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Re: General Resolution: Removing non-free

John Goerzen <jgoerzen@complete.org> wrote:
>Any one of the following should at least justify the examination of
>the issue.
>1. Non-free software is no longer an essential or standard part of a
>typical installation.
>Whereas at one time, most everyone used non-free software such as
>Netscape for web browsing, acroread for PDF reading, or xv for graphic
>viewing, there are quality free replacements for all of these
>programs.  Therefore, the rationale of "we need non-free for usable
>standard system" no longer applies.
>There has been some discussion about whether mozilla is ready for
>prime time right now.  The point can be argued.  However, let me put
>forth the following observations: 1) it will almost certainly be ready
>by the time woody is released (in about 2 years, of the potato time is
>any guide); and 2) using one program to justify the continued support
>of all current non-free programs is a weak argument at best.

There are not quality free replacements for all programs in non-free.

I'm using one right now: trn4, which I intend to package (separately
from trn - a lot of trn's users still seem to prefer the older version,
as the interface has changed somewhat) just as soon as I get through the
new-maintainer queue. (And yes, I am committed to free software; I don't
think I'm required to be *exclusively* committed to DFSG-freeness.) At
the moment, the only aspect in which it is non-free is that it prohibits
commercial use; this is no netscape or jdk here. In fact, the maintainer
intends to put it under the BSD licence as soon as some old code in it
can be replaced, but it's not quite there yet, and until it is I'll
still use it and at the same time try to help with its freedomization.

Personally, I wouldn't consider a Unix system complete for me without an
rn descendant.

There's one more program for you. And, for our other users, there'll be
one more, and one more, and one more; *real people* use non-free
software, people who are otherwise enthused about free software and the
liberty it gives them. I don't know a single person using Debian who
doesn't use a number of packages out of non-free, be it satan, the jdk,
doc-html-w3, mysql, tin, trn, tetex-nonfree, speak-freely,
distributed-net, or a bunch of others that you can go and look up for
yourself. These are not people who have sold out; they're people who
still find the non-free software better than the alternatives, and would
like nothing better than to see free versions of the programs they use.

Some of these people use Debian because it's the best GNU/Linux
distribution available. I use Debian because of its emphasis on freedom,
too, but the other motive is valid, in fact one we should want to
encourage, and more common than you seem to believe. At the moment, it
is still the case that ceasing support for non-free would make the
computing lives of a very, very, substantial fraction of our users much
less convenient.

It doesn't even do us any particular harm. non-free takes up 10% of the
disk space that main does, so I don't think the resources arguments are
sensible. The people bitching about KDE and Debian would bitch about it
whether we had non-free or not (in fact, I think we'd take *more* grief
from them if we didn't have non-free, not that I'm all that bothered;
these are the sort of people who claim that we only let GPLed software
into main, and there will always be clueless people around), and we'll
ignore them anyway unless and until KDE's or Qt's licence changes. The
developers working on the non-free software clearly *want* to put their
time into it, so let them.

If you believe non-free is obsolete, then let it die naturally. File
bugs against the packages that have been superseded by free software
saying they've been replaced and should be removed. When real people,
real users, don't feel the need to install and use any of the packages
in non-free, then we will have achieved the goal of phasing it out while
still supporting our users. But to simply guillotine the whole lot from
our archive and our support base - that would be nothing but covering up
the problem that people - our users - still need it.

Consider non-free to be a spur; as long as there are still packages in
it that otherwise committed free software users use because there is no
replacement, then we have not done our job. When it is all replaced,
then we can quietly remove it.

>2. Supporting non-free software gives nothing back to the Free
>Software community.
>The contract is supposed to be one between us and the Free Software
>community.  Supporting a non-free section in no way supports Free
>Software or its community.

You tar all non-free software with the same brush; I think it's obvious
that there are licences and licences. Supporting a non-free section
while working to create free replacements or to have licences changed
gives a great deal back to the Free Software community.

If my application is accepted before this comes to a vote, I will vote
against it. If not, I can only speak as strongly as I can, and hope that
some people who *can* vote will listen to me.

Colin Watson                                     [cjw44@flatline.org.uk]

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