[sane-devel] Please give me some help to solve the license issues in using sane

kilgota at banach.math.auburn.edu kilgota at banach.math.auburn.edu
Fri Jun 6 01:00:00 UTC 2008

Wang Mengqiang,

I am not one of the regular SANE developers, but I am quite active in 
another, similar project, Gphoto, which supports digital still cameras. I 
find this thread interesting because it raises issues which affect us all. 
I hope very much that the SANE developers will not mind if I join this 

Wang (or should I address you by Mengqiang; please excuse my 
ignorance of your national customs), thank you very much for bringing 
these questions to us.

Why do I say this in spite of the fact that some of the answers you got 
seem to be somewhat negative? The reason I say this is that any kind of 
communication at all with hardware manufacturers is practically impossible 
for us to carry out. It seems that there is an extreme cultural divide and 
lack of understanding. Far more typical it is that we, free software 
developers, send letters or e-mails and we get totally ignored. Just as a 
recent example, three days ago, I sent to a company in Taiwan a very 
polite request for information about a certain camera chip. It was not the 
first time that I tried to write to them. This request, just like all 
previous ones, has obviously been simply ignored. I know for a fact, too, 
that the SANE project has similar difficulties of communication as we do. 
I would like to take this seeming opportunity to ask you why such 
communication problems exist. Why is the most usual response to any such 
request from any of us simply to ignore the request and not even to 
acknowledge that the request has been received?

I can imagine several reasons behind this lack of two-way communication. I 
do not know which, if any, of the following apply, or whether the problem 
is something else. Please help me understand:

1. Somehow we do not know how to address our letters properly, or how to 
ask in a manner which is perceived as polite. Some of us may be guilty of 
that. In my case, at least, and in the case of most individuals who have 
some cross-cultural knowledge, we do not knowingly do that.

2. Somehow it is perceived that we are in competition with the company. If 
this is the situation, then I do not understand. We are not in the 
business of making hardware, whether processor chips, scanners, or 
cameras. We do not intend to enter such business and thereby to rob the 
sons and daughters of other countries of the ability to earn a decent 
living. We are interested in making the hardware work, possibly to work 
better, and to write good support software for it. We would be even 
happier to do this in active cooperation with hardware manufacturers, 
believe me, and it also appears to me that they would thereby sell more 

3. Perhaps the manufacturer perceives that cooperation with us would 
impair the relationships with the other companies which write the software 
drivers for the hardware. If so, I do not completely understand this, 
either. Our software is not intended to run on Microsoft Windows, the 
dominant operating system. Rather, it is intended to work on operating 
systems for which the hardware makers are typically not providing software 
drivers, at all. Thus, I fail to understand how we are competition for the 
software houses which write the drivers and interface programs for the 

4. It may be perceived that there are secrets in the functioning of the 
hardware, and to have open interface programs for said hardware would 
release the secrets into the wild. I believe that this is a false 
conclusion. For, if the hardware functions well and is appropriately 
priced it will have a ready market whether there is an open-sourced driver 
for it or not. In that case, the users of systems such as Linux, whose 
numbers seem to increase, are happier with manufacturers whose hardware 
can be supported and are more willing to spend their money for that 
hardware. Also most people are in fact not curious about the inner 
workings of things and it would do no harm to any manufacturer with that 
great majority even if the information were shouted from the housetops.

5. Perhaps it is believed that we want to see the source code of the 
Windows support software, and that cannot be given out because it belongs 
to some third party. Well, that would be one way to give us the 
information. But it would also be quite sufficient if we were given 
adequate detailed, descriptive information. We after all are in the 
business of writing source code and do not need to copy into Linux some 
source code which was written for Windows. Quite to the contrary, the only 
things we would be interested in are the basics of the interaction with 
the hardware, any data compression algorithms used for imaging data, and 
such as that. We do not even particularly want to know how things get done 
in Microsoft Windows. Most of us do not want to use that operating system.

Finally, please also remember that in computer hardware there are 
ultimately no secrets. Someone who is determined will discover all of 
those secrets in any event, sooner or later, as Alessandro Zummo describes 
below. For example, in my own case it would take one week of time or less 
to support everything about a digital camera, and to write a well 
functioning Linux driver for it, with the sole exception of the support 
for a proprietary compression algorithm, if one is in use. Note that 
everything else can easily be learned, simply by running the camera and 
performing logs of the USB traffic, which is very easy to do and very 
easy to interpret if one is experienced. I could add to this that there 
are lots of determined people who are willing to work on such things as 
compression algorithms, and as time passes and as they gain more 
experience at the work they become better at it.

Please also understand that the developers of the Linux operating system 
and the related application software and hardware support are proud 
people, as you are proud. We believe in what we are doing. We think it is 
right. Some of us do this kind of work as part of our jobs, and we are 
paid for that. Some of us have jobs which are completely unrelated, but 
are involved because we believe in what we are doing. We are a community, 
an international community, which exists because we believe in doing 
things a certain way and we also find intellectual stimulation from 
solving difficult problems. And, finally, there are more people at this 
point who actively do free software development than those who program for 
Microsoft. We can probably bring more resources to bear on any unsolved 
problem, because those resources are usually not measured in money. We 
believe that we produce a product which is superior to the commercial 
operating systems on the market.

I have tried very hard to understand what motivates the people with whom 
so far I have a one-way correspondence. I wish that they would take as 
much trouble to understand me, and to understand the community of Linux 
developers. One of the good places they could start would be to read the 
licenses under which our software is published and really to try to 
understand what those licenses mean.

I hope very much that you can help in this endeavor to improve 
communication. I also take it as a sign of hope for better times to come, 
that you have written to ask your questions from this list. Even if there 
is disagreement and misunderstanding -- and it seems that there is -- 
great hope is possible if there is at least open communication.

Please let me thank you again for directing your questions to this list. I 
really mean that, so it is not possible to say those words too many times. 
Also thank you even more if you are such a person, or if you know such 
persons, who can help to overcome the fundamental gap in communication 
which is the topic of my letter.

Theodore Kilgore

On Thu, 5 Jun 2008, Alessandro Zummo wrote:

> On Thu, 5 Jun 2008 13:02:08 +0800
> "Wang Mengqiang" <WangMengqiang at canon-ib.com.cn> wrote:
>> Thank you for your reply and truth.
>> From your reply, it seems there is no way to use other modules, for example, if we buy some modules from other company without source code, how to deal with it?  Would you please give me some suggestion for commerce development like this?
>>  I agree to your opinion that we should not violate the spirit of freedom through the middle-ware layer. Our idea is to open as much as we can (  not to open all), but not to close as much as possible.
> You might choice to buy the source code from the other
> company or to develop equivalent code yourself.
> You can also ask open source developers to help. I'm sure
> that if documentation is given, you will find people who
> are willing to help.
> If documentation is not given, you will probably
> find someone that will reverse engineer the protocol,
> sooner or later :)
> -- 
> Best regards,
> Alessandro Zummo,
>  Tower Technologies - Torino, Italy
>  http://www.towertech.it
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