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Ask yourself some questions (was: Discussion - non-free software removal)

On Wed, Nov 13, 2002 at 10:53:45AM -0600, Vince Mulhollon wrote:
> Finally I can't resist a little rabble rousing by pointing out
> double-speak, like "removing users options, is increasing users freedom".

Well, thanks for frankly admitting that your statement is rabble-rousing.

I recall this popular argument from 2 years ago.  I think it is a

That *Debian* elects to stop distributing non-free software does not
mean it will no longer be available, unless the package maintainers
exercise *their* freedom to decide to no longer take responsibility for
those packages.  Manoj Srivastava has suggested that he will do this
very thing with the angband package.

Even then, such things only no longer become "available" if they
disappear from the net, which is not something Debian has the power to
bring about all by itself.

There are tons of analogies that could be used to illustrate the flaws
in your assertion.

* Does removing the option of my house guests to sleep in my bed
  "increase their freedom"?  No, but whose freedom are we really talking
  about in the first place?  Am I not free to grant and withhold
  permission to sleep in in my bed as I see fit?

* Does the decision of the local Chinese restaurant to no longer serve
  food with MSG in it "increase" the "freedom" of the patrons?  Perhaps
  not.  Does the restaurant have a duty to the public to continue
  serving food with MSG in it?  Does the restaurant have the freedom to
  decide to stop?

* Does the decision of a manufacturer of weed-killer spray to stop
  putting dioxin in its product "increase" the freedom of its customers?
  Perhaps not.  Does the manufacturer of the weed-killer have a
  responsibility to the public to help prevent ground-water
  contamination with a harmful chemical, or must that manufacturer leave
  this responsibility entirely up to the users of its product?

The last analogy is no accident.  It may be that Debian's continued
distribution of non-free software is actually hurting our users and the
Free Software community more than we are helping them.  Every day a
non-free package is "better" than a free alternative (or no alternative
at all) is a day in which less work is potentially done by Debian
developers and others on a free alternative to create or improve it, a
day in which there is less public clamor for such a tool, and a day in
which there is less visible market need apparent to a company that may
be willing to sponsor or underwrite the development of a free
alternative in furtherance of its own ends.

People will accuse me of all sorts of nasty things for making the above
observation, I'm sure, so let me stop them from jumping to conclusions
by placing a high wall in the way.  I don't *know* that the above
consequences of the Debian's distribution of non-free outweigh the
convenience factors.  This is a calculus that each person must evaluate
for him- or herself.  So I think each of us should install the "vrms"
package, run it, look over the results, and ask ourselves a few

	What's in this list makes Debian more attractive than Red Hat,
	SuSE, some other Linux distribution, Windows XP, or Mac OS X?

	What in this list is even *available* in the alternative
	operating system I might consider using?

	What have I done to help Debian and Free Software have
	equivalent or superior alternatives to the packages in this
	list, and thus increase the appeal of Debian and Free Software
	to other users of these packages or the programs in them?

	How much do I really care about software freedom?  Do I really
	just prefer to get stuff at no charge?

Be honest, especially with the last question!  Maybe a very large part
of Debian's audience really is just people who'd rather get their Linux
distribution free of charge.  If that's true, we need to know that.
While this possibility might increase the level of conflict between
Debian's two priorities ("Our Users" and "Free Software"), it is better
to make our decisions based on hard (or at least suggestive) information
rather than the lack thereof.  Don't let some sort of emotional guilt --
no doubt fueled by self-serving rhetoric from the MPAA, RIAA, and large
media corporations -- keep you silent when you should be speaking the
truth.  Of course it's nice to get stuff for free.  What we need to know
is how heavily that factor weighs on our decision-making as developers
-- and as users.


Does Debian have the right to decide whether or not to terminate a
service?  Does the service belong to Debian, or must it remain forever,
as a public entitlement, completely irrelevant of the level of desire of
the public to use it?

Whose freedom are we talking about?

G. Branden Robinson                |    It was a typical net.exercise -- a
Debian GNU/Linux                   |    screaming mob pounding on a greasy
branden@debian.org                 |    spot on the pavement, where used to
http://people.debian.org/~branden/ |    lie the carcass of a dead horse.

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