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Re: My (less-then-important) personal position

On Thu, Jun 15, 2000 at 01:56:07AM +0000, Ben Armstrong wrote:
> On Thu, 15 Jun 2000, cRAig Sanders wrote:
> > On Wed, Jun 14, 2000 at 08:40:51PM +0000, Ben Armstrong wrote:
> > > i do believe there has to be *focus* though. we decide what we're     
> > > good at, and then focus on that.                                      
> > 
> > that is precisely the point of the whole flamewar. we *have* a focus,
> > we've had one for years - providing the best and most free operating
> > system possible.
> > 
> > what is happening now is that a small group of extremists are trying
> > to hijack the project's focus and exclude everyone and everything that
> > offends their personal morality.
> If it were only so simple.  

it is actually that simple.

> But I think the problem is that it's not just about the extremists.
> There are moderates like myself who would like to see *something* done
> to clarify Debian's position about non- inclusion of non-free without
> damaging the project.  If it were just about the extremists, they
> could be easily dismissed ... the extremists will be in the minority
> and the GR will not pass.

in that case, moderates like you are allowing yourself to be manipulated
by the zealots into supporting a proposal which will damage debian.

> I cannot turn a blind eye so easily to the obvious flaw in the Social
> Contract which has *the appearance* of putting Debian in a position to
> *support* non-free indefinitely.  I think this was a mistake.  I don't
> know if it can be corrected now, but I'd like to see us at least try
> to.

it's not a flaw, and it wasn't a mistake. it's a promise we made,
deliberately and in full consciousness of what it meant. that promise
may not be legally binding but it is certainly morally binding - it's
hard to have any respect for those who will use legalistic posturing to
wriggle out of moral obligations that they freely entered into.

also, it's not even necessary to do anything. when non-free is no longer
relevant, it will vanish from our archives as there will be no need to
support it any longer. i.e. what you want will eventually happen of it's
own accord when there are free software replacements for everything in

> > > But I fail to see how "the marketplace" in the "age of the Internet"
> > > would be any different.  Must your entire system be installable off a
> > > single set of CDs?
> > 
> > his argument didn't depend on CDs. the point was that having to hunt
> > for various packages, retrieving them from multiple sources of variable
> > quality and unknown adherence to policy standards will be enough to
> > drive people away to some more convenient distribution.
> This "having to hunt" business ... I don't see it.  Especially with all
> the offers for people to set up non-free sites (even going so far as to
> purchase domain names for that purpose).  

where is the infrastructure going to come from? the mirror network? the
time to set it all up?

> I think that if the GR passes, the torch for non-free will be passed
> to a single entity, a group that cares about supporting non-free that
> works with Debian,

it won't happen because nobody cares enough about non-free to do it.
it's one thing to support non-free as a sideline tacked on to existing
infrastructure, and it's yet another to expend serious amounts of energy
duplicating that infrastructure.

those of us who are in favour of the status quo don't actually LIKE
non-free....for the most part we see it as a necessary evil whose time
will eventually pass.

for instance, i don't package any non-free software and likely never
will because i decided that i personally do not want to expend any of
my time or energy working on non-free stuff. however, i have no problem
with anyone who does wish to do so, and defend their right as a debian
developer to do so within the infrastructure provided by debian.

another relevant point which the rabid zealots keep on ignoring (so
that they can pretend that everything in non-free is evil proprietary
stuff without source code) is that nearly everything within non-free
comes complete with source code and the only reason it is in non-free is
because it restricts commercial use or prohibits sale or some similar
minor but still significant detail - i.e. it is ANTI-commercial clauses
in the license which keeps it from being truly free. now this stuff is
still non-free, and such licenses are certainly not as desirable as the
GPL or X11 or even BSD license...but to characterise it as commercial &
proprietary is dishonest.

the reason why commercial, proprietary software and
almost-but-not-quite-free software is lumped into the same "non-free"
category is that there is no practical use in distinguishing further
than "is it free (yes/no)?". if it's free, it can be in our distribution
and in our CD images. if it's not free, it can't be. that's all that
matters, and that's all that has ever mattered.

(as an example, i'm often tempted when i write software to add a clause
to the license which prohibits use by spammers...which i think is a
perfectly acceptable thing to do. however, i don't do it *because* i
know that would make it non-free. it would be a good clause, serving a
noble purpose, but it would still make the software non-free. that's
my choice. other people make different choices for their software and
decide, for instance, that they don't want anyone profiting from their
work or using their work in particular ways. that's definitely non-free
but not necessarily evil.)

> > that, in fact, is the source of many new debian developers - they
> > find something that nobody has packaged yet, package it themselves,
> > and apply to become a maintainer so that their work becomes part
> > of the distribution. that's the custom in debian, and one of the
> > factors that helps us to have a very high quality system.
> If Debian doesn't prohibit developers from also participating in such
> a venture as I have described, then I don't see how this would change
> after the split.  All that would change is that Debian could finally
> say "contains 100% free software" and then refer people to this
> Debian-plus-non-free organization for the non-free stuff leveraged off
> our 100%-free offering.

debian already contains 100% free software. the archives also contain
software which is only 90% free or less.

what would change is that we would be crapping on the social contract
and breaking a promise we made to our users and to the free software
community and to ourselves. the quality and utility of debian would
decline, and debian's reputation would suffer.

> But perhaps a split like this is too radical, too scary, or has
> further-reaching consequences than I have thought through.  

if a split is necessary, then it is the radical extremists who should
split. they are the ones who want something different, they are the ones
who are not satisfied with what debian is and has been.

those who want to keep the status quo are quite happy to include
all-comers within debian, there is room for free software advocates and
there is also a ghetto for software that isn't licensed quite to our
liking. if the rabid zealots believe that such inclusive tolerance is
unacceptable then they are free to fork their own free-software-ONLY

> I'm just at this point questioning why a clearer demarcation of
> non-free as "not part of Debian" cannot be accomplished in a way that
> is constructive both to Debian and to the users who wish to continue
> using non-free.

i don't think anyone has any problem with highlighting the distinction
between debian main (i.e. our distribution) and the optional extras
(contrib, non-free, experimental) which are also included in our
archives. we already do that, and doing it more wouldn't hurt at all.


craig sanders

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