MVix GPL

published

I really like my MVix MX-760HD. It’s been a great little media device for me, even if it does take me a really long time to rip our Monty Python collection to MP4 format! Next up, our Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVDs.

One of the reasons I was initially attracted to the MX-760HD was its use of GNU/Linux inside. It uses the uClinux kernel, which is designed specifically for embedded systems. I want to support companies that make use of GNU/Linux. I’m also interested in seeing what third-party developers can do with the hardware through use of the GNU/Linux operating system.

I’m not much of a hardware hacker, and I’m certainly not an embedded developer, but I admit to being intrigued by the notion of third-party firmware for the MX-760HD. The LinkSys WRT54G is a terrific example of the value of an open, hackable system: the third party firmware offerings turn this $70 device into something vastly more functional than what’s provided by the default firmware. Most consumers won’t need anything other than the default, but for those customers who are interested in more, it’s available to them. This, to me, is the real value of Linux in appliance hardware: your customers can use your product for what they want.

I sent an enquiry to MVix USA’s contact page asking for the source code the uClinux kernel they use. I’m interested in learning more about the hardware inside – specifically the CPU and the network adapters. There’s little I can do with this stuff myself, but a fellow COLUG member is an embedded developer, and I’d like to pick his brain about some of this.

I received a rather unhelpful reply from MVix USA’s marketing department:

As per our contract with the development and manufacturing partners we do not have an authorization to release the firmware sourcecode under GPL. As you know, we are primarily the marketers and distributors of Mvix brand products and hence have to abide by the policies and contractual obligations of our manufacturing partners and developers.
Unfortunate, but I can’t be too upset with the marketing staff not being familiar with the intricacies of the GNU GPL. I replied, expressing my disappointment, but heard nothing back.

A few days ago a gentleman named Rich K. from MVix USA sent me an email, hoping to capitalize on my zeal for the MX-760HD, asking how they might help me continue to advocate and evangalize their product. Normally, I’d be quite happy to do this. I took the opportunity to ask Rich for the GPL sources used in the MX-760HD:

I was very excited to read about your use of Linux inside the MX-760HD, though I’ve been disappointed with my lack of success obtaining the source code to your kernel, as required by the GNU GPL license under which Linux is distributed. I am sure a lot of people would love to be able to hack on an MX-760HD in the same ways that they hack on Linksys WRT-54G routers. Small, functional Linux systems are very interesting to all sorts of users, and the more you enable us to use them in unique ways, the more units you’re likely to sell.

Rich’s reply was less than helpful:

We are the marketing, distribution and customer-support arm of our brand. As per our contract with our partners, we do not have adequate access to the source code, neither does our contractual obligations allow us for release of any codes. While we respect your suggestion, we regret that we cannot help. Our sincere apologies.

I replied, asking Rich for contact information for the development branch of MVix, or indeed of anyone who would be in a position to facilitate my request. I made it clear that I wasn’t interested in any proprietary software or codecs – I was only seeking that code that is governed by the terms of the GPL:

Can you please provide me with an email address or telephone number for your development folks? I’m not interested in any proprietary bits inside the MX-760HD: I’m solely interested in getting the kernel config files you’ve used, so that I can evaluate it.
I have not yet received a reply; and since it’s been about 10 days since I sent it, I’m no longer expecting a reply.

I was willing to chalk up the initial refusal to provide source code as mostly ignorance of the issue. But Rich’s reply suggests to me a slightly more intentional failure to comply with the license terms. Now, the MX-760HD is not manufacturer by MVix USA. Rather, it is manufactured by Unicorn Information Systems Co. Ltd. (Korea). I have just sent an email to Unicorn, asking them for the GPL licensed source to the Linux kernel used in the device. However, I am still of the opinion that MVix USA has an obligation to make the source code available to its customers. This is remarkably similar to the recent situation with MEPIS Linux’s GPL non-compliance.

I’ll be sure to post more details as they develop. If you’re an MX-760HD owner, do please send a polite request to both MVix USA and Unicorn asking for the Linux source code. Feel free to share your results in the comments below.


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