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Lineo “Licensing” Linux?

Jan 26, 2000 — by Rick Lehrbaum — from the LinuxDevices Archive
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Lineo has recently announced one of the largest embedded Linux design wins to date: through a three-way partnership with Elitegroup Computing and Bast, Inc., Lineo Embedix Linux will become the software platform for Linux-based set-top devices in hotel rooms and apartment complexes throughout the US, Europe, and Asia (See… news story.). In Lineo's press release, they stated “the agreement provides an initial 50,000 licenses for Bast to produce Embedix-based set-top” boxes.

“Licenses for Linux?” you ask. Since “licenses for Linux” is a bit of an oxymoron, we asked Bryan Sparks, Lineo's CEO, to clarify Lineo's Embedix Linux licensing strategy. Here's what we learned . . .

RL: Your recent announcement about the Bast set-top box design win says that Lineo has reached an agreement to provide 50,000 software _licenses_ to Bast. Given the GPL status of Linux, could you clarify what it is you're licensing?

Sparks: Of course, the GPL portions of Embedix Linux can be reproduced freely by anyone. However, our Embedix Linux distribution also includes a number of proprietary non-GPL software modules from both Lineo and 3rd parties . These are what we are licensing.

RL: What portions of Lineo's Embedix Linux distribution are not GPL?

Sparks: For example, the Embedix Browser is not GPL. Our software development kit (Embedix SDK) is also not GPL. Similarly, our new Windows CE compatibility layer (Embedix PDA) will not be GPL. In short, Lineo Embedix is not a “pure GPL” release; some portions of our distribution are GPL and some are not. A good example of a popular 3rd party non-GPL Linux module is M-Systems' DiskOnChip driver.

RL: In light of this, could you clarify Lineo's position relative to GPL (Gnu Public License)?

Sparks: Under the terms of GPL, it's permissible to include a mix of GPL and non-GPL “modules” in a distribution, provided the kernel can run independently of the non-GPL modules. If, on the other hand, the GPL kernel were to require the presence of a non-GPL module for its operation, that would be in violation of the kernel's GPL status.

RL: Is Lineo also planning to produce GPL software?

Sparks: Yes! I want to be sure it is completely clear: we have _full_ intent of supporting and advocating GPL, and we will be writing software that will be GPL. We happen to also have non-GPL products. But we're not challenging or going against GPL. On the contrary, we will be making many GPL enhancements to Linux, especially for non-Intel processor architectures, that will be released under GPL. As an example, take a look at the BusyBox GPL utility (see:

[BusyBox: “The Swiss Army Knife of Embedded Linux”. BusyBox is a suite of tiny UNIX utilities in a multi-call binary. Basically, it provides minimalist replacements for most of the utilities you usually find in bsdutils, fileutils, findutils, grep, gzip, mount, procps, shellutils, sysklogd, sysutils, sysvinit, tar, textutils, util-linux, and probably some others. It provides a fairly complete POSIX environment in a very small package. Just add a kernel, a shell (such as ash), and an editor (such as elvis-tiny or ae) to create a working system. BusyBox is used by (and in fact was originally developed for) the Debian installation disks, but it also makes an excellent environment for any small or embedded system. BusyBox is now maintained by Erik Andersen, and its ongoing development is being sponsored by Lineo. BusyBox is licensed under the GNU GENERAL PUBLIC LICENSE ]

RL: Back to the licensing of Embedix Linux, what will the average cost of licenses be?

Sparks: We haven't publicly announced the license fees, but it will be significantly less than, say, Windows CE.

RL: Will Lineo also be charging fees for support and maintenance, like some of the other distributors of Linux to the embedded computing market?

Sparks: Lineo is a _product_ company. We plan to primarily generate income from selling _products_, not _services_. We will, of course, provide full technical support for customers of our products.

RL: Thank you!

This article was originally published on LinuxDevices and has been donated to the open source community by QuinStreet Inc. Please visit for up-to-date news and articles about Linux and open source.

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