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Re: DFSG violations in Lenny: Summarizing the choices

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Peter Palfrader wrote:
> On Sat, 08 Nov 2008, Theodore Tso wrote:
>>                                            Fortunately for us, at the
>> moment I am not aware of large numbers of highly popular laptops or
>> servers for which non-free firmware is necessary before the firmware
>> would be able to access the network.
> HP DL360 G5:
>   firmware-bnx2
>    (Broadcom Corporation NetXtreme II BCM5708 Gigabit Ethernet)
> Yes, I was really thrilled when I found out we can't install lenny in
> any sane way on debian.org hardware.

That really sums it up nicely for me...

Since a kernel containing sourceless firmware won't be shiped with debian
and won't be called a debian kernel, to me it seems obvious that a
computer running such firmware can not be called a computer runing the
debian OS.

I think debian should not lie to it's users and should amend the first
sentence on www.debian.org accordingly:

> Debian is a free operating system (OS) for your computer. 

...provided you don't want to use wireless or some other hardware that
requires sourceless firmware [footnote/link to a list].

With the hence large list of exceptions it will be misleading to say
"debian is a free OS for _your_ computer".

Debian should also admit at a prominent position of the web sites and the
release notes that their own servers won't run debian and that most
likely few of their developers run debian on a computer that has a
working wireless or a working gsm etc. (The options for wireless are
summarized in [1]. I'd really like to know the fraction of DDs who will
run plain debian and do without sourceless stuff on all their computers,
but I guess it will become increasingly and embarrassingly small...)

The lengths of the various threads are an indication that there is no
simple way out of this dilemma.

In my personal opinion it would be better to amend the social contract
instead of moving in the direction that debian (purely) won't run on a
large fraction of current hardware.

Yes, I'd love to only have firmware (and bioses) with sources, but since
this seems unrealistic for the foreseeable future, as a user I'd prefer
to have support for firmware _inside_ debian instead of _outside_ of it
(in non-free, and opening a whole bunch of other non-free along with it).
It will leave me in an awkward position, if the firmware that controls my
network connectivity will _not_ be supported by the OS, at least at the
level that (security) updates of the firmware will be added to releases
and point releases.

Along the promise of free software, the social contract also promises
that the projects priorities are it's users. I think that the tremendous
success of ubuntu is mainly based on their better priorities for the
users, while debian's impression of focussing on the interests of their
own developers promotes users away from debian. There are much to many
professionals who use debian on 100% of their servers, but admit of using
ubuntu on their home computers.

I think the best way out of this dilemma is to add a 'non-free firmware'
section and make this section part of official debian. A provision is
that the firmware is not run on the main processor. A distinction between
sourceless firmware loaded by the OS (turning it non-debian) and that
present by other means (in agreement with the SC) is pointless. In fact,
it is often better to have firmware loaded by the OS compared to have
firmware 'hard wired' to the chip, since the latter case makes upgrades
much more cumbersome for the user. By sticking to the social contract in
the present form, debian pushes hardware vendors in the opposite
direction (firmware on the chip) and thus will make it more difficult for
their users.

Of course that's all only my humble opinion.

[Disclaimer: I am not a DD. ]


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_open_source_wireless_drivers

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