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Re: Discussion - non-free software removal

On Tue, Nov 12, 2002 at 06:07:23PM -0800, Derek Gladding wrote:

> 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 ?

Definately a mix.  I propose this GR because:

1. Maintaining non-free software is a drain on resources that our project
should be devoting to Free software.

2. Maintaining non-free software is a constant source of confusion to our
users and developers.

3. Our social contract stipulates already that our operating system does not
contain non-free software.  I see no reason why we need to be offering it
alongside the operating system.

> (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 ?

I envision a couple of possibilities.

1. Packages currently in non-free could simply be altered slightly and move
into contrib.  contrib would have an apt-gettable "installer" package that
would go out and download the source (or binaries, as applicable) from the
package's master site, and build/install them.  Our existing dependency
system would take care of all of that.  Debian's conscience would be clean
and users would be happy.  Users would likely need to make no modifications
to configuration.

2. An apt-gettable archive hosted outside of Debian.  Mirror networks would,
I'm sure, be happy to pick it up.  Heck, all we'd need is a place like
Metalab.  Users would need to make a slight alteration to sources.list.

> (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 ? 

No exceptions would be made, and I believe this is a current problem up for
discussion in other lists.  In any case, the Debian Distribution already
would not contain such material.

> (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 ?

Any other change would still likely require a modification to the social
contract (which stipulates not only that non-free is offered by FTP but also
its specific name).  But moreover, the impact on the user would be no less
severe than I'm proposing -- they'd still have to alter sources.list. 
Therefore, it seems like a non-starter to me.

> (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 ?

I don't think that support would be discontinued, if indeed you assert that
it exists now.  Simply the archive would need to be picked up by someone
else -- possibly even a Debian developer.

> 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. 

No parallel infrastructure will be needed if we adopt the contrib idea. 
Incidentally, almost all of the {Free,Net,Open}BSD packages are handled in
just that sort of way, and it works well enough for them.

> 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.

That would be an excellent offer to make, I'm sure.

> 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.

You can find some context by checking Debian-vote (and possibly other lists)
for the time around June 2000.

-- John

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