carbon derived energy consumed in the USA. They've exported a large fraction of their national emissions to another country!

Of course, ultimately, everything will become electric, and electricity will be derived in huge quantities from nuclear fusion. I mean, it's got to; we kinda screwed if it doesn't. But until then, it's probably best to promote and encourage, but don't provoke premature mass-scrappage of perfectly serviceable machinery. Every car scrapped ahead of its time gets replaced, and the energy cost of builing the replacement would be like driving a diesel / petrol car for (say) 10 years, but with all the emissions delivered in one single go...

With that comes the question, how long does a car last these days? They're distinctly more throw-away, more energy intesive today than ever before, even though in parts they last a lot better (rust, engine lifetime if expensively maintained (particulate filters, etc) are a lot better than a couple of decades ago). That right there is a huge problem that is largely unaddressed by EVs or any other development in law / design / standards. And at the moment, it looks like EV's will struggle to make it as far as 10 years without becoming economic write-offs.

Even the styling designers have a role to play here. For example, take the new BMWs with their godawful grills that even a mother would run away from screaming. They're going to look old, fast, and that will likely lead to an accelerated scrappage rate.

bazza Silver badge

Re: Another one.

Depends. If there is enough crash damage, there may be no practicable way of safely disposing of the battery.

In a way, it's like defueling a nuclear reactor in a power station. If you manage to pull out all the fuel rods, get them into the cooling pond, all it well. If just one of them gets stuck because of some damage somewhere (e.g. a graphite block, after years of being transmuted by the neutron flux, has crumbled and is jamming a rod guide), you've now got a huge problem to deal with. Same with scramming the pile: you need to do it quickly, whilst it's still possible to do it at all, because very soon it won't be!

With an EV, getting rid of the battery energy is easy, provided the battery is in good shape. The only way of making a battery of this sort (with fundamentally very reactive constituents) safe otherwise is to fragment and disperse it, but it'll likely catch fire whilst you're doing so.

At least with petrol and especially diesel, there's a good chance that a cracked tank will just drain away, and as long as it doesn't land on something hot / sparky, you can make it safe with a bucket of sand / water.

UK govt considers invoking national security in Arm IPO saga

bazza Silver badge

Re: Fish and Chips

Building up an economy isn't the issue. Softbank paid too much for a business with ARM's business model, and can't do anything about changing that model, or the prices or the market size (though that's growing through natural selection anyway).

Graphical desktop system X Window just turned 38

bazza Silver badge

Re: What I like about X

Isn't that's what MacOS uses, really, under the hood? Or used to? Or was that part of NextStep that didn't make it across?

Unbelievably clever: Redbean 2 – a single-file web server that runs on six OSes

bazza Silver badge

Re: εxεcµταblε is pronounced more like ‘echesmtable’

Ah, the whimsical path that is the comments on an El Reg article. A few articles back we had a comments thread that included recommendations for high quality butters, and now we've got Greek language tuition. I shall have to start dropping in snippets about Chopin and Listz. Perhaps someone else could talk about Japanese armour?

Former AMD chip architect says it was wrong to can Arm project

bazza Silver badge

Agreed.

It's possible that AMD had one shot at securing decent prices with TSMC. It's all very well having two fabulous chip designs, but when you're fabless and broke and you need a good deal on the best silicon process available, we'll it's easy to see why X64 won. TSMC likely would have said "no way" to making a product far from certain to sell. They must have taken some convincing that AMD was worth supplying at all.

Maybe now is the time though. AMD has since given TSMC a lot of work, so I suspect that they've gained some technical credit and belief there. Plus, the Arm landscape has moved onwards too.

NASA's SOFIA aircraft preps for final flights ahead of mission end

bazza Silver badge

Re: Fun fact

My guess is that it'll go into storage in the boneyard. There may not be any current plans for it, but a hunk of hardware like this is well worth preserving, just in case.

SpaceX staff condemn Musk's behavior in open letter

bazza Silver badge

Re: I'm split

There's all sorts of factors there. Take the "boss who inspires"; they can be the most depressing person to work for, if they also go and create the conditions where all one's hard work is thrown in the dumpster by them screwing something else up, such as over-leveraging the financial side of things, or pushing through features that, actually, can never be made to work.

And the MBA can - if well trained - be fabulous, by literally leaving the creative / engineering side to get on with it, but making sure they're not too wild. There's nothing wrong with a good MBA asking for a good project plan, backed up by realistic assessments of risk. They're the ones who can let engineers a little off the leash, with a clearly defined "you've got this long before the money runs out", and it's a good thing to be forced to focus on outcomes and whether they're achievable.

I think that the natural ebb and flow indicates who is really good, and who is not. Wherever you get really, really good senior engineers hanging round for a long time, bringing in the best of the young hotshots too, there you likely also have good business-person(s) behind them. That occurs only if the whole outfit is really good, business-wise and engineering-wise, both of which are key to long term success.

