The nation's biggest telco Telstra has made the open-source software components used to build its T-Hub next-generation home telephone system publicly available, after it was criticised for keeping them private by an Australian software developer last year.
In November, local software developer Angus Gratton pointed out that a number of new Telstra products introduced throughout 2010, namely the T-Hub, T-Box media centre and potentially its T-Touch Tab tablet device, were based on the Linux operating system, which has substantial portions licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL).
A common interpretation of the GPL is that it requires companies which distribute products based on that licence must make source code to the software available to customers; for example, include a zip file of relevant files on a documentation CD. In addition, a copy of the GPL licence should be included with licence documentation. Following Gratton's comments, Telstra pledged to comply with applicable open-source licences.
It emerged last week that Telstra has published a statement on its BigPond site acknowledging the GPL link and made the software available for download, noting precisely which software packages were based on the GPL or Lesser GPL (LGPL) and which ones had been modified.
"The terms of the GPL and LGPL, as well as the additional or/and modified open-source packages (500MB) used by [T-Hub manufacturer] Sagemcom to build the T-Hub software, can be mailed to you by expressing your interest," wrote Telstra. "Please provide your full name and mailing address, and a CD will be sent to you within five business days."
Gratton last week said he had requested and received a copy of the CD. "It looks like a complete GPL source release, all of the GPL components I identified seem to be there and there are build tools covering the BSP (board support package) for the SoC (system-on-a-chip) in the T-Hub," he said.
The developer said he thought it was "great" that Telstra had negotiated with its manufacturing partner and provided the software publicly. "It's unfortunate that it's only available now, 10 months after the T-Hub was released, but better late than never," he said.
Gratton said he was still somewhat concerned, however, that the online manual for the T-Hub didn't make any mention of the free and open-source software (FOSS) used in its manufacture. "My Telstra contact has yet to give me an answer about whether a note containing the GPL licence text and an 'offer for source' (as per the licence requirements) is now being included in the box with new T-Hubs, or even on the device itself," he said. Telstra has not responded to a request for comment on the issue in general.
Overall, Gratton said that he hoped the fact that the issue regarding Telstra made it into the public arena would educate others.
"I hope that the publicity around this affair will remind Telstra, and other companies, that they should investigate the intellectual property issues around any software they licence, particularly when licensing an entire device from a third party," he said.
"Having more devices built with FOSS available is terrific, it can be mutually beneficial for both vendors and the community. However, the mutual benefit does depend on vendors honouring the agreements that apply to the software that they use."