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Re: LCC and blobs

Hamish Moffatt <hamish@debian.org> writes:

> 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."

It never meant "anything that isn't hardware".  For example, the movie
"Star Wars" is not software.  It's a movie.  Some encoding of it may
be software, but the film on which it was originally shot certainly
isn't -- it's analog data, not digital.

The definition, for Debian's purposes, has always been the recursive
(but not circular) "anything that Debian can reasonably distribute".

"Reasonably" is a bit of a weasel, but I think that's a useful thing
to have.  It's not meant to be an absolute definition, mechanically interpreted.

> 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. 

That seems comparable to Perl or any other interpreter: to be shipped
in Free, at least one free program must exist.  If such exist for the
Atari 800 or whatever UAE emulates, then surely they can be moved to free.

> 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?

Such a CD-ROM is useful only by extracting software from it.  This is
very different from a typical hardware device, which is there for
functionality.  Sure, you could look at CDs or ROM chips as hardware,
but they are methods of software transport.  A video card is not,
typically, such a method.


Brian Sniffen                                       bts@alum.mit.edu

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