The problem in the US is that there really is a penchant for "firing the staff", no matter what, so it's difficult for teams to be assembled, coalesce and become effective. In Europe, where it's typically far harder to fire staff, I think that this gives good engineering companies an advantage. They're limited / actively discouraged from firing staff, so that means their teams can become maturely capable even when company economics are slightly down. Everyone good wants to work for them, which helps the company back up.

Record players make comeback with Ikea, others pitching tricked-out turntables

bazza Silver badge

A relative has managed to build up an enviable collection of audio gear by indulging in that well known engineers' materials and equipment procurement technique crudely described as skip diving. During those years where analogue was really unfashionable you could get some fabulous gear from your average municipal tip.

NHTSA upgrades Tesla Autopilot probe, could lead to recall

bazza Silver badge

Ah, someone who knows their butters. El Reg has it all, IT and also expertise in dairy products.

I think that we need a Playmobil reenactment of the IT angle to butter production.

bazza Silver badge

Are you suggesting he's in favour of a brand of quality French butter, perhaps opposed to margerine in some way or other?

Twitter shareholders to vote on Elon Musk's acquisition

bazza Silver badge

Re: Elon Musk's acquisition?

Well, in a pretty significant $44billion way, they do own his arse.

He knows it and is now trying to skirm out of it.

IETF publishes HTTP/3 RFC to take the web from TCP to UDP

bazza Silver badge

Re: TCP needs a few back-and-forths

QUIC dealing with handover between connections is kinda nuts. Isn't that what IPV6 is supposed to be a about, the ability to have a globally unique Ip address no matter what network you're connected to?

Most mobile networks are IPV6 already, so it's not a case of waiting...

New York to get first right-to-repair law for electronics

bazza Silver badge

Re: We do want that here.

Agreed. Which is why the industry is so desperate to resist these new laws in the US, as that would give real teeth to how they have to engage with independent repairers. I think East Pondian laws aren’t good enough to make manufacturers design for repair and sell spare parts. US laws / court enforcement mandating could get across that line.

bazza Silver badge

Re: Too many exclusions

Here’s hoping that mobiles and laptops aren’t counted as home appliances…

That time a techie accidentally improved an airline's productivity

bazza Silver badge

Re: Easy to miss something trivial

Depends on how good one is at serving an ace (thank you Viz Profanosaurus).

AMD nearly doubles Top500 supercomputer hardware share

bazza Silver badge

AMD have been doing really well in recent years, and kept it going too. OK, I know Intel have properly screwed up, but AMD have had to get things consistently right to exploit that weakness. One can't really ask more than that.

Qualcomm among queue of suitors chasing a stake in Arm

bazza Silver badge

Re: No foresight required

It's too much money for Arm, $60Bn.

I think that a consortium would be a bad thing. Independent, ARM has an incentive to improve the design, attract customers. In a consortium, it's likely that development will slow, especially if all of Intel, Qualcom, Apple, Samsung, etc all have to agree.

SEC probes Musk for not properly disclosing Twitter stake

bazza Silver badge

Re: SEC probes Musk

And should he do so, then the correct response is that of course it is; the rule of law is something that politicians are, generally speaking (except sometimes when applied to themselves) in favour of being enforced...

Version 251 of systemd coming soon to a Linux distro near you

bazza Silver badge

Re: Whole System Images?

And that's a reason to follow suit in a general purpose desktop OS is it?

LP / RedHat seems fixated on mimicking mobile OSes. Gnome on the desktop with Touch Friendly sized UI controls? Total control of app ecosystem? One way, their way, in which things are done? What's the problem with just having a decent desktop OS, like everyone else now focuses on (now that Ms has given up trying to make Windows look like a touch-friendly OS).

bazza Silver badge

Whole System Images?

This sounds like a way of cutting out independent software developers. If a distro becomes nothing more than a build system configuration, and it’s not really in the gift of the end user to change that build system, how are third party packages going to be installed?

It’s kinda crazy as it is already…

Other OSes don’t have this problem. I can, for better or worse, install Windows and that will update itself. I can install Firefox and that will independently update itself. No problems.

Elon Musk needs more cash for Twitter buy after Tesla margin loan lapses

bazza Silver badge

Re: Genuine question

The rules are there to stop market abuse.

Here in the UK at least, a shareholder who builds up a big enough stake (>=90%?) is able to force acquisition of the remainder. This was used by the Glaser family to take complete ownership of Manchest United... I don't know what the rule says about "price" - it ought to be fair - but the minority shareholder(s) can be compelled.

How to explain what an API is – and why they matter

bazza Silver badge

The Car Building Analogy is Flawed

Because, there have been different outcomes.

The proposition is that if you offer an API, you can sell that multiple customers, as an alternator manufacturer might sell to more than one company.

