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Texas Instruments ACX100 and OpenBSD

2004-10-28 , ,

Texas Instruments makes a wireless chipset, the ACX100.
This chipset is used by a number of manufacturers- Samsung, DLink, SMC, USR
to name a few- but they have not released specifications for it and their Linux drivers
are distributed in binary form only.
Complicating things, the chipset lacks a flash PROM for the firmware. The driver must
load the firmware on initialization. This firmware, too, is distributed only as a binary blob
under a restrictive license. Though poorly thought out, this practice is not
uncommon and many vendors consider the operation of their hardware and its firmware a
trade secret. No one is asking them to give up their trade secrets, only to permit redistribution
of the binary.

Members of the [OpenBSD Project](http://www.openbsd.org) have tried to contact
Texas Instruments but have had no success. They cannot even determine who to ask
about distributing the firmware blob and if it can be made available unaltered but under
a less restrictive license. Doing so would give Ti’s chipset the same support as
those from Realtek, RaLink, Lucent, Prism and Symbol but Ti appears uninterested.
Even Intel and Cisco, two companies notorious for their poor support of BSD licensing,
have made some steps toward documenting their chipsets.

[Efforts are underway to develop an unencumbered driver]( http://acx100.sourceforge.net/) that may make all this irrelevant but that work will take time and may prove unsuccessful. Meanwhile there are but three things to do:

  • Contact Texas Instruments and ask them to discuss the matter with the OpenBSD developers. The BSD-licensed driver and firmware image can be applied to other Open Source operating systems such as Linux.
  • Do not buy products based on the Texas Instruments ACX100 chipset.
  • Tell other people not to buy products based on the Ti ACX100 chipset.

Hopefully, if enough people let Ti know and the company sees the potential for lost sales
and the bad publicity they will reconsider their position of stone-walling these developers.

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