[Openec] Nonfree EC issues pop up again - Lemote YeeLoong netbook (was: Re: Closing Yeelong cover fails to shut off display)

Daniel Clark dclark at pobox.com
Thu Dec 31 06:05:50 EST 2009

FYI, thought subscribers to this list might find it interesting that
this issue is popping up again, with the Lemote YeeLoong netbook, a
portable computer that unlike the XO has free wifi (in addition to boot
firmware), but still has nonfree EC.

The FSF may be able to get anyone interested and with the skills a free
(as in beer) Lemote Yeeloong to hack on OpenEC for that computer.

Lemote  has also been very good at providing us with low-level doc when
they can, so if someone knows what documents would be useful for such an
effort there is a good chance we would be able to get them.

I believe much of the hardware on the YeeLoong (a mipsel machine based
on the loongson2f processor) is surprisingly similar to the XO -
Dilinger would be able to comment more cogently on that.

Daniel JB Clark   | Sys Admin, Free Software Foundation
pobox.com/~dclark | http://www.fsf.org/about/staff#danny

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: Closing Yeelong cover fails to shut off display
Date: Thu, 31 Dec 2009 05:32:11 -0500
From: Daniel Clark <dclark at pobox.com>
To: Hongbing Hu <huhb-h23VmSynlr/QT0dZR+AlfA at public.gmane.org>
CC: samy boutayeb <s.boutayeb-GANU6spQydw at public.gmane.org>,  Richard
Stallman <rms at gnu.org>, jordan.crouse at amd.com, ward at fsf.org,
dilinger at queued.net,  wmb at firmworks.com, vladimir.serbinenko at gmail.com,
 rms / fsf sysadmin / fsf volunteers / lemote <lemote at gnu.org>
Newsgroups: gmane.linux.distributions.gnewsense.devel
References: <E1NOja5-00084X-Kc at fencepost.gnu.org>	
<4B374694.3050100 at lemote.com>	<1261914721.10972.138.camel at localhost>
<4B37584E.2060503 at lemote.com>

Hongbing Hu wrote:
> samy boutayeb 写道:
>> Le dimanche 27 décembre 2009 à 19:35 +0800, Hongbing Hu a écrit :
>>> PS:
>>> Get the ec version
>>> # cat /proc/cmdline
>>> output likely: EC_VER=PQ1D26
>> I have PQ1D12.
>> Where could we get the latests files?
>> Could you please reminder the upgrade procedure?
> Ok, attachment inclueds all the things
> Please be careful!

(+=cc people I quote / may be interested in EC issues in general)

I should have heeded Hongbing Hu's "Please be careful!" statement more

In both I and Hongbing's enthusiasm to try to be helpful, we overlooked
a very important fact: the EC code for the Lemote YeeLoong netbook is
not free software, should be considered an unmodifiable part of the
hardware by us, and instructions or binaries that aid in its
modification to newer versions of nonfree code should not be distributed.

Since this list is hosted on Free Software Foundation servers, I will be
removing the attachment from our mailman archives, since we of course
are not in the business of hosting nonfree software.

This situation, and the solution of just never modifying the EC code *on
a specific machine* once the user has it, is obviously suboptimal.

(Reporting problems to Lemote so they can fix them or get them fixed *in
future versions*, as one might do with other hardware problems that the
user could not normally fix, as rms did, is fine; I just parsed rms' as
always very carefully crafted wording incorrectly.)

This issue also came up at my former employer, One Laptop Per Child.

Mitch Bradley writes [1] about how nonfree EC firmware makes writing
other free software correctly difficult. Jordan Crouse writes [2] about
the OpenEC [3] project, which needs hackers; if you are interested, you
should sign up for its mailing list [4], and add yourself to the watch
list for the OLPC wiki and associated discussion pages mentioned in this

Besides the above references, more information about what the EC is and
what it does are at [5] and [6] on the laptop.org wiki.

[1] Interview With Mitch Bradley – Firmware – OLPC

The elements of this system that are not open source, including that
mesh firmware [not a problem on the yeeloong - the wifi is free -DC],
the firmware that runs the touchpad, and the firmware that runs the
embedded controller that does the very lowest level of power management,
those are not open sourced, and they are some of our biggest headaches.

We have had endless fights trying to solve difficult problems in those
areas where we can’t see the code.

So I would say that one of our biggest development challenges has
actually been dealing with the bits of firmware that were closed source,
because we just didn’t have enough clout to force them to be open.

[2] Jordan Crouse: [coreboot] Fw: Re: coreboot and embedded controllers,
    for example OLPC and its OpenEC code

There is currently no active development done on OpenEC I'm afraid.

I jumped in to provide a framework which would allow for a GPL'ed
firmware for the Embedded controler in the XO of the
One-Laptop-per-Child project.

But it turned out I was the only one contributing code.
And having no access to up to date schematics and only a very
terse data sheet of the controller (and still nobody joining)
I felt I could not complete within the time-scale that
would matter for the OLPC project.

So for now OpenEC is not being worked on. But I think the project
(while in its early stages) is now adequately positioned as a
starting point for an Embedded Controler firmware.

[3] OLPC Wiki: OpenEC

OpenEC is an effort for an open implementation of the firmware on the
EC. It currently (Sept. 2008) is in an early stage and only
outputs/accepts data via a serial adapter [[1]] and a terminal program.

[4] Openec -- Discussion of open ec development

[5] OLPC Wiki: Power management

(Search for "embedded controller")

[6] OLPC Wiki: Ec specification

Daniel JB Clark   | Sys Admin, Free Software Foundation
pobox.com/~dclark | http://www.fsf.org/about/staff#danny

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