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Re: General Resolution: Removing non-free



On Wed, Jun 07, 2000 at 02:56:00AM -0500, Manoj Srivastava wrote:
> Hi,
> 
> 	So far, we have always packages ``All the packages fit to
>  package''. The only criteria has been that we be legally allowed to
>  package software, and that some one finds it useful enough to spend
>  the effort packaging it. Indeed, when we could not distribute the
>  binaries, we created sourece only packages, or installer packages. 
> 
> 	It was, IMHO, a judicious mix of free software evengelism, and
>  one of creating the *BEST* distribution, with all the useful
>  software we could package. I could almost always find any software
>  available out there already packaged for debian. We were the
>  inclusive distribution, and we showed our comitment to free software
>  by only bundling free software on our CD's, and our commitment to
>  useful distribution and our social contract by packaging and
>  supporting the other software that did not meet our guidelines but
>  was useful to our users.
> 
>  	I like the fact we can cater to people who like free software
>  (never put non-free in your apt sources), as well as to people who
>  just want a useful distribution -- and we can, gently, try to win
>  them over to free alternatives wehre such exist.

I find this a moving and fairly convincing argument up to this point.  And
then, I believe, the rhetoric set in.

Honestly, you almost had me swayed, and I had even seconded John's proposal
and helped him amend it.

> We offer a choice, we do not impose.

Choice versus imposition is a continuum, not a binary state.  Do you submit
that the failure of a grocery store to carry a specific item of food is an
imposition upon you?  But let us have a better analogy.  What about a
health food store that refuses to carry unhealthy products like fried
cheeseburgers?  Are the patrons of such a store being imposed upon?

I support my analogy by asserting that Debian is not a general store.  We
don't sell everything.  In fact, we can't.  We're simply not permitted to
distribute a large volume of the software that currently exists in the
world.  Debian is, instead, a store with a focus, a purpose -- like a
health food store.  Our purpose, our mission, is free software.  For this
fact to be unclear to anyone is either a gross failure of perception on
their part, or a gross failure of communication on ours.

I submit that there are lots and lots of places in the world to get
non-free software, or fried cheeseburgers.  If Debian decides not to carry
non-free software anymore, we are not dramatically impacting the
marketplace.  We do not have monopoly power in the non-free software
market.  I do agree that abandoning non-free software might work to to our
own detriment in some respects -- perhaps absolute, quantitative
popularity.

On the other hand, we might have something to gain by such a
move.  We might be perceived as more consistent with our own proclaimed
principles.  We might be recongizing the growing success of free software
over the past several years by actually strengthening our committment to
it.  The social contract is a contract with the free software community.
Perhaps this amendement is a way of saying to them, "We believe in you.  In
fact, we believe in you so much that we don't think we NEED to provide your
competition directly to our users to give them a rich and powerful
computing experience."  I hasten to add that no one has to agree with any
of these possibilities to think the proposal is a good idea.  They are just
possible ways of looking at the issue.

> We evangelize, we do not force.

I believe this point has been argued in threads past.  You have an
interesting notion of "force".  If you go to a Ford dealership to buy a
car, are you being "forced" to not buy a Chevrolet?

>  	Those who think this does not help Debian obviously have not
>  really thought it through. 

This is an unfair attack on those who disagree with you.  You are saying
that those who agree with John's proposal are mentally incompetent.  I am
not willing to say the same.  I think it is possible for reasonable,
sensible people to rationally consider John's proposal and still reject it.
Are you willing to retract your above statement?  Are you willing to
believe that it is possible for reasonable people to disagree about this
issue?

> 	This GR is disturbin. It throws away the promises made in the
>  social contract.

This statement is contradicted by the facts.

The social contract makes a number of commitments or promises (excluding
the section titles):

1) We promise to keep the Debian GNU/Linux Distribution entirely free
software.

2) We will support our users who develop and run non-free software on
Debian

3) we will never make the system depend on an item of non-free software

4) we will license [new components of the Debian system] as free software.

5) We will make the best system we can

6) We will feed back bug-fixes, improvements, user requests, etc. to the
"upstream" authors of software included in our system.

7) We will keep our entire bug-report database open for public view at all
times.

8) We will be guided by the needs of our users and the free-software
community.

9) We will place [the interests of our users and the free-software
community] first in our priorities.

10) We will support the needs of our users for operation in many different
kinds of computing environment.

11) We won't object to commercial software that is intended to run on
Debian systems

12) we'll allow others to create value-added distributions containing both
Debian and commercial software, without any fee from us

13) we will provide an integrated system of high-quality, 100% free
software, with no legal restrictions that would prevent these kinds of use.

Interestingly, after this point, all word of future commitments vanishes, and
we are left with descriptions of the status quo.  Whether these constitute
promises is left as an excercise for the reader -- but I'd remind the
reader that promises, vows, or contracts bind people to action in the
future (affidavits are documents where you swear to the truth of events in
the past or current status).  When you make marriage vows, for instance,
you generally pledge to fidelity in the future, you don't merely make an
affirmation that you're not sleeping with anyone else at the moment.

14) We have created "contrib" and "non-free" areas in our FTP archive for
this software.

