Amazon releases some Kindle source-code

Amazon has released (some of?) the source-code for the Kindle -- presumably, this contains the modifications to the GPLed code they incorporated into its firmware, and possibly more material (there's no accompanying documentation in the tarballs or on the webpage).

I really want to like the Kindle, but I'm having a hard time feeling good about the device for so long as Amazon refuses to answer these three basic questions:

1. Is there anything in the Kindle EULA that prohibits moving your purchased DRM-free Kindle files to a competing device?

2. Is there anything in the Kindle file-format (such as a patent or trade-secret) that would make it illegal to produce a Kindle format-reader or converter for a competing device?

3. What flags are in the DRM-free Kindle format, and can a DRM-free Kindle file have its features revoked after you purchase it?

No one at Amazon will answer these questions. I've asked them of my contact there, a manager who wrote me to tell me about the existence of Amazon's DRM-free option for Kindles, and he hasn't replied to my questions over a period of several months and several re-asks. Then, an O'Reilly exec asked Amazon to clarify this, as O'Reilly is releasing all its books as DRM-free editions for the Kindle, and he, too, has been stonewalled. Then I wrote to their press office, on behalf of the Guardian newspaper, and they didn't even deign to reply with a simple "no comment." Just radio silence.

Just as with Audible, Amazon's DRM-locked audiobook division (which has the monopoly on providing audiobooks through iTunes as well), I want to like this stuff. Audible's got a great catalog and reasonable prices. The Kindle, too, seems like a perfectly pleasant little device. But Audible requires mandatory DRM on all its files (my Amazon contact said that this has changed, but refused to answer any followup questions on the subject), and Amazon won't tell you what the rules of the road are for your "DRM-free" Kindle books. Given how crummy the license terms are on the "DRM-free" MP3s Amazon sells, I'm very cautious about this.

Please, Amazon, open up. Tell your customers what they're buying.

Amazon is pleased to make available to you for download an archive file of the machine readable source code ("Source Code") corresponding to modified software packages used in the Kindle device. By downloading the Source Code, you agree to the following:

AMAZON AND ITS AFFILIATES PROVIDE THE SOURCE CODE TO YOU ON AN "AS IS" BASIS WITHOUT REPRESENTATIONS OR WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND. YOU EXPRESSLY AGREE THAT YOUR USE OF THE SOURCE CODE IS AT YOUR SOLE RISK. TO THE FULL EXTENT PERMISSIBLE BY APPLICABLE LAW, AMAZON AND ITS AFFILIATES DISCLAIM ALL WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. AMAZON AND ITS AFFILIATES WILL NOT BE LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGES OF ANY KIND ARISING FROM THE USE OF THE SOURCE CODE, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO DIRECT, INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, PUNITIVE, AND CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES.

Source Code Notice (via Engadget)

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  1. So: if you really want an e-reader, and if you really want to send Amazon a message, buy an e-reader from a competitor which IS willing to answer your questions – even if it’s more expensive.
    If the only thing you look at is the price, then you’re following the same logic used all the time by The Corporation(s) (see the film by Achbar, Baken, and Abbott).

    And then, after buying a competitor’s product (say, with a built-in writing tablet..) come back here and tell the world about it.

    As for the audio-book capabilities: get an MP3 player. That way, you can still read a book when the MP3 players’ battery dies while you’re on an trans-two-oceananic flight. Or listen to music while you’re reading, or…

  2. I have a question to add:

    4. Why use a proprietary format? E-books are not exactly rocket science. So why not use an open standard?

    If none exists to meet their requirements, they could help developing one – but come on, this is text display, not voice recognition or AI. How hard can it be?

  3. This isn’t new; Amazon has been publishing these tarballs since the first Kindle release in 2007, as required by the GPL and other licenses. They contain only third-party free software projects plus Amazon’s patches to those projects. There’s no Kindle application code included.

