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Re: GNU/LinEx, Debian, and the GNU FDL

On Thu, Sep 04, 2003 at 09:56:46PM -0400, Richard Stallman wrote:
> Branden Robinson presumes that the GNU Project's decision to stop
> endorsing Debian must be meant as a form of pressure.

Again, I fear you have distorted my statements.  I made no preumption on
this point; I made a hypothesis that I was asking you to shed some light
on -- that's why my mail to you took the form of a set of questions.  I
appreciate your taking the time to clarify this subject.

> This is complete confusion, because the GNU Project never stopped
> endorsing Debian.

...because it never "endorsed" Debian in the first place, I am given to
understand from the remainder of your reply.

It might be helpful to remember that many people have difficulty
distinguishing the personal opinions you express on Free Software, Open
Source, GNU/Linux distributions, whether Emacs or vi is a better editor,
and so forth, are often taken for official FSF or GNU Project position
statements.  Debian sometimes has this problem, too, but we differ from
the FSF in two ways:
  * We do not have a single individual who has been as strongly
    identified with the organization for a period of several years,
    consistently speaking on its behalf.
  * Most of Debian's internal debates, even about our fundamental
    values, take place in full public view, and are occassionally
    covered in the community press.  As far as I can tell, the face that
    the FSF presents to the outside world is of very tight internal
    discipline, ideologically speaking.  (Whether this is actually a
    characteristic of the FSF or not, I do not know.)

Therefore, if I have misinterpreted your past statements in interviews
about Debian GNU/Linux's suitability as a GNU/Linux distribution as
statements of official GNU policy or position, I apologize.

I submit, however, that such misunderstandings are an inherent risk when
an individual is so closely associated with an organization that the
statement, "RMS disagrees with the FSF that ..." is, to my knowledge,
never heard, and smacks of cognitive dissonance.

[It is also my understanding that, for the most part, you keep your
opinions on matters essentially unrelated to software at your
stallman.org website and out of interviews with you as a spokesman for
the Free Software movement.]

> The GNU Project has never endorsed Debian, because ever since we first
> considered the question, the Debian servers have been distributing and
> recommending non-free packages.

Well, the FSF did financially sponsor the early development of Debian
GNU/Linux.  That may be a horse of a different color than "endorsement",
but they pasture in the same field, at least in the crude minds of the

> Instead, for several years I talked with some friendly Debian
> developers to promote a Debian decision to change the practice.  But
> the proposals were voted down, and eventually I stopped trying.

This jibes fairly well with my own recollections.  I would add, though,
that the most determinative sort of vote we can have on the issue hasn't
yet been held, and has been stalled due to procedural and
lack-of-volunteer-time problems for about three years.  If you were to
express exasperation with this sort of delay, I wouldn't blame you.

> When asked, I say that Debian is better in regard to freedom than the
> other distributions, but still not good enough.

This brings me back to one of the questions I had: It's been
well-established that a "barrier" between Debian non-free ("Debian
distributes main from a server that doesn't include or refer people to
non-free software and documentation", as you say) is a *necessary*
condition for the GNU Project's endorsement as "a place to get an
entirely free version of the GNU system".

What has not been established is whether that's a *sufficient* condition
under the present circumstances.  Is it?

As an advocate of the removal of non-free software from our distribution
network, I am personally curious as to the consequences, both good and
bad, of taking such an action.

I should further inquire that when you say "non-free", you mean non-free
according to the FSF's standards, not Debian's, right?  If the Debian
Project does remove GNU FDL-licensed manuals from our distribution due
to their failure to satisfy the Debian Free Software Guidelines, that
may not mean that we completely sanitize the remainder of the
distribution of all mentions of any such manuals -- especially those
whose licensing has changed from DFSG-free to non-DFSG-free, such as the
GDB Manual.

One last question for now: since I do not want to leap to any
conclusions, how am I to interpret your recent (but consistent) practice
of no longer responding directly to my mails, but instead mentioning
them only by reference, and speaking to me only in the third person?

Thanks for taking the time to reply.

G. Branden Robinson                |    Build a fire for a man, and he'll
Debian GNU/Linux                   |    be warm for a day.  Set a man on
branden@debian.org                 |    fire, and he'll be warm for the
http://people.debian.org/~branden/ |    rest of his life. - Terry Pratchett

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