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Re: [DRAFT] resolving DFSG violations

On Mon, Oct 27, 2008 at 12:26:31PM -0700, Jeff Carr wrote:
> True, I certainly feel like that at times with the opencores project
> I've been trying to maintain.
> On the other hand, I sure know that I know a pile more than you do or
> we wouldn't be having this discussion :)

I have a different theory.

> Yes Gee whiz. You're not getting it. The firmware is a binary blob.
> You can distribute the source but you can't synthesize it. So, in the
> debian installer, you can't include it according to this insane
> policy.

You could synthesize it if you had the tools for it.

Debian's policy is not insane.  It is consistent.  Any hardware maker
that wants their hardware to work with free software could use an
eeprom to store the firmware within the device, so that there is nothing
non-free that has to be distributed.  That is what Debian is concerned
with.  If the firmware is embedded in the device, then it has nothing to
do with Debian anymore, and it is entirely up to the user whether they
care about how the hardware they buy is made.  Those that do care can
simply avoid that type of hardware (or at least try to).

> But the opencore case is the easy case, hybrid chips don't even have
> source. The firmware blob is often generated when you fabricate the
> chip & changes with the physical board layout. You guys just don't
> understand the issues here. There isn't some nafarious intent; you
> 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. You seem to want to stick your
> head in the sand and pretend this doesn't exist.

If they use flash chips, then it doesn't affect Debian, because the
flash chip already contains what is needed for the device to work.
Debian doesn't have to have anything to do with updating them, and hence
there is no distribution of non-free to worry about.

> And no, it's not about telling users "This is all free". That's a lie
> at this level anyway. None of it is free. Whether you load it from
> /lib/firmware/ or if it's already stored on your motherboard doesn't
> change anything. It just makes us Debian look ridiculous. The message
> should be: "There are some firmware blobs for some hardware that there
> is no known way to generate code for, nor any way to compile such code
> if we had it or any way to figure out how we would write a compiler
> for it either. This firmware is also hidden in flash for most of the
> chips on your machine. Some modern devices let the OS load this code
> into the chip then we are able to write fully GPL drivers for the
> device. Debian's focus is on free software; not free hardware designs
> (although we love those too).

It does make a difference.  Debian makes no promise about the freeness
of the users hardware since Debian did no provide it.  Debian promises
that everything they provide is free.  That really isn't very hard to
understand.  Debian policy is only concerned with the software Debian is
distributing.  If Debian didn't provide it as part of the distribution,
then Debian's policy has nothing to do with it.  Hence your motherboard
and its BIOS and other firmware in flash has nothing to do with Debian's
polcies at all.  If your hardware requries closed source firmware to
operate, then at best Debian can distribute that in non-free, and using
it during the install will be slightly tricky (but not that hard.  I
have done so and it wasn't that big a deal.  It just meant I had to
personally accept that I was about to use one piece of non-free code to
make that particular system work and it was my choice, not Debian's that
made my system contain a piece of non-free code.  That is how it should
be with Debian).

Len Sorensen

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