Fabless processor company Allwinner Technology Co. Ltd. (Zhuhai, China) has been accused of violating the GNU General Public License (GPL) under which Linux is distributed.
The alleged violations are within the software development kits that support the writing of software for some of Allwinner's 32-bit system-chips, according to Linux-Sunxi, a community of open-source developers that has formed around the Allwinner SoCs. The Linux kernel is at the heart of the Android operating system, and therefore a significant factor in the tablet computer market which has been a key part of Allwinner's business to date.
According to the Linux-Sunxi group's website Allwinner has repeatedly violated the GPL either by not providing complete source code for the Linux kernel or u-boot bootstrap software loader, or by delivering code structures with pre-built binaries but without the matching source code.
The page http://linux-sunxi.org/GPL_Violations cites violations in SDKs for 32bit multicore SoCs ranging from Allwinner's dual-core A20 through to the octa-core A80T. The alleged violations are said to be present in such things as libraries for NAND support, USB 3.0 support, display driving, U-boot boot loader and media decoding. The list of alleged violations was posted some time before September 17, 2014, although they are reported to date back over many months.
Under the terms of the GPL version 2 licence that covers Linux anyone who distributes software based on source code received under the license, must make the source code and any modifications available to the recipient under the same terms. It has been argued that the "copyleft" nature of the GPL was key to the success of Linux because it assured programmers who contributed to development that their work would benefit the open-source community and remain free rather than being exploited by commercial companies that might then decline to put anything back into the community.
Allwinner recently introduced a 64-bit SoC, the A64 based on the quad-core Cortex-A53 (see The $5, 64-bit Processor and Disruption Ahead). Linux-Sunxi has not alleged any violations there, but it is still likely to be too early for the SDK to be available.
Allwinner was approached for comment about the allegations but had not replied by they time this article went online.
In March 2014 Allwinner joined Linaro, an open-source collaborative organization focused on improving Linux on ARM, as a founding member of the Linaro Digital Home Group. Linaro is a not-for-profit engineering organization with over 200 engineers working on consolidating and optimizing open-source software for the ARM architecture, including developer tools, the Linux kernel, ARM power management, and other software infrastructure. The work output is contributed to the relevant open source projects including kernel.org, AOSP and others.
Linaro was also approached for comment. George Grey, CEO of Linaro, told Electronics 360 that Linaro could not comment on the activities of member companies without approval. Grey did say that Linaro seeks to help members achieve best practices in open-source behaviour.
The subject of Allwinner's alleged violation of license terms was raised in a forum discussion within the ARM Based Group on LinkedIn, which could be found here.
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