July 31, 2007
Development of OpenHAL, a wireless network component for Linux, can now resume unfettered after months of legal uncertainty. OpenHAL allows people with wireless cards based on technology from Atheros Communications, Inc. to connect to networks using solely free and open source software.
Earlier this year, allegations were made that OpenHAL might include material that infringed the copyright of Atheros’ proprietary HAL software. The Linux Wireless developers asked the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) to investigate these rumors, and SFLC agreed to help on a pro-bono basis. SFLC subsequently conducted a confidential audit, carefully comparing OpenHAL to Atheros’ proprietary HAL code.
After performing the audit, SFLC concluded that OpenHAL does not infringe copyrights held by Atheros. As a result, OpenHAL development can now continue safely, unencumbered by legal uncertainty so long as the OpenHAL developers continue their work in isolation from Atheros’ proprietary code.
“Our ultimate goal is to have full support for Atheros devices included in the Linux kernel,” said Luis Rodriguez, a Linux Wireless developer. “By providing legal clearance, the Software Freedom Law Center has helped us get one step closer to making this a reality.”
“We believe that this outcome will clear the way for eventual acceptance of a new wireless driver into the Linux kernel,” said John Linville, the Linux kernel maintainer for wireless networking.
“The OpenHAL developers can now continue development with legal clarity,” said Karen Sandler, an attorney at SFLC. “We thank Atheros for granting us confidential access to its proprietary HAL source code for purposes of the review. We join Atheros in encouraging developers to avoid proprietary code in their work, using clean room approaches like the techniques used in the development of OpenHAL.”
OpenHAL is low-level interface software for Atheros 802.11 wireless cards. Previously, Linux-based systems needed a proprietary Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL) plus a wrapper driver to make use of these wireless cards. OpenHAL is a free and open source replacement for the proprietary HAL. OpenHAL was initially based on ar5k, which was used as the basis for a proprietary HAL replacement for the OpenBSD project. Support for Atheros cards is important for Linux, as Atheros wireless chipsets are commonly used by many device manufacturers.