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Re: Making Debian available

On Fri, Jan 15, 2021 at 03:15:14PM -0500, Theodore Ts'o wrote:
> On Fri, Jan 15, 2021 at 09:35:01AM -0800, Russ Allbery wrote:
> > 
> > The point is to make things easier for our users.  Right now, we're doing
> > that for you but not for the users who don't care whether firmware is
> > non-free.  I think the idea is that we should consider making things
> > easier for both groups of users.  There's no reason to make things worse
> > for you and others who want the fully free installer in the process.
> I wonder if a compromise would be to make an install CD/DVD which
> contains the non-free packages, but which gives the user the option to
> abstain from using said non-free packages --- it can explain that the
> non-free packages may be needed for some hardware, but why people who
> are committed to Free Software might prefer loss of functionality to
> using non-free software.
It already does: the second or third question gives you the option to install
 non-free firmware, if needed, from a USB stick. That method does work but 
very few people use it.

The state of firmware: (personal opinion)

Sound drivers used to be a problem - that's mostly been solved, though as 
we've seen with signed drivers for Lenovo and others, that problem may be 
coming back. Software modem drivers were always a problem. There are problems 
with non-free firmware for a few Ethernet cards - though there's generally 
some fallback mode. If you can use a wired interface to install - even if 
that's via USB-Ethernet dongle, do so because it's reliable and you can 
install the wireless drivers later. [And we are _so_ much further forward
than we were for Debian 1.2 or 1.3]

Video drivers: we have some basic video modes that work for text mode on 
nearly all cards / embedded chipsets. Other than that, almost everything 
requires a non-free driver. AMD/Intel/Nvidia are all, in their own ways, 
equally bad. Video chipsets change fairly frequently: invariably, newest 
laptops are always a pain.  

We're discovering an additional class of problems for anybody still booting in 
Legacy/BIOS mode because some newer cards only really work with UEFI. It's 
generally true that the drivers in stable won't work for latest/greatest cards
/chipsets and you'll need backports (and sometimes even a newer kernel) 
[And don't get us started on jumping through hoops for gaming laptops with 
two chipsets - either Intel and Nvidia or AMD and Nvidia!!]

Wifi is the tough one: The companies that dominate laptop chipsets - 
Broadcom/Realtek/Qualcomm don't make it easy to find out which particular 
chipset it is. For USB Wifi connectors it's even harder - lots of Realtek 
chipsets in cheap dongles seem to require you to go and get a repository
from git and build DKMS - RTL8812* springs to mind.

We're explicit about the status of non-free drivers - the problems are that we
can't fix them when they break, we can distribute them but we can't sort out
any problematic behaviour. We are very dependent on others to make the 
fixes and have no timeline for improvements. Non-free drivers are not in our 
control in any way. There is no incentive on major manufacturers to 
change this.

Ubuntu *just ship* many of the drivers we consider as non-free : their 
priorities are different and that's OK - but I still notice people with Ubuntu 
laptops asking the same questions about how to get wifi working / folks with
Ubuntu derivatives coming to Debian lists for help.

> We might still need to continue to ship a CD/DVD which completely
> omits the non-free software, since for some people they might object
> to having any non-free bits on their install media, regardless of
> whether or not they are used.
Having a CD which is "completely free" is useful for VMs / containers - and 
is also a good basis for Trisquel and other derivatives. The way we have it
set up at the minute also means that if we have one buggy non-free driver we
don't have to remaster every image. It's all a trade off.

> But having a non-free installer where the use of non-free packages is
> optional, perhaps that might be a sufficient compromise that we could
> make that installer more easily findable, instead of leaving it in
> a "locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the
> door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.'".

See above - we have a free isntaller where the use of non-free is optional and 
> After all, for people who very on the "non-free is evil and must be
> avoided at all costs" spectrum, this installer would help them get
> their message out --- and after providing the pro-Free-Software-at-all
> costs message to users that might oherwise might not get it (remember,
> these are people who had previously been using Windows 10), we trust
> users to choose how they come down on the question.
> Just a thought....
> 					- Ted

Maybe all of this comes down to a huge FAQ for -devel, -user and other lists 
including language supecific lists, repeated on wiki/WWW pages - but
with three basic questions seen all the time over on -user

* Why isn't Debian Ubuntu/Kali/Linux Mint ... Can you please do XYZ to make 
it so?
* I've just installed some Ubuntu/Kali/Linux Mint packages and now it's broken
* I've just installed Sid because I wanted up to get a rolling release but now 
its broken 
* Ubuntu/Mint just work - I've installed Debian and I can't get my wifi to 
work - why not?

and a paid support rate for us all to do the work for other distributions.
[Insert appropriate emoji here]

All the very best, as ever,

Andy Cater

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