Wednesday, June 14, 2006

SUSE's omission of wifi drivers: the reason

A distrowatch posting about a release of SUSE 10.2 eventually led me to a place in Novell's bugzilla where the "ath_pci missing" bug was being discussed. Novell took the wifi driver out of 10.1 without any fanfare. The reply to the bug, from Andreas Jaeger, stated:
The ath_pci part is not under an open source license.

Many developers in the kernel community consider kernel-level modules to be subject to the GPL terms. Novell respects this position and has a policy of distributing kernel modules that are compatible with the GPL. Novell continues to work with vendors to find ways to efficiently provide users functionality that may currently only be available through non-GPL kernel modules. These efforts include designing an open source solution or creating an alternative means for users to access the functionality.
Okay, it is a little less maddening to know that they had a principled reason for doing so, even if it were an obtusely and recklessly applied principle. I would that they had put this at the top of the release announcement and not kept it hidden until someone complained. The original complainant said,
So when you remove drivers for common hardware, you will not win new users :-(
Indeed. SUSE 10.1 was replaced with Knoppix 5.01 on one of my boxes. I'm still undecided as to what to do with the box which still has 10.0.

I am a bit ticked that the bugzilla informs us of SUSE's attitude toward the bug:

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