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On the lets-remove-nonfree-proposal

(this is being cross-posted to debian-devel since most of the discussion
took place on that list. However please honour the reply-to and
send all reactions to the debian-project list)

I've been thinking about this for some time and finally managed to work
my way through the somewhat over 1000 posts that were made on this

It is one of those subjects for which it is quite easy to make good
arguments both in favour and against the proposal, which has resulted in
a overly long discussion. It's about time that we wrap this one up.
I would prefer to do that without having to go through the whole
General Resolution procedure, but if we absolutely have to so be it..

I'll just go over some of the arguments that I think are important.
(please note that every time I use the term `free' here I mean that as
in `free speech', not as in `free beer')

Lets start with the social contract, since the proposal suggests
changing that. 

We offered that contract to the world, and the Free Software community
in particular, and I think it is one of the reasons we are doing so
well. One could almost consider it our bible. Modifying that text means
changing the foundations of Debian is build on, and should not be done
lightly.  The contract is a solemn promise that we are completely
serious about Free Software and that our distribution will remain 100%
free. However it is also clearly states that we acknowledge that people
may want to use software that isn't free. Item 4 of the social contract
states that `Our Priorities are Our Users and Free Software'. Please
note the order here: first our users, then free software. To me this
indicates that even though we have promised to always maintain a free
distribution, our users are also very important. The logical result is
item 5, which states that we are aware that those users on occasion
require using non DFSG-free programs, and in order to support them and
honour item 4 of the contract we will maintain the contrib and non-free
sections in our archive. So modifying section 5 so we can justify remove
those areas feels like violating section 4.

Is it so bad that the Debian project also maintains an archive of
non-free software? I would say no, definitely not! Let me quote Ray
Dassen here:

    Having worked with and on Debian GNU/Linux for over five years, I'm
    very aware of the differences between free and non-free software. I
    strongly prefer free software, both from a philosophical and a
    practical point of view. In the reality of working in business
    though, I still need to use some non-free software. I don't have the
    time or the money to teach our consultants to use Gnumeric.

What would happen if we didn't have a contrib or non-free section?
People like Ray would be forced to either switch to using Windows, or
would have to install something like StarOffice themselves. Ray knows to
do this, but a lot of people either don't, or don't have the time. To
quote Ray further:

    Dogmatic removal of non-free from Debian's mirrors and killing of
    the associated infrastructure (use of the BTS, lists etc) would in
    my opinion be a severe disservice to our users and would cause
    Debian not to appear on the radar screen of many potential
    developers, which in the long run will be detrimental to the plans
    for free software world domination.

Here he makes a good observation: supporting non-free software can
actually be beneficial for us. It allows people to use our free
distribution while still being able to live in a world where it might be
essential to use non-free software. It means we will support those
people, and when at some point there is a free alternative they can
switch easily. We will have succeeded in purging everything that isn't
100% DFSG-free form the distribution but in the process alienated people
who might otherwise have used Debian. As Lindsay Haisley put it:

   Honey draws more flies than vinegar.

The argument of saving resources that otherwise would be spent on free
software has also been made. I'm tempted to state that the reverse is
actually true: the people that are currently maintaining packages in
contrib and non-free do so out of their own free will. If we remove
their packages they will most likely not put that effort elsewhere but
instead maintain the package for personal use (or at least a much
smaller audience). That almost make it likely that a lot more duplicate
effort will be done by people that do need to use non-free software. No
resources are freed, they have just been redirected away from Debian. 

It should be pretty clear what my position on this proposal is: while
I appreciate the intent of making the project more pure by abolishing
all non-free software, I think the result will hurt our users and
not be beneficial for us at all.


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