Thing is, if you study the automotive sector, it’s nothing like that.

Suppliers who enter the Toyota sphere of influence end up supplying only Toyota. This is because doing business with Toyota is really, really very good, they’re very large, and who’d want to do business with Ford as well?

Honda have a reputation for doing an awful lot themselves.

The US manufacturers had a habit of driving suppliers into bankruptcy by not paying bills, which is why when the Japanese arrived in the US a lot of suppliers stopped supplying US companies.

Bosch do everything in Germany. Similarly in Italy and France. Traditionally everything British used everything Lucas had to offer, but that’s a period best kept in the dark.

Every single deal is going to be different, successful or pointless, or over or underwhelming. What might start out looking pointless could become a gold mine. Or, set up to supply a big time customer and you might go bust in the process. The point is that to sell an API you have to have the resources to deliver it, and a thing that no one else can reproduce. If you solve the resource problem by relying on, say, scalable cloud providers you’re just a middleman, ripe for being cut out, because as we well know APIs can be freely replicated…

The real value in business is always control of the end customer base… If you provide only an API, you’re not the most valuable bit of the business.

Safari is crippling the mobile market, and we never even noticed

bazza Silver badge

Re: Today in "nonsense", we have...

Agreed.

One of the defences of web apps that’s often rolled out is that they’re fast enough that you can’t tell the difference between them and a native app. Apart from battery consumption, load time, app stalls dues to connectivity issues when out of reach of WiFi or nG, ads, slurp, changing UI as the developer gets bored and changes everything overnight, etc…

bazza Silver badge

Re: Europe

Who knows. There’s been some rumblings of economic retaliation if European countries pass a digital sales tax on companies like Amazon. That’s calmed down so far as I can tell since Joe Biden came to the Presidency. So yes, there’s a chance that the US gov might choose to make an issue of it, depending…

However there’s definitely a mood now in US politics to take on big tech which many perceive to have grown too big for its boots. Google is in the firing line in most states and the federal government, with Apple probably next. [Interestingly MS isn’t, seemingly having successfully given the impression of being friendly to openness.] If this mood persists then Apple’s forced loss of control of browser engines may not be unpopular amongst the US politicians.

What will be interesting is to see how far the politics of consumer rights penetrates into web standards. A lot of what makes web apps rubbish for end users is the ads, bloat, CPU wastage, data slurp, etc with web standards enabling more and more of that. If the web standards were reigned in and enforced, web apps might get better.

But I’m not getting my hopes up, because my experience of straight up ad free web apps on even desktops is that they’re bloated slow junk, for anything other than fairly trivial stuff. Electron - yeurk.

Linus Torvalds debuts 'boring old plain' Linux kernel 5.18

bazza Silver badge

Re: boring old plain 5.18

Who knows. If it does indeed prove controversial, Linus might possibly evict the code from the kernel version he controls. For the time being I'm guessing (and I really don't know, because I've not read widely enough) that it's Intel's version of x64, that's a major target for Linux, and going with wherever Intel's x64 is going is important. Thoughts, anyone?

Voyager 1 space probe producing ‘anomalous telemetry data’

bazza Silver badge

The unmanned space exploration programme has vastly over delivered. Very impressive!

Knowing what can now be done, one would never send people back to the moon just to do more exploration of it; a rover can almost certainly do just as good a job, for longer and for less money. There has to be another reason to send astronauts somewhere.

bazza Silver badge

Indirectly, probably pretty positive for the environment. Someone like him making a point can and does influence billions to be a bit more careful.

Elon Musk says Twitter buy 'cannot move forward' until spam stats spat settled

bazza Silver badge

Re: Less than 5%!!

Also, whatever the accuracy of what is reported to the SEC doesn't actually matter, so long as it is consistent over a reasonable period of time. What actually matters is profit / loss, revenue / costs. Consistent reporting of fake accounts allows someone to make a comparisons against previous financials, and perhaps then make a reasonable stab at predicting future financials when the fake-account count changes.

It may be that there is no correlation between the fake account count and the financials, in which case it matters not one jot. It may be that there's a good correlation, in which case it's a useful tool as-is. But it could also be a self-fulfilling proficy. If the fake-account estimate is believed, and it goes down, Twitter's advertising revenue might go up due to enthused ad customers. And vice versa. Separating out cause and effect could be a tricky problem, as the only way of knowing is if the ad customers' product sales figures alter in correlation with the amount of ad spend they have on Twitter, but it's unlikely that they can measure that correlation very well.

Changing the methodology, sample size, etc may improve the theoretical accuracy, but there's likely a stage at which further improvement becomes pointless and uninformative. If that stage is reached, and there is still no correlation between financial performance and the improved fake account count estimate, then there's no point reporting it in the first place.

Someone else can probably say whereabouts on that scale of possibilities the current data actually sits.

