Adafruit has asked some probing questions of Arduino regarding the inclusion of closed source libraries in the Library Manager of the Arduino Integrated Development Environment (IDE) — clarifying the rules about what can and can't be included in there.
The Library Manager is one of the best features of the Arduino IDE, alongside the Board Manager. Where in the early days adding support for a new piece of hardware required the user to hunt down a library, download it, extract it, and manually install it, the Library Manager now reduces all that to a simple search-and-click — and even allows for rollback to earlier versions, as and when required.
The majority of libraries in the Library Manager are open source, as is the Arduino IDE itself. The majority, but not all — and it's this discrepancy, triggered by the discovery of a Microchip touch sensor library which relies on a closed source binary blob, that had Adafruit reaching out to Arduino for some answers.
"Closed source libraries are allowed in the Arduino library manager," Arduino's Alessandro Ranellucci tells the site, "as long as their license allows unrestricted redistribution and they do not violate third party intellectual property."
As for releasing libraries which are simple wrappers around a closed source, pre-compiled binary blob: "It is technically okay," Ranellucci explains, "but it should be done carefully. As Arduino we are strong advocates of open source and we discourage non-free licenses, because we believe in knowledge sharing and open collaboration. Openness also guarantees more security to users because they can inspect the source code that will run on their boards.
"Considering that Arduino library submissions are increasing at an incredibly fast pace, and also considering that we now have a fully-automated and transparent submission process, it could be interesting to start a discussion with the community about technical or legal measures that we could introduce to restrict the cases when we allow closed source libraries with the goal of keeping the library ecosystem open and secure."
The full interview is available on the Adafruit blog.