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Re: Free Software and the Debian Social Contract

Andree Leidenfrost wrote:

> And - equally
> important - does it give any noticable additional freedom to people if
> they have the source code for firmware that drives their hardware
> devices?
> Some people may answer yes to the latter.
Yep, absolutely.

> I believe, however, that this
> is not necessarily the case: If I can give a program to my neighbour and
> he or she can even modify it, this is surely a good a thing, and it
> happens millions of times every year with free software like Debian. But
> what do we really win if we have the source code of device drivers that
> is only useful with one or maybe a handful of different devices? Does
> this really mean a big win in terms of freedom?
Yes, it does.  There is no difference in terms of freedom between software
deisgned to run on your DSP or video chip, and software designed to run on
your 486.  There are people who would like to edit the former as well as
people who would like to edit the latter.  All the same reasons and
arguments apply, without exception.

> Or do we not rather
> considerably limit the freedom of people by shipping a version of Debian
> main that lacks substantial hardware support?
No.  Users of that hardware were already using non-free software; now, they
just *know* that they are.

I have implemented userland microcode loading for the tg3, r128, and radeon
drivers, only to realize that the r128 and radeon microcode doesn't appear
to have a valid licence to distribute (!), and that the tg3 microcode is
mostly unused.

I have already volunteered to improve the installer to allow loading
non-free material from a second CD or floppy, once there's a significant
amount of appropriately packaged material (which there isn't yet, so I'm
making some of it).  Though I have a lot on my plate, and it would surely
get done faster if someone else did some of the work.  :-)

> Is it really worth it to
> spend lots of effort into splitting things out into non-free (or even
> someplace else),
Hell yes.

> or would the effort not better be spent on increasing
> people's freedom by making Debian even better than it already is?
'making Debian better' does not necessarily increase anyone's freedom, if by
'making it better' you mean 'putting proprietary software into it'.  :-P

> I'm not really sure what the answers to these questions are. I simply
> have the nagging feeling that we are doing a disservice to people and
> thus violate the Debian Social Contract at a much more fundamental level
> than would ever be possible by including things like firmware blobs in
> main.

> Don't get me wrong, though. I still believe that it would be in the
> long-term benefit of everyone if all software including firmware was
> free. I just believe that one has to choose one's battles. Maybe the
> current battle is not the most beneficial one to foster the spirit of
> free software.
The "current battle", in my opinion, is over honesty.

Do we admit that certain hardware can't currently be used without
proprietary software?  Or do we lie about it?

I think that honesty serves the cause of free software, and lying doesn't. 
Maybe this is simple-minded of me.  :-)

> Best regards
> Andree

There are none so blind as those who will not see.

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