    Here’s the contents of the newest (Kindle DX) tarball:

    alsa-lib-1.0.13_patch.tar.gz
    alsa-lib-1.0.13.tar.bz2
    alsa-utils-1.0.13_patch.tar.gz
    alsa-utils-1.0.13.tar.bz2
    base-passwd_3.5.9.tar.gz
    binutils-2.17.50.0.5.tar.bz2
    bonnie++-1.03c.tgz
    bootchart-0.9.tar.bz2
    busybox-1.7.2.tar.bz2
    dosfstools-2.11.tar.bz2
    e2fsprogs-1.38_patch.tar.gz
    e2fsprogs-1.38.tar.gz
    fuse-2.7.1_link.tar
    fuse-2.7.1.tar.gz
    gcc-4.1.2.tar.bz2
    glib-2.12.9.tar.bz2
    glibc-2.5.tar.bz2
    gst-plugins-base-0.10.17.tar.bz2
    gst-plugins-base-0.10.6.tar.bz2
    gstreamer-0.10.17.tar.bz2
    hotplug-2004_09_20.tar.gz
    ifupdown_0.6.8.tar.gz
    iptables-1.3.3.tar.bz2
    klibc-1.5.tar.bz2
    libol-0.3.18.tar.gz
    linux-2.6.22-lab126.tar.bz2
    lrzsz-0.12.20.tar.gz
    lzo-1.08.tar.gz
    module-init-tools-3.2.2_patch.tar.gz
    module-init-tools-3.2.2.tar.bz2
    mtd-utils-1.0.0.tar.gz
    picocom-1.4.tar.gz
    powertop-1.10.tar.gz
    procps-3.2.7_patch.tar.gz
    procps-3.2.7.tar.gz
    readline-4.3.tar.gz
    syslog-ng-1.6.11.tar.gz
    sysvinit-2.86.tar.gz
    taglib-1.5.tar.bz2
    uboot-1.3.0-rc3.tar.bz2
    udev-112.tar.bz2
    util-linux-2.12r.tar.bz2

  4. Why is this malaise so true of American products?
    Why can’t people just sell a gadget and be done with it like in the old days?
    But no-you have to buy your mobile phones from the service providers(unlocked phones are not as common as they ought to be), you HAVE to be locked into the Apple ecosystem if you buy an iPod or iPhone and use them as they’re licensed (jailbreaking and using RockBox or alternate firmware for iPod doesn’t count).
    And unsurprisingly, now Amazon gets into the game by offering a device that’s locked into their book ecosystem.
    Just give me the damn device, I’ll figure out how to copy content onto it. It should be the end users’ prerogative whether they choose to download apps from the AppStore (or not), copy the installer to the phone over wifi/bluetooth/cable, or just download an installer from ANY website.
    Same goes for books.
    Amazon bought out Mobipocket- an excellent e-reader software for desktop and smartphone, and they’ve totally stopped developing new versions for it.
    (it goes without saying that that’s how it works in the rest of the world-a Nokia/Sony Ericsson/Samsung phone lets you use it however you want without having to hack the firmware)

  5. The source code tarball consists of GPL packages, such as the Linux kernel, binutils, gcc, and so on. For some reason, it also includes the Bonnie++ benchmarking suite. There is also the lzo compression library.

    There is no source code for the actual application which decodes and displays ebooks.

  6. For some reason I haven’t been able to sign in for months so here is my anonymous comment…

    Cory, you are buying convenience.

    To have a reader that doesn’t require a hook up to a computer. To have a reader that has an incredibly long battery life (I’ve read every day for a few hours at a time and haven’t needed a charge in over a week). To have a reader that you can keep 1500 titles on. A reader that is easy to use- connects right to your Amazon account.
    I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know. You are buying it for the easiness.
    This is not the gadget for everyone but those of us that own it will tell you how very much in love we are with it. I got my Kindle2 back on the release date in Feb and have read over 30 books so far. If you think there is a book out there that is super important that you never want to lose it, want to read it other than on a Kindle, then the answer would be to actually buy the bound version.

    Why is everyone overthinking this gadget?

