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Re: LCC and blobs

On Sat, Dec 25, 2004 at 04:08:38PM -0500, Brian Thomas Sniffen wrote:
> Hamish Moffatt <hamish@debian.org> writes:
> > Eh? The contents of EEPROMs are software just as much as the contents of
> > CD-ROMs and hard disks. They are just different media for storing
> > digital information.
> >
> You can get software out of an firmware-EEPROM on a hardware device.
> I don't think it's appropriate to call that software as is, or in
> general.  This line *could* be drawn in lots of places, but if you say
> that the contents of an EEPROM are software, then how about a one-shot
> PROM?  How about a book with a print-out of the source code?
> The only reasonable place to draw the line, for Debian, is this: can
> Debian physically ship it in a useful way?  For files on disk, the
> answer is yes.  We are constrained only by the license.  For the book
> or the PROM, the answer is no.  For an EEPROM, in general, the answer
> is no.  For any such correctly operating device, the firmware is
> already there.  Debian can't usefully ship it.  It would be
> interesting to try supporting an architecture to run on those devices
> instead of Wind River or whatever, but there isn't one now.

I think you have an interesting definition but I wish that we could find
a word other than "software" for it. We have overloaded that word too
much already. Originally it meant computer programs; then it meant
anything that isn't hardware. Now you're proposing that it is "anything
that Debian could distribute."

As an aside, the "anything that isn't hardware" definition seems
particularly poor. The general public would say that a CD-ROM contains
software, but really a CD-ROM is just a piece of plastic with pits in
it or not (ie all hardware). Similarly most people would say that a hard 
disk contains software, but really it just contains some metal platters
with a magnetic field.

A PROM contains an array of fuses, some of which have been blown. I
don't think it contains software any more or less than a hard disk or a

> > The ICQ server isn't distributed in Debian, so why aren't the clients in
> > contrib?
> This is an excellent parallel to the firmware situation.
> The ICQ clients don't depend on the ICQ server software.  They depend
> on a compliant server.  It might be a general-purpose computer running
> non-free software.  It might be a specific hardware device.  It might
> be a very fast monkey with a set of switches on an Ethernet cord.  It
> could be anything.  This is an abstraction barrier.  It would be
> *nice* to have a free ICQ server-software in Debian.

I think there are parallels with other software in Debian where we have
not been so forgiving. We have a number of emulators for game consoles
that are packaged and currently living in contrib eg uae, atari800.
Those are generally placed in contrib because there's currently no free
replacement for the ROMs they require. 

There's an abstraction barrier there too: the hardware/software
interface. As we don't have any free software, the hardware (emulator)
can't be in "main". You can't use the emulator software without
additional components from outside of Debian.

So you say that the ICQ client depends on components from outside of
Debian that are not necessarily software. Well, what if a user has
a CD-ROM (or an EEPROM?) full of ROMs for use with atari800; shouldn't
atari800 be in main then since many ICQ clients are?

Hamish Moffatt VK3SB <hamish@debian.org> <hamish@cloud.net.au>

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