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Free OS versus free hw

On Mon, Oct 27, 2008, Jeff Carr wrote:
> have little flash chips holding these bits all over in your machine
> now. You just don't know it. And now, because someone is giving you
> the luxury of actually loading them via software (with gpl software no
> less) you seem to be all ticked off.

 Right; I share your concerns with the new burden Debian is attaching to
 itself when requiring the loadable firmwares to be free.

 I fear it's not an easy task to delimit which (sub-)system we require
 to be free though.  I'd love it if someone could come up with some sane
 wording for it.

 At the same time, I'd love our DFSG to reject software which is written
 with unavailable documentation and unmaintainable without it.

 I see it much in the same way as when I'm interfacing thanks to a
 protocol with some remote servers: Google might be running proprietary
 software on its servers, but because we're exchanging HTTP/HTML we can
 interface with each other.
   Concerning hardware (with firmware builtin or firmware to preload), I
 care that I can ask the hardware to do stuff I care about.
   In the same way I can't fix bugs on the Google server, I can't fix
 bugs in firmware running on the hardware of my machines.

 Naturally, I'd love firmware to be freed up, or to only interface with
 servers running free code which I could inspect or replace if needs be.
 But this is a huge project, different from building an OS.  OpenMoko
 does a good job at building a free hardware + software stack, but it
 still has the GSM stack closed; I find this perfectly acceptable
 because they interface over a serial port interface with it.  There are
 other projects to free graphics, or for x86 based hardware.

 How do others feel about this?  Is there any contamination of the
 firmwares when shipped in a free OS which is not possible to prevent?

Loïc Minier

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