The contents of non-free
People in this debate are making some very sweeping statements about Free vs
Non-Free software, Rights etc.
Much of this is because non-free is all being lumped in together, and then
being compared, in general terms, with software from The Evil Empire.
I have been looking the licenses of the pieces of non-free software which I
available to me (as in the non-free archive) and the main common factor is
diversity. It is probably worth re-examining how a piece of software ends up
1) No commercial sale.
This is by far the most common category - software which comes with source,
may be modified and used at will, but may not be sold at a profit. Many of
these are games where the author hopes someone will pay them a fee if they
do get put onto a compilation CD.
I can see that a commercial profit making organisation might want to persuade
people to change their license so that they can sell CDs with other peoples
work, at a profit.
2) No right to modify
Here the author wants to keep very strict control over the distributed version
of their work. (Qmail etc) We may not agree with the author (who is usually
Dan Bernstein) but it is very hard to apply the 'code in non-free is of poor
quality' argument to, for example, qmail
3) Restriction to use by Radio Amateurs
Several packages, only of interest to Radio Amateurs, are otherwise DFSG free,
but have a clause which prevents them from being used other than by Radio
Amateurs. This clause is common in such software because the license terms for
Amateur Radio allow such software to be carried on packet BBS systems, which
may not be used as general purpose software repositories.
4) No source available
This is mostly Netscape - which is probably the most commonly used non-free
package. Mozilla is making great progress, and anyone who has not tried it
recently should try it again, but some areas need work. If all the effort
which has gone into this debate had gone into improvements to Mozilla then
it would probably have overtaken Netscape by now.
There is also JDK - again there is a free alternative, but the way to promote
free software is to improve it, not to try to restrict access to the non-free
5) Picons packages
The various picons packages contain things like company logos, which are
protected as Trademarks. They need to have a license which acknowledges this,
so that the owners of the logo do not lose their Trademark status.
6) Software encumbered by patents
Mostly otherwise DFSG free software which manipulates GIF files. These are DFSG
free in countries which do not recognise software patents. I suspect removal
of non-free would result in big arguments about putting these into non-US/main
(which would be left in an odd situation if the export regulations on
7) Aladdin Ghostscript
This (and probably a few similar packages) is released as a no-commercial use
version, with the previous version being released as free software.
People could fork a fully free version, if they feel very strongly about it
(but they could end up damaging a free software business, and would probably
leave the Page Description Language market entirely with Adobe)
Non-free really means 'read the license' - if we remove it as a section we will
see many more arguments on debian-devel about, for example pieces of software
with some minor clause in their license which prevents it from being DFSG free.