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Re: General Resolution: Removing non-free

On Wed, Jun 07, 2000 at 06:11:39AM -0400, Branden Robinson wrote:
> 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? 

How about a supermarket, where you can just walk on up and take whatever
you want? One that sells food, and gadgets and just about everything,
but has a particular thing for gadgets and foods that don't harm the
environment. It still stocks gas guzzling ride-on lawnmowers and those
packets of chocolates all individually wrapped in non-biodegradable

Now the staff get together and decide, hey, why don't we just stop
stocking those things? People can eat fruit and stuff instead, or they
can just get it from next door, whatever. Then we can *really* focus on
being environmentally friendly!

> Are the patrons of such a store being imposed upon?

No, they're not. But their supermarket is ceding the market for some
particular goods to some other people. Which is okay, because they're
nice too, and they're not going to go broke or anything, but still,
it's across the road, and you have to wait for the traffic lights
and it's inconvenient. And why? Everyone already knows they're the
most environmentally friendly shop in town. And they already look at
you kindof askance if you try to buy the non-green stuff, and they'll
happily offer suggestions of green replacements for it if you ask.

> 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 not? We don't?

Sure, we don't stock some speciality items that we just can't get, and we
don't stock some of those name brand goods where you have to promise never
to sell the competing products, and nor do we stock the stuff where the
margins aren't right, either, but that's what every general store does,
isn't it?

> Debian is, instead, a store with a focus, a purpose -- like a
> health food store. 

Obviously, I'm not so convinced. Debian specifically says that some
people have to eat unhealthy foods, and they should go right ahead and
do it. They should try making their diet in general healthy, but if you
really really have to have pork and grits every now and then, we won't
chastise you for it. I don't think a health food store would do any of
that, at least not up-front.

And if they did, I don't think it'd be much of a step for them to sell
some of the less artery-clogging variants of the food to help you out.
Afterall, while you're looking for some nice fatty pork spare ribs, you
might notice a nice muesli bar that'll do you instead.

On to whether this breaks part of our social contract.

First: if it does, well, that's not necessarily Wrong: especially if the
free software community and the Debian user base think it's a good change.
All it means it that you (as a proposer or a second) really ought to
ask them first, ideally, IMO, in a more quantifiable way than "yeah,
the people I talk to tend to dis/agree with it".

> Interestingly, [for point 5], 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 [...]

Arguing that they're not written as promises when they're specifically
part of our `social contract' seems pretty weasely to me. As far as
I am concerned, personally, they're part of the agreement I made when
joining the project. I'd be disappointed if Debian as a whole didn't
think likewise. As such:

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

13.5) We acknowledge that some of our users require the use of programs
      that don't conform to the Debian Free Software Guidelines.

One of John's rationale points was, I think, intended to imply this
isn't correct any longer: they don't need netscape, or acrobat, or
anything anymore. Perhaps it isn't. I don't agree, and I suspect most
people here don't either, by the mere fact that most of us probably
still use non-free software.

> 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.

Exactly quoted, these are: ``Thus, although non-free software isn't a
part of Debian, we support its use, and we provide infrastructure (such as
our bug-tracking system and mailing lists) for non-free software packages.''

Let's rephrase them slightly, putting them in future tense:

``Thus, although non-free software isn't a part of Debian, we will
  support its use, and we will provide infrastructure (such as our
  bug-tracking system and mailing lists) for non-free software packages.''

This isn't, of course, how it's written. It is, however, in the language
of a promise, as Branden said above. As it's a part of our social contract
--- our promise to the free software community --- this is how I read it.
It certainly seems a pretty short and reasonable step from "We will
be guided by the needs of our users..." and "some of our users require
[non-free software]" to "we'll distribute some of this non-free software",
and indeed, that's the step the social contract takes. If one of those
assumptions changes (in particular, if our users decide they don't care
about non-free software at all), then sure, it's appropriate to change
the conclusion too.

> > 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.

But even though we didn't ignore that line, did we reduce the utility of
Debian? No, we drew the line, and *kept* Debian's usefulness.

Where have we reduced Debian's utility? Well, we don't distribute KDE,
that's pretty inconvenient. And we make people compile Pine and Qmail
from source. But we do that because that's what the authors demand of us
via their licenses. Or are you referring to not distributing non-free
software on CDs? Oh, but wait: we do do that, except where they're not
allowed to be distributed for profit, which our CDs are.

So what, then, is this precedent?

> > 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.

But we do collect statistics on our users: 

Apparently, the top five non-free programs are:

	Package                          vote  old  recent  unknown

	xanim                            177   190    51     0
	mpg123                           193   138    70     0
	xv                               198    91   107     0
	unzip                            202   129    12     0
	acroread                         204    97    47     0

So, from a sample of around 728 machines, at little under 30% of them
have acroread installed, and 30% have unzip installed, and 30% have xv,
and 30% have mpg123 installed.

I am fundamentally opposed to dropping software --- even non-free software
--- to satisfy a political whim, when that software is useful, has been
packaged to work within Debian and is legally redistributable.

I don't like having some semi-official repository for KDE .debs, but I
understand it because of the license situation. I don't like having a
special repository for Gnome debs, that people get recommended because
they're better than the Debian Gnome debs. I don't like have a couple
of repositories for IPv6 debs.

By being a single all-encompassing distribution our user's have lots of
benefits: one place to go to for support and filing bugs, easy to find
what software's available, an assurance that it'll all work together,
and if it doesn't there won't be too much fingerpointing about whose
fault it is. Separating all these little things into different little
organisations that don't care about each other isn't good because it
removes all the benefits that coordination brings.

And for what? To change our stance from "we recognise non-free software
exists, that it's sometimes necessary, and we'll help" to "we don't want
to hear about it, go somewhere else"? To save a a measely gigabyte or
two of disk space when the distribution increases by twice that each year?



Anthony Towns <aj@humbug.org.au> <http://azure.humbug.org.au/~aj/>
I don't speak for anyone save myself. GPG encrypted mail preferred.

  ``We reject: kings, presidents, and voting.
                 We believe in: rough consensus and working code.''
                                      -- Dave Clark

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