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Re: Software in main that is throughly useless without non-free software

On Sat, May 01, 1999 at 07:41:03PM +0100, James Troup wrote:
> So, opinions?

As James well knows, this sparked quite an argument on the "secret" IRC

I expect this to be a contentious issue, but I am in support of James's
action as a harbinger of (hopefully) a new, clarified contrib policy.

Why would it be a Good Thing to put programs that depend in a functional
sense (in addition to those that depend in a technical sense; e.g., via
dynamic linking to a non-free library) into contrib?

1) It pays close attention to the implications of the "compilation or
execution" clause of the definition of our "main" section.

* must not require a package outside of "main" for compilation or
  execution (thus, the package may not declare a "Depends" or
  "Recommends" relationship on a non-main package), 

Since the issue came up in the context of a client/server discussion, let
me use an example from my own experience.

What if all X servers were non-free?

Of what utility then, would be all the X clients in the world, if one
wanted to use only DFSG-free software?  The answer is, practically none at

I'd like to use xterm or rxvt...wait, damn, gotta install a non-free X

I'd like to use GNOME...wait, damn, gotta install a non-free X server.

It is practically a tautology to say that the utility of a client is
strongly dependent on the availability of a server using the same
communication protocol.

2) While every other Linux distribution on earth is busy loading up its
CD's with non-free software, we continue to carry the banner as the
distribution that doesn't cuff your hands, or fully recognize that which

If this clarification of contrib were adopted and enforced, it would make
the software in question no less available.  Contrib isn't about whether
something is DFSG-free or not.  Contrib is about whether your program is
useful in a microcosm of DFSG-free-only software.  Clearly, packages like
xtrs, which depends on proprietary ROM images from ancient computer
hardware are not useful in such a microcosm.  Neither are ICQ clients, if
there is no DFSG-free ICQ server that supports a minimal set of functions.
Neither are Quake server scanners or list utilities, if there is no
DFSG-free Quake.

In fact, this policy would help to educate people by informing them about
what pieces of popular proprietary software need DFSG-free counterparts.

Remember, Microsoft's own engineers have proposed taking heretofore open
Internet protocols and doing their customary "embrance and extend" violence
to them.  To what extent Microsoft will do this is not yet known.  But they
are not the only commercial interest out there with this tactic at their

What good will our operating system be if we let all, or even a significant
minority of our wire protocols become closed property?

We've already got a popular proprietary chat/messaging protocol.  People
are eschewing SMTP and IRC in favor of ICQ.  Why?  What are its strengths?
The free software community needs to have its awareness raised about this.
If we're not going to "clone" it, then it had better be a deliberate
decision rather than one that is made for us by virtue of our own

Imagine a world with a standard, proprietary hypertext protocol.
Imagine a world with a standard, proprietary mail transfer protocol.
Imagine a world with a standard, proprietary name service protocol.
Imagine a world with a standard, proprietary address resolution protocol.

Where do you want to go today?

G. Branden Robinson              |           Measure with micrometer,
Debian GNU/Linux                 |           mark with chalk,
branden@ecn.purdue.edu           |           cut with axe,
cartoon.ecn.purdue.edu/~branden/ |           hope like hell.

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