ipw(4) and iwi(4): Intel's Pro Wireless firmware licensing
cswiger at mac.com
Thu Oct 5 10:40:26 PDT 2006
On Oct 4, 2006, at 7:46 PM, Constantine A. Murenin wrote:
> My acquaintance with Unix started with FreeBSD, which I used for quite
> a while before discovering OpenBSD. I now mostly use OpenBSD, and I
> was wondering of how many FreeBSD users are aware about the licensing
> restrictions of Intel Pro Wireless family of wireless adapters?
I would imagine that all FreeBSD users who are using the Intel Pro
Wireless adaptors are familiar with the license, given that they have
to agree to the license in order to get the adaptor working. Even
someone like me who doesn't have one is aware of the license.
> Why are none of the manual pages of FreeBSD say anything about why
> Intel Wireless devices do not work by default?
The manpages you've linked to explicitly state:
This driver requires firmware to be loaded before it will
work. You need
to obtain ipwcontrol(8) from the IPW web page listed below to
loading the firmware before ifconfig(8) will work.
Is there some part of this which is unclear to you, Constantine?
> If you are curious as to why things are the way they are, I suggest
> that you check the problems that are described in the misc at openbsd.org
> mailing list, and contact Intel people and say what you think about
> their user-unfriendly policy in regards to Intel Pro Wireless
> firmwares, which are REQUIRED to be loaded from the OS before the
> device functions, i.e. the OS developers must be allowed to freely
> distribute the firmware in order for the devices to work
There's no need to be curious about the matter; the Intel Pro
Wireless adaptors, like many other brands of wireless adaptors, use a
software-controlled radio which is capable of broadcasting at higher
power levels and/or at frequencies outside of those allocated for
802.11 connectivity for specific regulatory domains. The US FCC,
along with other regulatory agencies in Europe such as ETSI and
elsewhere, require that end-users not have completely open access to
these radios to prevent problems from deliberate misuse such as
interference with other frequency bands.
This isn't a matter of choice on Intel's part; if you want this
situation to change, you're going to have to obtain changes in the
radio-frequency laws and policies in the US and a number of other
Again, is there some part of this that is unclear or which you fail
> For some recent information about Intel being an Open Source Fraud,
> see http://marc.theaimsgroup.com/?l=openbsd-
The firmware license for these devices has never been submitted to
the OSI board for approval as an Open Source license, and I have
never seen Intel claim that this license is an Open Source license.
It might suit OpenBSD's advocacy purposes to deliberately
misrepresent Intel's position, but doing so is unfair and is not
especially helpful to the FreeBSD community, which does have somewhat
decent relations with vendors like Intel, Lucent, Aironet, Broadcomm,
and so forth.
As to the point raised above, the firmware license actually does
permit an individual user, including an OS developer, to copy and
redistribute the software to others, so long as the recepient agrees
to the license terms:
"LICENSE. You may copy and use the Software, subject to these
1. This Software is licensed for use only in conjunction with Intel
products. Use of the Software in conjunction with non-Intel
products is not licensed hereunder.
2. You may not copy, modify, rent, sell, distribute or transfer any
part of the
Software except as provided in this Agreement, and you agree to
unauthorized copying of the Software.
3. You may not reverse engineer, decompile, or disassemble the Software.
4. You may not sublicense the Software.
5. The Software may contain the software or other property of third
[ ... ]
You may transfer the Software only if a copy of this license
Software and the recipient agrees to be fully bound by these terms."
If a project such as OpenBSD wishes to redistribute the software,
then it would probably be considered an Independent Software Vendor,
and again the firmware license grants permission to redistribute the
Intel Pro Wireless software, under the following terms:
"For OEMs, IHVs, and ISVs:
LICENSE. This Software is licensed for use only in conjunction with
component products. Use of the Software in conjunction with non-Intel
products is not licensed hereunder. Subject to the terms of this
Intel grants to you a nonexclusive, nontransferable, worldwide, fully
license under Intel's copyrights to: (i) copy the Software internally
own development and maintenance purposes; (ii) copy and distribute
to your end-users, but only under a license agreement with terms at
restrictive as those contained in Intel's Final, Single User License
attached as Exhibit A; and (iii) modify, copy and distribute the end-
documentation which may accompany the Software, but only in
If you are not the final manufacturer or vendor of a computer system
program incorporating the Software, then you may transfer a copy of the
Software, including any related documentation (modified or
unmodified) to your
recipient for use in accordance with the terms of this Agreement,
recipient agrees to be fully bound by the terms hereof. [ ... ]"
However, if the OpenBSD project isn't willing to agree to these
terms, US copyright law (Title 17 & section 1201(f) of the DMCA)
allows you to perform a clean-room reverse-engineering of the
software as "necessary to achieve interoperability with other
programs, to the extent that such acts are permitted under copyright
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