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Free Software magazine
Steven Goodwin [opinions]

Free software! Sale ends soon!

It might surprise you, but there is a time limit on free software. Clause 3b of the GPL states that the written offer of source is good for three years. However, there is no dictate on the turn-around time between the request of source code, and its deliverance. Has anyone spotted a problem yet?

But, despite the legal requirements, contractual obligations, and self-opinionated mumbo jumbo often spouted about free software, there is another problem: peer pressure. This was brought to a head this week by the Slashdotting of a blog article from the GP2x community This re-highlighted the fact that GamePark Holdings (GPH) still hadn’t released the Linux kernel source to their handheld console, the GP2x. True, a version of the source was released last December, but it was incomplete. And pre-alpha. And useless.

This has resulted in a storm of controversy (of mainly slashdotters and existing GP2x users) over something comparatively minor. Although both groups have a right to the source, only the GP2x users can make use of it. Everyone else wants to see it solely “because they can”. This peer pressure could show the free software community in a (more?) fastidious and demanding light. Does this help the cause? The company? The community?

By definition, anything compiled with GPL code comes under the GPL, and must be distributed as such. Although determining which code inside your home directory was actually compiled into the final executable is a little more work, it surely isn’t two months worth. And two months is a long time in the technology world. There have been three firmware releases in that time. How relevant is old source by that time?

The bottom line is that GPH are either lazy, busy, or ignorant of the GPL. The Slashdot community certainly believe the latter. But of the 269 comments added since the story broke, I wonder how many of them have actually tried recompiling it?

It still begs the question, however, what is the acceptable turn-around time to deliver source?


This work is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.