Making a Wrong into a Right: After Violating GPL and Filing for Bankruptcy, Chinese OEM IUNI Releases Source Code

There are times in life when making the wrong decisions can have major repercussions in all the spheres that surround you. These repercussions can be so severe that they can literally turn your life upside down and nothing you say or do can change the self-consuming spiral that they set you on. Smartphone company IUNI learned this the hard way, and as a result they’ve finally decided to comply with the GPL.

This was the case for a relatively small Asian manufacturer called IUNI, which was a small subsidiary company of the much-larger Gionee. As was the case with many Eastern OEMs, IUNI was the proud manufacturer of entry to mid range devices, with phones closely resembling those from Xiaomi, which coincidentally also resembles other manufacturers as well (plagiarism is the ultimate form of flattery after all). The company, unfortunately had a rough start, which ultimately led to its impending doom and eventual demise about a year ago.

One could attribute the death of the brand to the fact that every business has ups and downs, particularly during the first years when most start up companies do whatever they can to break even. IUNI was rather promising with a few devices at very decent and competitive prices and they were, in fact, beginning to make an impact. However, due to the saturation of the Asian market with similar business models, the company couldn’t hold on for too long before giving up. Stake holders began losing their patience, and the rest is history.

If you have read up until this point in the article, you are likely wondering why the closure of a relatively unknown cell phone manufacturer is relevant to GPL. As you are probably aware, GPL is the very foundation on which the entire Linux kernel is based on, which happens to power our devices. This wonderful piece of software is the result of years of world wide collaboration of coders.

Every person who has improved the kernel in any way, shape, or form has shared the fruits of their labor with other coders, who in turn, improved it a little further, and so on and so forth. The continued growth of this chain is what has gotten us to the point where we stand today. We at xda-developers have upheld the GPL and the spirit of open source since Android first came to be almost a decade ago.

Having said all that, there are some people who, due to completely different (and some would say twisted) view of the world, believe that things like the Linux kernel (and really most open source code) is there for the taking. We all know who to blame and because it would take a rather long time to mention all of them in this piece, we will not be focusing on individual companies. However, as I stated at the beginning, actions have consequences. IUNI thought it would be simple to just grab the open source code that makes Android what it is today, add their own modifications, close it off, and try to profit from it. After all, lots of bigger players were doing that at the time. Lo and behold, two years into it and the company went under — perhaps not from wholly-related reasons, but went under all the same. Closing themselves in like that in this case prevented, though, the company from having the necessary reach into the open source community, which ultimately is what made the very thing they were working on.

While this may seem like it is my personal opinion on the matter, it isn’t (although, I completely agree with it). The reason for this article altogether is because a few days ago, a representative from the (now defunct) company reached out to us, and this is what he had to say:

We want to convey to the community that we had unfairly kept the open source code instead of sharing it.
If we had shared it from the start we would surely not be there right now.
The IUNI U3 would surely have been the biggest One Plus rival at this time if the sources had been released.
We might not be dead at the present time…
However, before completely disappearing, we must repair injustices.

We release the source code of devices that we still have in possessions:
https://gitlab.com/iuni

And we call on the former developer to share the sources of the society in their possessions to the community.

Download it, distribute it, study it, modify it and let the company keep on living through sharing!

Finally, we have a game, a challenge to launch to the community!
If using these sources you (the community) manage to bring the IUNI U3 to the latest version of android stock we will share a last surprise that will be grand before we completely disappear.

For it is in uniqueness that we forge our own personality.
That each of us is unique.

With love,
IUNI

There are several points to take away from such a message. The first, and likely the most obvious one, is that despite the fact that the company went under, people working on IUNI were conscious enough to understand that what they were doing was fundamentally wrong (more than likely due to directives from the top of the food chain). Most open source coders understand this concept, no matter where they are from. Choosing to follow the correct path is what separates the ones who continue on from the ones who do not.

Whether or not this particular offering (speaking strictly about the U3) would have been a direct contender to OnePlus is something that we cannot really answer (not without having done a side by side comparison anyways). However, on paper, it could have given OP a run for their money (big emphasis with the “on paper”). The openness of manufacturers like OnePlus with the open source community is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the main reasons behind the company being where it currently sits and not buried along the rest of the lesser Asian OEMs. It helped them tremendously with word-of-mouth, and it continuously enables the company to “secure” a subset of customers interested in modifying their devices. If IUNI wanted to be like OnePlus, but missed that crucial community-building element, then not abiding by the GPL might’ve negatively impacted their strategy.

Last but not least… the challenge. At this point in time, IUNI has absolutely nothing to lose (nor to gain), so they figured they’d release all the source code they had to feed back into the open source community.

So, moral of the story: the GPL (and open source in general) is there for a reason. It can be your best friend and together you may grow old together. However, if you cross it (and all the millions of coders behind it), you will likely fail the endeavors you try to embark on — especially if you think you can attract customers interested in mod-friendly devices.

If you are interested in taking this new source for a spin, please visit the announcement’s official thread.


 

Read more!