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On firmwares

[From my blog.]

(#33) On firmwares

Ian Murdock wrote a few days ago: The founding goal of Debian was to
create a better distribution that could help bring free software to the

Refusing to distribute binary firmwares does not help free software.
You may choose between getting the firmware with your hardware on a
flash EPROM chip or having your driver load it, but at the end of the
day you will still use some software whose source code is not
available. If removing binary firmwares from debian makes using free
software harder for our user then it harms the free software cause.

As we already know, even if obtaining the source of these firmwares
were possibile, in most cases this would not help us because we would
not know how the hardware works or because it would not be possible to
build the firmware without a proprietary toolchain.

Anyway, the major effect that the everything is software policy will
have is to make non-free more important, even essential for many of our
users. Will this help the cause of free software? I can't see how it

We created non-free because we recognize that some of our users need
non-free software, but our goal should be to make it not relevant
anymore by writing free alternatives to this proprietary software, not
to force users to start using it if they want to use their hardware.

I do not accept the argument suggesting that hardware without flash
EPROM is bad or has a lower quality. Having one when it's not actually
needed (i.e. when the device is used at boot time, before the OS is
loaded) makes the hardware more expensive to build and more complex to
administrate, requiring a flashing utility (when was the last time a
vendor provided one for Linux?) and safeguards for the eventuality that
the flash content is damaged.

In an ideal world, we would not have binary-only firmwares (and we
would have open hardware too), but as we live in a different kind of
world we probably need to make some compromises with reality. As the
discussion about the latest GR shows, most developers consider
acceptable deferring some of the Social Contract commitments because of
pratical issues.

For these reasons, I believe we should seriously consider a temporary
exception allow distributing binary firmware files in Debian until the
hardware market will have changed enough to make pratical requiring for
them the same freedoms we require.

ciao, |
Marco | [6157 deomsWpx0ERV6]

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