15) We encourage CD manufacturers to read the licenses of software packages
in these directories and determine if they can distribute that software on
their CDs.

16) we support [the use of non-free software in Debian]

17) we provide infrastructure (such as our bug-tracking system and mailing
lists) for non-free software packages.

So, there you have it.  13 promises and 4 things that can be interpreted as
promises only with an expansive definition.  But, not one to shy away from
a challenge, for the sake of argument I will be liberal and accept just
such an expansive definition.  Let us review your statement:

> 	This GR is disturbin. It throws away the promises made in the
>  social contract.

By saying, "it throws away the promises made in the social contract", you
imply that the GR discards all of them.  Otherwise, you'd have omitted the
"the" or replaced it with "some".

I do not see that any of the promises #1 through #13 are in any sense
repealed by John's GR, especially as he amended it.

It it possible that you feel that promise 2) is materially betrayed by the
GR even though promise 2) actually becomes the title of section 5 in the
amended version -- which doesn't seem to communicate a desire to abandon
it, but rather to elevate its importance.

I can also see that you might argue that promise 5) cannot be fulfilled
without using non-free software.  Promises 1) and especially 3), however,
are quite clear that the Debian "system" does not contain non-free
software.  Therefore, given those contraints, promise 5) commits us to
making the best system we can -- using only 100% free software.

You might feel that to not directly support non-free software is a betrayal
of promises 8) and 9), in that our users and the free software community
may have a need or an interest in non-free software.  However, promises 1),
3), 4) and 13) repeatedly emphasize Debian's identity as a system of free
software.  The social contract does not address the issue of how we are to
resolve the issue of conflicts between the needs/interests of our users and
the needs/interests of the free software community.  I don't have any
suggestions on that point, either, as it seems to me that it could be a
very large topic in and of itself.

I can see how you might interpret 10) as a further committment to the
support of non-free software.  However, you must concede that it is
possible to interpret 10) in other ways as well, since it is not specific.
"Many different kinds of computing environment" could mean the machine
architecture, the locale (home, workplace, machine room, Space Shuttle),
the nature of other computers around the Debian system (perhaps they use
unusual network protocols or run different operating systems), etc.  Even
if we include non-free software as part of the "computing environment",
John's GR cannot serve to repeal promise 10) because it does not do so
categorically.  At best, promise 10) is amended.

Promise 11) can obviously -- and reasonably -- be interpreted to refer to
non-free software, even if it is poorly worded.  (Free software can be
"commercial" by virtue of being commercially traded, e.g., the
SGI/O'Reilly/VA Debian boxed set which contained no non-free software.)
Given that, promise 11) is interesting in that it commits us to not
objecting to non-free software.  It would have been quite easy to commit us
to packaging and fully supporting non-free software, but such a promise was
not made.  This is instructive.  Non-free software is, once again,
presented as disjunct to the free software that comprises the Debian system
(it is "intended to run on" the Debian system, not be part of it).
However, my analysis in this paragaph must fail if it can be be determined
that "commercial software" is not actually meant to refer to non-free
software at all.  Perhaps we should ask Bruce?

I concede that, if we interpret numbers 14) through 17) as promises, that
John's proposal does intend to significantly alter 14) and repeal 17).  15)
would be eliminated as a consequence; CD vendors don't have to trouble
themselves with license analysis (unless they want to) if all we make
available is software that may be commercially distributed without royalty
or other restriction.

Promises 1), 3), 4), 6), 7), 12), 13) are not materially affected by John's
general resolution at all.  Therefore your implication that John's
resolution is a repudiation of the promises made in the Social Contract is
false.

> It is exclusionary.

The nature of the DFSG beast is that it is exclusionary.  There is not much
point in having a DFSG if it doesn't have any practical consequences.  If
we had the DFSG but did not distinguish between software that met it and
that which didn't, there would be no exlcusion...and also not much point.

I agree that John's GR seeks to change the nature of the exlcusion, and to
make it more obvious.

> It reduces the utility of Debian to a number of users,

This is quite possible but it is also not the first time Debian has decided
to do something that would reduce the utility of our system to our users.
We could have ignored the line between free and non-free software long ago.

> and thus would marginalize us into a non entity.

This does not follow.  Giving up some of a substance, like "market share"
is not the same thing as giving up all of it.  Furthermore, I do not think
you can even prove this assertion except retrospectively.  We do not
collect statistics on our users, so it is difficult to make quantitative
stataments about the demography of Debian users in general, let alone
perform longitudnal analysis.

> And it makes us committed to the free distribution, as opposed to the
> best free distribution.

This does not follow at all.  That which is free is not non-free.  We can
continue to strive to be the best free distribution, and even the best
distribution.  We can still be the best we can be, within the boundaries we
have set for ourselves.  Long ago, we decided that our identity was in free
software, and John's proposal does nothing to change that.

-- 
G. Branden Robinson            |   <joeyh> oh my, it's a UP P III.
Debian GNU/Linux               |   <doogie> dos it.
branden@ecn.purdue.edu         |   * joeyh runs dselect
roger.ecn.purdue.edu/~branden/ |   <Overfiend> that ought to be sufficient :)

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