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Re: Clarifications

> Stephen Frost <sfrost@ns.snowman.net> writes:
> >     So, dare I ask, when was non-free created, and why?  What were
> > the reasons and who agreed to put non-free into the Social Contract
> > and was Ian Murdock aware/involved?

tb@MIT.EDU (Thomas Bushnell, BSG) writes:

> I believe the reasons are those articulated in Paragraph Five of the
> Social Contract.
> It was a compromise at the time between two motivations, made on the
> basis of the reality current at that time.  The state of the world has
> moved on, and some thing it would be appropriate now to re-examine the
> compromise and decide if or how it needs to be shifted.

As someone who has been around longer than the Social Contract, this is
not my impression of the way things were.  Non-free was not a
"compromise" based on the "reality current at the time."  That sort of
apologizing came later.

The way I remember, the earlier days of Debian was rather different from
what you describe.  Back then, Debian was not dedicated to evangelizing
free software (that was the FSF's job), but rather it was a community
that was trying to build a Linux distribution.  Ask yourself: why was
this project started?  Was Debian started as a vehicle to promote free
software?  No.  Debian started because the major distribution of the
time, LSB, sucked so badly.

Therefore, the project's goal was to grab and integrate as much software
as possible for our users, and the only criteria for packaging a piece
of software were

(1) "Is someone willing to take the trouble to maintain it?", and

(2) "Can we legally distribute it from our ftp site?"

I still think that these make pretty good criteria.

Non-free was created because certain pieces of software had restrictions
on how they could be distributed.  Therefore, we had to separate this
software to protect anyone willing to place Debian on a CD to sell.  It
was a purely pragmatic decision, not an attempt to create a ghetto for
software with licenses that we didn't like.  After all, non-free
predates the DFSG.

While free software has always been important to the project, all of the
free software *fanaticism* came later.  Sure, Debian was originally an
FSF project.  Since so much of the software running under Linux was
written by the GNU project, it seems natural that Ian Murdock went to
them for support when starting Debian.  Keep in mind, however, that we
had disagreements with the FSF from early on, and eventually broke all
official ties with them.  (Anyone remember the FSF's demands -- not only
with regards to non-free, but also "lignux" and requiring unstripped

As the Social Contract and DFSG were written, Debian was forced to
apologize later for having non-free.  Paragraph Five is really an
apology by the project to appease the harder free software stance that
the project had begun to take.

This is how I remember things.  Someone else may have a different
impression, however.

Debian started as a project to package Linux and give away our efforts
for free.  Our community (the Debian community, including both
developers and users, not the free software community at large) was our
most important priority.  Listening to this discussion, I worry about
the directions that the project is starting to take.  It seems to be
drifting from its original goals, and that is sad.

- Brian

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