GPL legal battle: Vizio told by judge it will have to answer breach-of-contract claims

bazza Silver badge

GPL2 is also vague. It defines "complete source code" as including the scripts to build and install the software, and that these have to be provided in a machine readable form.

Poorly Defined Terms

But no where does GPL2 say that those scripts should be executable, or that they should result in a running program on specific hardware. It also doesn't explain what a "script" is; to most of us it's a bash script, possibly python, a makefile, or similar. But an executable binary that does the same steps, or one of the steps, definitely is not within most people's ideas of what a script is.

It's also perfectly possible to have a complete set of scripts that build the software, but not install it. The installation might be manual (i.e. a human has to copy the image to a chip burning machine, and the chip then has to be soldered down afterwards). They might even have to use a custom machine-specific binary executable to help with this. In this case, it's entirely reasonable that there is no machine executable script for installation, and there can't ever be one that results in a runnable program; a script cannot by itself solder a chip to a board. There can be a readme as a list of instructions for a human to execute to install the software.

Make Up Your Own Device Configuration

GPL2 also leaves room for the following situation. There's bound to be a configuration file specifying device addresses, certain memory locations, etc. This might helpfully get supplied as "set these appropriate to your run-time environment", which makes it hard to figure out what they should be on a specific retail device (no datasheet published). So yes, you can build the software alright, but never know what settings are required for a specific device. And here too GPL2 is inadequate; no where does it say anything about the hardware on which it should be run. The original authors of GPL2 had in mind standards compliant source code compilable on almost any unix-like OS, not specific hardware.

What's also bad news for the vendor is that such configurations can easily change between production runs - i.e. the next uses a slightly different SOC that requires a different configuration - and they may not have records of which SOC was used in a device of any given serial number.

And if one thinks this unlikely, think again; even Apple are constantly churning their choice of components between batches of iPhones, Macs, etc, that outwardly are all supposed to be "identical". At one point they didn't know themselves what had gone into any one specific device, which is why firmware updates to fix issues can have patchy success rates.

In that circumstance the best a vendor could do is supply a whole bunch of configuration files, and tell the recipient distributee that they'll have to munge them together as best they can, see what works...

Now a Contract?

It's this kind of problem that puts companies off using Linux, and why FreeBSD is an attractive alternative. If GPL2 is now also going to get interpretted as a contract, that's simply making Linux less and less attractive, because it is so unclear as to what really does constitute "complete source code", and "installation". Companies might now find they are contractually obliged to facilitate installation on hardware never designed to support post-manufacture installation.

It's also ironic; the Wikipedia article on the GPLs says that they were designed as licenses, not contracts. But now they are being interpreted as contracts.

Here in the UK, a contract is only enforcable with the exchange of money; no money, no contract. That's why you see bust companies being bought for £1 - to seal the deal. So there is a contract if you've bought a TV, but if you've just downloaded an executable for free there is no contract.

This Specific Case

I think the SFC is being casual in its statements in referring to "GPL", and not specific versions. There's a world of difference between 2 and 3. I know the case involves software under both licenses (it's not just the kernel source they're after), but technically speaking there is no such thing as "GPL".

GPL2 does not grant a right of repair; it doesn't say that the re-built executable must installable on specific hardware. It does not say there has to be a USB socket from which an image can be run or burned to on-board flash, or other similar mechanism. However, a side effect of this case might be that the GPL2 is a contract that, in effect, does mandate facilitating third party image installation on the hardware.

Of course, if GPL2 source code is underpinning a product, allowing third-party image installation is actually the polite thing a manufacturer should do anyway. But this case is moving the goal posts in a direction where otherwise blameless manufacturers may now have a deployed fleet of hardware that now is not compliant, and can't be.

So, my worry is that this case will make it even more difficult for manufacturers to be certain that they have a issue-free pathway to GPL2 compliance, even if they're intending on being compliant. If as a result of this case we start seeing device manufacturers move over to, say, FreeBSD, then the ability for people to mod their own devices is actually going to decline, not increase.

And so, what does this mean for the Android mobile phone market? Are we set to see a situation whereby manufacturers are obliged to facilitate third party image compilation, installation, with the expectation of ending up with a working phone? Could be a good thing. Could also be a bad thing, as it means that the third party might not actually be the phone owner. There are good reasons why people might not want a device that anyone can reimage without manufacturer support...

Ambiguity

The SFC said: "Had Vizio produced the source code for the Linux kernel, for the other SmartCast programs at issue, and for the library linking programs, as used on Vizio Smart TVs, a community of software developers would have had the opportunity to modify them to protect user privacy or improve accessibility,"

I hope that in this case, "library linking programs" means software to manage lists of TV programs, and not the source code for ld or whatever the object code linker that is used.

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR WEEKLY TECH NEWSLETTER

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022