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Re: Discussion - non-free software removal

On Tuesday 12 November 2002 04:50 pm, Chris Lawrence wrote:
> On Nov 12, Steve Langasek wrote:
> > How dare they make decisions that could force our users to use
> > free alternatives to their beloved non-free tools?
> The problem is that there isn't a free alternative for many of the
> things in non-free, unless we want to establish "ideologically pure"
> alternatives to the W3C and IETF.


> Chris

(N.B. IANADD, merely a satisfied user. Please be gentle with the flames if 
non-developers are not supposed to post to this list. However, as the 
discussion is going on here rather than in debian-user, this seems to be the 
list to post to)

I've been following this thread over the last few days and have been having 
very mixed feelings about the idea of Debian (the project) dropping non-free. 
The idealist in me likes ideological purity of a Free-and-nothing-but-Free 
distro, the pragmatist wonders whether Debian will be as close a match to my 
needs after non-free has been dropped as I do use a number of non-free 
packages that do not appear to have equivalents in main.

If I may, I'd like to throw out a few questions to the DDs and make an offer:

(i) I may have missed part of the discussion, but what are the motivations for 
the proposed change ? Are they primarily philosophical, primarily pragmatic, 
or a mix of both ?

(ii) What would a Debian without non-free look like to the user ? How easy 
would it be to access "non-free" packages ? Would it be simply a matter of 
changing a line to sources.list that referred to a single source outside of 
"debian.org", or would it require googling for a source for each and every 
package ?

(iii) IIRC, the Linux kernel contains material that is not truly Free, such as 
binary-only firmware. Would a user have to go somewhere else to obtain new 
kernel images and sources, or would an exception be made in this case ? 

(iv) If the reasons for dropping "non-free" are primarily philosophical, is 
there any way of increasing the separation between the Free and non-Free 
parts of Debian that would be equally satisfactory but keep the same degree 
of utility for the users ?

(v) If the reasons for dropping "non-free" are primarily pragmatic, what type 
and quantity of resources etc. would be needed to make it possible to 
continue support ? 

Which leads me to:

If "non-free" is being dropped due to philosophical reasons, then it looks to 
me like some form of parallel infrastructure will be needed to maintain 
support for it. If it is being dropped due to pragmatic ones, then it seems 
like more resources are already needed. 

Either way, it seems fair that those of us who use "non-free" should be 
prepared to contribute in some way to keeping it available to us in one form 
or another. I have a reasonable amount of hardware available, plenty of disc 
space and enough bandwidth to support development work but not final end-user 
distribution. I'm prepared to throw this[1] into the pot to help continue 
support for "non-free"[2] and invite any others who benefit from "non-free" 
to see what they can do to help as well.

If I have misunderstood anything, my apologies in advance. It looks like this 
discussion has been running for several years now and therefore I may be 
missing a large amount of context.

- Derek

[1] Specifics will depend on what actually is needed.

[2] I suspect people will ask the very reasonable question "why aren't you 
offering this to help out with Free software ?" To save time, the answers are 
(i) I already am, (ii) the offer is not exclusive to "non-free", if anyone 
else needs some CPU cycles for Debian work, they're more than welcome.


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