WiFi Chip Makers vs Open Source Software

Have you ever wondered why it is hard to get wireless networking right on alternative operating systems such as Linux and OpenBSD? It appears the blame for this situation lies with chip makers including the likes of Broadcom, Intel, Marvell and scores of other companies. These are the findings of Jem Matzan, who writes The Jem Report.

Matzan’s investigation shows that open source software coders are getting stymed by the chip makers. A major reason for the problems is that most companies are using proprietary firmware which cannot be redistributed, or has substantial restrictions.

Unrestricted redistribution of firmware files is satisfactory for some open source operating system projects like OpenBSD, FreeBSD, and many varieties of GNU/Linux, but others like Fedora Core and Debian demand an entirely free software environment, so redistribution of the firmware without the ability to modify and distribute the source code is prohibited.

Beyond that, the chip makers don’t provide documentation for their firmware, and as result it is really hard for programmers to write drivers for these wireless networking chips. The problem which essentially plagues wireless networking chips is now spreading to the wired variety as well, Matzan notes.

I am just offering a summary of what is an extremely thorough report including conversations with some chip company executives. Predictably, many of the majors dodged Matzan’s questions.

via Digg