March 30, 2001

Project porting Linux to AMD x86-64, but has license issues

Author: JT Smith

- By Grant Gross -
Chip-maker Advanced Micro Devices has asked for the Open Source community's help in porting GNU/Linux to AMD's x86-64 architecture, and the project is generating interest from developers who want another Linux chip option. But AMD may still have something to learn about this Open Source thing.

The AMD-supported Web site offers downloads of free software tools such as GCC and promises to offer downloads of "GNU/Linux distributions for x86-64," but it has a closed-source license linked on its front page. Open Source developers working on the project say the license is intended to cover only the system simulator containing proprietary code, one that AMD is asking Open Source developers to use to port Linux to the not-yet-released AMD processor.

Andreas Jaeger, a member of the team and site administrator, says the porting process itself has been open. "In comparison to some other ports to
not-yet-available hardware, all discussion can happen on the public x86-64 mailing lists since the specification is public," said Jaeger, who works at SuSE labs. "Everybody is
welcome to participate in the discussion and development of the x86-64

Evidence of developer interest in the project: Its announce and discuss lists each have about 100 subscribers, Jaeger said.

"It's cool to port to a completely new project and I do like that we can
port to a system ... that's not available yet," said Jaeger, summarizing the interest in the project. "It makes a lot of fun to see a system coming up from the ashes -- and to participate in getting programs running fast on it!"

Mark Mitchell, president and CTO of the Open Source software development tools company CodeSourcery, gives AMD credit for courting the Linux community from the very beginning of its x86-64 project.

"This is one of the first times a major hardware vendor has made GNU/Linux and free software an important part of its strategy from the very beginning," said Mitchell, whose company is supporting the project. "The chip doesn't exist yet, and when this chip was still in the blueprint stage, AMD was saying, 'This Linux stuff matters to us.' "

Where runs afoul of the free software GPL is in this license agreement, from the "legal information" link on the site's front page:

"Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. ("AMD") hereby grants you permission to use, copy and
distribute documents, related graphics and software delivered from this AMD Web Server ("Materials") provided that you (1) include both the above copyright notice and this permission notice in all copies; (2) do not modify the Materials; (3) use the Materials for non-commercial purposes within your organization only; and (4) with respect to software Materials, that you comply with a relevant agreement associated with such software Materials and, at a minimum, do not decompile, reverse engineer, or disassemble such software."

A spokesman for AMD did not return two emails and a phone message, but Jaeger said he'd discuss the license agreement with AMD. "The message is too restrictive," he said. "The problem is that the site has some GPL'ed software under CVS but also some non-free software, e.g. SimNow!"

SimNow! is AMD's x86 system simulator running under Linux, "what all you kernel hackers have dreamed of," according to the site. "The simulator is only available as a binary RPM because it contains some proprietary code," the site says.

Mitchell said the reason for the AMD license was to satisfy the company's legal people, who'd "never seen anything like this before." The AMD license is meant only to cover SimNow!, he said, and if there's a misperception about what the AMD license covers on the site, it should be changed. Mitchell said he'd also contact AMD about changing the license on the "Legal Information" link on the front page of

Despite the licensing issues, Jaeger says the project is progressing nicely since it was launched at AMD's request last summer, after the company released its 64-bit architecture, x86-64. (Check out the project timeline.)

"Before this, AMD had already contacted a number of open source developers
and companies introducing x86-64 and discussing a port of x86-64 to
Linux," Jaeger says.

AMD, SuSE and CodeSourcery launched the site, and RPMs of the work were uploaded to the site in late November 2000. There are six sub-projects currently active, including an x86-64 port of Binutils, a Linux/x86-64 port of Glibc, and a port of the x86-64 Linux kernel.

"I do think the project is successful," Jaeger said. "After less than half a year
working on x86-64 for Linux, we have development tools and a kernel
that works ..."

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