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Re: On firmwares

Marco d'Itri wrote:

> 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.

The *only* problem with this argument is that it applies to infinite loads
of other stuff.  Slippery slope and all that.

> 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.
That's a good theory, and certainly true in some cases.  In many cases,
however, it will certainly help to have the source.  Having a free
toolchain and free specs will help even more, of course.

> 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.
Well, if non-free software was already important, making 'non-free'
important seems more honest than not.

> Will this help the cause of free software? I can't see how it
> could.
By providing an additional incentive to create free peripheral code?  By
letting HW manufacturers know that some people actually care?  By alerting
people who might care to the presence and use of non-free software on their
systems?  (That last could be done without removing it from Debian,
technically.)  By appearing principled?

Also, the same argument applies to every piece of software which doesn't
have strong, vibrant DFSG-free alternatives.  There have been many and
there still are many.  So if purifying 'main' really can't help the cause
of free software, then the Social Contract is a mistake.

> 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.
Indeed.  People should certainly start writing free alternatives.

> 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.

Here's an alternative proposal:

How about temporarily allowing existing binary firmware files to stay in
Debian until arrangements are made for them to be automatically loaded from
packages in 'non-free'.  (After they are, the kernel or whatever else
contains the files can have a "Suggests:" for each of these non-free
packages.)  This would prevent dramatic breakage without allowing the
unsourced binaries to sit in Debian for the indefinite future ("until the
hardware market has changed enough" is pretty vague and open-ended).

(Of course, firmware which is not clearly legal to redistribute should be
removed quickly, IMNSHO.  :-P)

Alternatively, set some rather more specific goals which define whether it
is "practical" yet.  After all, free-as-in-speech hardware is being
developed and some is already available.  Furthermore, several drivers in
the Linux kernel load firmware which *has* source code *and* a DFSG-free

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

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