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Microcode and the installer (Re: Towards d-i wheezy beta 3)

(replying to -devel and -boot only)
Henrique de Moraes Holschuh wrote:
> On Mon, 10 Sep 2012, Philipp Kern wrote:

>> If we do that the same should also happen for firmware-linux-nonfree. Loading
>> the radeon KMS module without firmware available results in an unusable
>> (text) console. (Yes, it might be considered a bug that radeon is loadable
>> without.)
> Sounds good to me.
> What should I clone and hack to try to implement this?

<git://git.debian.org/d-i/base-installer.git>, I think.

>                                                         Is there any
> preference over install-by-default or ask-if-the-user-wants-it ?

Very good question.  Neither sounds great to me --- let me explain

If d-i asks if the user wants microcode, the user will presumably get
a question along the following lines (yes, I am exaggerating):

	Install binary gobbledegook from $hardware_vendor?

	There is some software that can run on your hardware
	and can be regularly be updated through the package
	management system, but we don't really know what it
	does in detail.  If you don't install this, your
	computer will probably explode.  Install it?

	[ Yes ] [ No ]

The answer is always "yes", right?  The user is going to wonder why we
wasting their time to ask them.

On the other hand, if we make the decision for the user (taking the
choice to fetch from non-free sources as permission), then it is hard
to claim that Debian is totally free and that non-free is only a
collection of packages that are not from the OS that have been
packaged to work well with Debian.  This would be a fundamental change
to what it means to enable non-free.

The benefit of not requiring or installing any non-free software by
default cannot be preserved by throwing up any number of nagging
prompts.  If the operating system includes only free software by
default (even when non-free is enabled in sources.list), the user gets
a few moments of seeing what free software can provide before making
an informed decision about what is right for their needs.

If I ran the world, then:

 - if the user has gone to the trouble of providing firmware or
   microcode on a USB stick or similar, then the installer would
   just use it.

 - likewise, a separate menu item that the user can choose in
   order to install firmware or microcode sounds useful

 - however, by default the installer would provide an OS with
   full functionality without having to install non-free

 - documentation such as the release notes would emphasize important
   non-free packages, especially when they provide functionality for
   which there is no free alternative

 - on those radeons where the firmware is necessary for the
   radeondrmfb driver, the installer would fall back to vesafb, with
   clear instructions for switching back to radeon after installing
   the firmware

Of course I don't run the world. :)  Have fun.

Hope that helps,

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