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Re: Discussion - non-free software removal

On Sat, Nov 16, 2002 at 04:03:22PM +1000, Anthony Towns wrote:
> You know, I'm increasingly wondering if the confusion is that of users, or
> the developers who're proposing this GR.

Color me confused about what you mean by this.

> Why do you think "The Debian distribution is supposed to be free
> software"?
> Please don't answer with tautological references to the social contract --
> why do you think we _wrote_ the social contract in the way it was?

There are two kinds of answer to your question.  One is historical, and
the other is philosophical.

Tackling the historical bit first:

For the most part, "we" didn't.  Bruce Perens delivered almost 4/5ths
from his forehead like Athena from the skull of Zeus.

The ever-contentious clause 5 was proposed by Sven Rudolph.

The drafting of the DFSG (when considered on its own) includes far more
input from Debian Developers than the rest of the Social Contract.

Debian Developers can review the process that produced the Social
Contract and Free Software Guidelines by looking at the following files:


The other is philosophical, at least if I understand your meaning, and
would be better recast as "Why is the Social Contract the way it is?
What goals and values does it reflect?"

Over time, the membership, goals, and values of the Debian Project have
shifted.  The Social Contract may therefore not mean to us today exactly
what it meant to Debian Developers five and a half years ago.  A lot of
this shift is simply due to the world being a different place.  Five
years ago I think more people had doubt as to whether Debian would be
able to survive the Red Hat juggernaut.  These days, I don't think
people seriously worry about that.  We have one of the slowest release
cycles on Earth and yet still command a sizable chunk of the market that
has only grown as time as passed, by all measures I've seen.

I suspect one reason we were so ready to embrace non-free packages as
second-class citizens a few years ago was because we collectively feared
that we would be rendered irrelevant if we didn't include them.  In
fact, some people in the discussion threads cited above felt that it was
suicidal to omit non-free packages from the Official CDs.  History has
not borne out their fears.

Indeed, time has revealed -- I think -- that non-free software is *less*
relevant to Debian's purposes and success that perhaps even most of the
optimists would have thought in 1997.

That doesn't mean that non-free software is irrelevant to every
individual computer user; it means that Debian almost certainly doesn't
need to distribute non-free software to be successful.  It is quite
possible to have a satisfactory computing experience with Debian main;
sure many people tack on third-party additions to their computers.
That's as it should be.  Using Debian GNU/Linux doesn't mean taking a
vow to never use anything else.

What is means is, that which is not part of the Debian Distribution --
well, isn't part of the Debian distribution.  It's not our area of
specialization.  Why not those who specialize in things that "aren't
part of Debian" do so without providing them the temptation of a ghetto
to do it in?  Why not let these packaging efforts achieve full
legitimacy on their own merits?

> In my opinion, the answer is that we want to provide both a complete
> free distribution that doesn't rely on any other software, and we want
> to provide a Linux distribution that people would want to use whether
> they give too hoots about the principles of free software or not. Having
> the core Debian system be completely free software, and an additional
> non-free component achieves those goals admirably.

Those who don't give two hoots about freedom are likely to squander it.
I don't see why we need to offer them an engraved invitation to do so.

Non-free software is dressed up with plenty of sex appeal by other
organizations, why does Debian qua Debian need to mess with it?

> The way, I believe, Branden has put this in the past is that he wants
> to stop trying to make a distribution that tries to satisfy people who
> might need non-free software,

That's a distortion.  I think we should stop trying to make a
distribution that tries to be all things to all people.  Bruce Perens
and Bdale Garbee, if I recall correctly, shared a vision of Debian
GNU/Linux as a common foundation upon which all kinds of customzied
products could be made.  It is Free Software that makes that kind of
customization possible; you don't have to negotiate bajillions of
licensing arrangments to get around commercial distribution
restrictions, for instance.

> because that will make it easier for Debian to better achieve its
> other goal: providing a complete free distribution.

That part is accurate.  I think it would be cool if there were lots of
organizations that rolled custom versions of Debian.  They'd be
perfectly free to put non-free software in their versions if they want

> That's a perfectly sane reason to support the GR; semantic arguments
> about what "Debian" is, or what the "Debian distribution" is ("Ah,
> but Debian *distributes* non-free software, does it not? THEREFORE IS
> not what they actually are but what ignorant people *think* they are,
> are just pointless distractions.

Not entirely.  They expose a problem in that, despite our nominal
agreement with the Social Contract, a lot of us disagree about what
Debian, the Project, *is*.  (Well, the Constitution says, "The Debian
Project is an association of individuals who have made common cause to
create a free operating system.")

Unless we come to a consensus about what the Debian Project *is*, we are
likely doomed to keep arguing about what projects we should or should
not undertake.

G. Branden Robinson                |      A fundamentalist is someone who
Debian GNU/Linux                   |      hates sin more than he loves
branden@debian.org                 |      virtue.
http://people.debian.org/~branden/ |      -- John H. Schaar

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