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Feature: Open Source

VIA's open source approach questioned again

By Jay Lyman on May 12, 2006 (8:00:00 AM)

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Motherboard and chipset maker VIA is again taking some heat over its open source efforts that, according to one open source developer, now "instigate" violations of the GNU General Public License (GPL).

The company's record with open source developers is rife with criticism and concern, and has consistently fallen short of expectations and norms for open source developers, who claim VIA is more interested in the marketing buzz of its open source development than providing good code for developers.

This spring, VIA dropped more media chipset source code, but once again the licensing terms regressed from barely open source to far from it, says former Unichrome developer Luc Verhaegen. He says the license changes are reminiscent of past VIA stumbles. As for the licenses in the new code drop, VidStruc.h and Vinline.h, they regress to provide warranty disclaimers only for VIA and graphics company S3, but not open source developers working with the code, Verhaegen says. Additionally, in VIA's video out code, viampg.h, MIT licensing terms were replaced with a proprietary disclaimer that again covers only the corporate side of development.

"This is most certainly not open source software," Verhaegen writes. "This is proprietary nonsense." Verhaegen has a history of conflict with the Taiwan-based company.

In an email response to NewsForge, Verhaegen claimed that VIA actually "actively instigates GPL violation," explaining that a previous license and disclaimer attempt to control code in violation of the Free Software Foundation license.

A copy of the addendum obtained by NewsForge stipulates under the heading "Source Code Information (GPL-based source files)" that developers who sign "may release VIA Confidential source code, in whole or in part and in its original or modified form, if and only if Developer has obtained prior written consent from VIA that VIA has already released the VIA Confidential Information source code to the public domain."

"This only regulates the spread of the source code, not any resulting binaries," Verhaegen says. "So, when you sign their document, VIA will tell you when to comply to the GPL, and when to outright breach it."

Phil Albert, an partner with Townsend and Townsend and Crew and a software legal expert, says it could be a GPL violation if VIA put extra restraints on software that might not belong to the company. "It would be a problem if things they apply their additional restraints to are things they don't own entirely and things they've distributed under the GPL." However, after reviewing the addendum, Albert was uncertain whether VIA's actions amounted to or encouraged violation of the GPL. "It is not clear that there is any violation since the license is very liberal in what can be done with VIA's information."

Some open source developers disagree with Verhaegen about VIA's behavior. Ivor Hewitt, another former Unichrome developer who is now working on a different open driver project called openChrome, says that the hardware company has improved its open source approach.

"As far as VIA and their attitude is concerned, I've had a few chats with them, and [despite] its early days, they seemed keen on trying to engage with us and have asked what they can do to help," Hewitt says. "Perhaps they're just saying what they think we want to hear, who knows, but whenever I've had contact with them, they've always seemed pretty open and honest."

Verhaegen calls on VIA to stick to open source development pillars, such as free documentation and direct involvement rather than private involvement. "VIA should properly commit to open source if it wants the marketing advantage that comes with it," he says. "They should realize that if you produce more marketing, you get more onlookers, and it becomes harder to get away with frivolous statements. Maintaining credibility is what it is all about.

"There still is no real open source support. VIA Arena is users helping users. VIA does just enough to sell chipsets to the embedded market, where free software is all the buzz right now." Verhaegen says that the source code for the K8M890 Northbridge's integrated graphics, for example, is not being opened. "Not because of conceivable IP issues, but simply because it doesn't gain VIA anything with respect to their marketing strategy."

In response, VIA Arena Editor Fiona Gatt says VIA does support and cooperate with several individual open source developers, but currently has no plans to release information relating to proprietary IP. Gatt also defends VIA's open source moves, indicating the company never promised more than it delivered, and is basically dealing with open source the same way that other graphics and chipset companies do.

"We feel the statement that we use open source for marketing purposes is unjustified," Gatt says. "We announced over a year ago last April the release of the kernel source code for the Unichrome display drivers, and did precisely that; there was no mention in that announcement of the release of video acceleration drivers source or other VIA IP."

"Regarding keeping our drivers closed, it should be noted that most companies do likewise, so VIA is not in a unique position."

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on VIA's open source approach questioned again

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It's not "normal" !

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 13, 2006 04:21 PM
"Regarding keeping our drivers closed, it should be noted that most companies do likewise, so VIA is not in a unique position."

That's not something they should be proud of being a follower.

Shame on Via, and the others too.

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Sad ...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 14, 2006 12:56 AM
"We feel the statement that we use open source for marketing purposes is unjustified," Gatt says. "We announced over a year ago last April the release of the kernel source code for the Unichrome display drivers, and did precisely that; there was no mention in that announcement of the release of video acceleration drivers source or other VIA IP."


I had high hope for Via with regard to Open-Source, but that basically prove they are not interested in doing anything more than the bare minimum, which is not enough. I'd rather use a good but fully proprietary driver (Nvidia) than a barely open one (Via). Too bad.



Are there any other option in FOSS-friendly graphic chip manufacturer ? Are we really stuck with closed ATI/Nvidia and barely open Via ?

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Re:Sad ...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 14, 2006 04:32 AM
I guess we will have to wait for the Open Graphics Project.
=> <a href="http://wiki.duskglow.com/tiki-index.php?page=Open-Graphics" title="duskglow.com">http://wiki.duskglow.com/tiki-index.php?page=Open<nobr>-<wbr></nobr> Graphics</a duskglow.com>

Assuming it delivers sufficient performance for my needs, I'll dump Nvidia, ATI, and onboard VIA junk in favour of this solution.