  7. I totally see what you’re saying about this, Cory, but to be clear, I think the problems you cite are not reasons to not buy a Kindle, but rather reasons not to buy the content from Amazon.

    I’ve had a Kindle 2 for a couple of weeks, and I do love it. Very handy, very easy to read, and although I have some issues with the clunky interface, those aren’t enough to merit me recommending against the device.

    I use it much like I use my iPod: Most of what I have on my iPod is from non-iTunes sources, and most of the content on my Kindle is from non-Amazon sources (and a large percentage of that was free). Only about 3% of the content I have on it is DRM’d in some way. Basically, I bought a couple of books from Amazon just for fun, and to check out the wireless downloading. And it was fun. :) If at some point that content goes away, well, so be it. I know the analogy isn’t perfect, but I see it the same way as if I drop a “real” book in a puddle or spill spaghetti sauce on it–nothing lasts forever. If I read a book on my Kindle that I really love, chances are I’d go try to find a first edition or some such thing for my permanent library.

  8. @rexdude:

    Prior to the 1980’s, it was pretty much as you said. During the 1980’s, American capitalism rapidly focused on money as the end-goal, and not the product as the end-goal. It worked (and is working) very well for the executives, but not so well for the rest of the world.

  9. Amazon won’t even answer your calls if you HAVE a Kindle! I own one (love it and read BB via it), and I was looking into how to get a blog available (costs, etc.) and when I finally reached a human operator, they steered me to my Amazon account and told me to sift through the FAQ (which still still didn’t help). Amazon’s customer service is typically good, except when it comes to the Kindle.

    Tikitok

  10. Cory,

    I think that the best is probably to not give any dollar to Amazon. That’s the only language they understand. Much like for iPods, iPhone, etc.

    Amazon has shown a great deal of unfriendliness, including DMCA take down notice, unavailability of the device outside of the USA, unavailability of their DRM-free MP3 in, say, Canada (are they actually available out of the US?) and the need to install their software to download them…

    Today corporations make money. Satisfying their customer is just a side effect.

  11. Hubert Figuiere,

    you may be right. An Internet-wide boycot of Amazon to make them shove DRM? I’d sign up.

    If the “techies” lead the way in such a boycot, I’m sure Amazon will promptly change their way.
    Hubert Figuiere,

    you may be right. An Internet-wide boycot of Amazon to make them shove DRM? I’d sign up.

    If the “techies” lead the way in such a boycot, I’m sure Amazon will promptly change their way.

  12. Amazon does offer great prices on e-books. There’s a good reason for this.

    I don’t know how they deal with publishers, but with self-published authors, the author can only suggest a selling price…which Amazon promptly ignores.

    I have a book that sells for $15.99 print-on-demand. They set that price based on the number of pages in the book. I thought more copies would have sold at $12, since it’s less than 200 pages. (They’ve already reduced my royalty since our original agreement.)

    When I uploaded the Kindle version, I thought $9.99 would be a reasonable price…$6 less than the rate they were selling the paperback. But Amazon decided to go with $7.96 instead. So now I have an over-priced paperback and and under-priced (IMO) e-book.

  13. “Please, Amazon, open up. Tell your customers what they’re buying”

    you are not buying anything – you are only leasing access to text as long as you maintain an Amazon account

  14. @#14: Can you say anything about how much self-published authors are paid for Kindle versions? Is it a fixed % of the price that Amazon set?

  15. Why slam Amazon for having DRM on most of their Kindle titles?

    It is more likely the case that Amazon is being forced to have DRM by their contracts with publishers. The vast majority of publishers just aren’t yet willing to release non-DRM’ed titles into the wild.

    #15 – yes, I am leasing my Kindle titles and I don’t really have a problem with that. To each his own.

    #16 – if you want answers to publishing on the Kindle there are lots of other Kindle specific blogs/forums where you can get all the info you seek.

  16. I would personally recommend flying to their corporate offices, and waiting in someone’s waiting room until you get a meeting.

    Make sure they know you flew in just for this.

    From far away.

    Wear an “I’m blogging this” T-shirt…

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