Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce LCA 2011: Tracking things to the source

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To a hardcore geek, an operating system represents a secret garden, full of mysteries that can be unlocked or added to with a little tinkering. It presents a chance to incorporate features which can be only visualised in the absence of the code.

The advent of Android, a Linux-based operating system, by search giant Google, has given geeks plenty of time to fulfil their secret fantasies. Thus, when companies which utilise Android deliver devices to market sans the source code - or the offer of the source - as the licensing dictates, some geeks tend to react.

Red Hat's Matthew Garrett belongs to this class. And it is his adventures with a number of the tablets that have been released in the wake of the arrival of Android that occupied the attention of those at the Business of Open Source mini-conference yesterday afternoon.

The mini-conference, organised by HP's Martin Michlmayr, is one of several that occupy the first two days of the week that comprises the 12th Australian national Linux conference.

Garrett spoke about his own experience in pushing manufacturers, who had not done so, to deliver access to source code when it was a requirement, without taking recourse to legal avenues. His advice, he said, was delivered from the perspective of a copyright holder.

He pointed out that while open source was business-friendly - re-use was not prohibited, trademark restrictions were rare, the cost (free) was difficult to beat and it was easy to modify for one's personal requirements - this did not mean that it was in the public domain.

There were licences attached to the software which were either permissive (no source redistribution needed) or copyleft (where there were redistribution requirements). Most of the software fell under one of the GPL, LGPL, BSD, Apache, CDDL or MPL licences.

While code distributed under a BSD licence needed only a copyright notice and a disclaimer, some of the others were more stringent, he said. The LGPL required distribution of source code for LGPLed components; GPL code required source code for GPLed components and all derivative works.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.