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Re:Sad ...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 14, 2006 04:54 AM
Intel probably: Keith Packard and Erik Anholt get their paychecks from them now.

Luc Verhaegen
(former and present unichrome.sf.net developer<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:p)

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Was hoping Via would stand up

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 14, 2006 10:41 PM
and try to use opensource to gain marketshare and I would be willing to provide that by buying a system with their chipset.

I was willing to base my next amd64 system on their chipset because as a freebsd user I had enough of nvidia and wanted to "reward" a competitor but Via does NOt seem to welcome open source at all, so I will have to look at alternatives.

This makes me sad.

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Yes but,...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 15, 2006 11:31 PM
First off, BIG FOSS supporter with both time and $$, however I think we need to remember that the business models these proprietary companies use cannot shoehorn open-source in very nicely.

There is a technical aspect that can be very easily copied, yet extremely difficult to legally prove and protect. I believe that Via is trying the best they can to "be open" to us. However, they do not want to be the trailblazer responsible for the millions of $$ to litigate GPL breeches unless the are reasonably guaranteed that their technical investment will be protected in the courts.

I have a really good idea that nobody has offered them this protection yet, or they believe that leagally, the language of the GPL is weak. While I wish they would do more, I understand why they are just "dipping their toe in the water" to this point.

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Re:Yes but,...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 16, 2006 01:59 PM
So they've been dipping their toe in the water for 3 years?

VIA has been making source available for that long because it does help their business model.

The trouble is that they haven't completely grasped the whole concept, and the different parts of VIA are only using those bits of the concept they are interested in. Hence VIA lawyers trying to wriggle around the GPL, hence VIA programmers not caring about licenses, hence VIAs marketing being that two-faced.

But then, there's always been a big gap between VIAs marketing and VIAs reality. At least now Fionas comments put marketing quite a bit closer to reality.

Luc Verhaegen.

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Re:Yes but,...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 17, 2006 01:53 AM
I'm not here to declare who is right and who is wrong. I am simply saying that while I wish they would do more, they do in fact have a lot to lose. A long established business model can not be changed as rapidly as many FOSS supporters would like. VIA has made it clear they will not take the lead in this "revolution". Without the change, what would VIA do to make money,....sell t-shirts in the mall?

I fully support what you are trying to accomplish, but can see the other side as well.

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Re:Yes but,...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 20, 2006 03:47 AM
VIA is in the chipset market, not in the software market. They also aren't making any ripples with their discrete cards.

What they do do is cheap hardware, cheap hardware which should be ubiquitous. Price and support are more important than features. People want their hardware to just work here.

The only way to gain more marketshare is through support, or in this case; lack of customer dissatisfaction. And it's easy to make a customer angry when you're talking graphics.

Price is low already. Support is non-existant. And hardware is meek. Which of those is easiest to fix to gain a higher marketshare?

Common VIA hardware contains very little in the way of IP that would be endangered by offering free documentation and some proactive community support (unless they call throwing money at sites like epiacenter "community support").

Luc Verhaegen.

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No

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 17, 2006 03:42 AM
I think we need to remember that the business models these proprietary companies use cannot shoehorn open-source in very nicely.

They are a hardware company. That is their core business. They need programmers to write software so they can test their hardware, but software will never be a major moneyspinner for them.


We don't need their software. What we need is good, clear specs of the hardware they manufacture. We can do the rest ourselves, and we prefer it that way

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Re:No

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 18, 2006 10:13 PM
"What we need is good, clear specs of the hardware they manufacture"

Yes, I agree with this! However, it is my understanding that this is not the problem we are addressing with this article. They are looking of open-sourcing of the technical code, not a spec sheet.

Please correct me if I'm misunderstanding something.

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Re:No

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 20, 2006 04:10 AM
Specs are harder to come by than code here (without signing a questionable NDA). Besides, the documentation i have seen isn't always as useful on its own.

VIAs code is also quite cryptic and not in too good a working state. Besides, open source drivers usually get developed in close sync with the project they are drivers for (in this case X). VIAs code is traditionally ages behind on X, linux, etc. Although VIA money and the direct access to hardware and documentation does mean that some things are implemented and newer chip versions are "supported". The quality is questionable too.

Soon it'll be three years since i first touched the X unichrome driver. Although i should have all code drops VIA ever released, I still need to try to build their code for the first time. This is the reality for most users of VIA unichromes. And those brave men that do try their code drops usually end up wasting their time.

But compared to some other vendors, VIAs source releases are commendable, but this is far from enough to warrant the marketing they try to wring out of it. And it's really their missteps they usually get bashed for.

Surreptitiously (but probably accidentally) sticking a proprietary license (next to the ddmpeg binary every) in what's labelled as "open source", for the third time, is very bad.

Restricting the GPL is quite insidious too, and totally not befitting of a company that even remotely claims to support open source.

Luc Verhaegen.

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VIA's open source approach questioned again

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 84.71.63.130] on February 09, 2008 02:24 PM
Hopefully as the open source community grows and gains more traction in business players like VIA will learn that they will have to comply with open source standards to succeed. What I really love about open source is that it is moving power to the consumer, away from monopolists like Oracle, Microsoft, etc.

Great quote from a Mike Kovacevich: 'Linux takes wisdom, foresight and guts.' It is definitely not proving easy to move to open source in our business but a strategy that will hopefully pay off in the future - we think so anyway. Power to the people! Free your software!

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