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Re: Proposal: The DFSG do not require source code for data, including firmware

On Tue, 22 Aug 2006 22:23:29 -0700, Steve Langasek <vorlon@debian.org> said: 

> On Tue, Aug 22, 2006 at 06:19:08PM -0500, Manoj Srivastava wrote:
>> On Tue, 22 Aug 2006 15:18:04 -0700, Steve Langasek
>> <vorlon@debian.org> said:

>> > Hi folks, Ever since the sarge release, an ongoing question has
>> > been: what do the DFSG require for works that are not "programs"
>> > as previously understood in Debian?  Several rounds of general
>> > resolutions have now given us answers for some subclasses of
>> > non-program works, but debate still rages regarding one
>> > particularly important class: firmware for peripheral devices.

>> Actually, I disagree

> What point are you disagreeing with?  That there is debate about
> firmware in Debian?  That the previous common understanding of
> "programs" in Debian did not include firmware?

        I am disagreeing that there is a genuine ambiguity.  

> If it's the latter, I maintain that this is precisely the subject
> matter of the proposed GR; we obviously *don't* have agreement in
> Debian over what should or should not be considered a "program", so
> I think that's begging the question.

>> and, even worse, so does the common definition of the phrase
>> computer program:

> If 55% of the voting developers in Debian don't agree with this
> "common" definition as pertains to the DFSG (which I doubt most
> laymen would agree with either where firmware is concerned), why do
> they need the consent of another 20% of the voters in order to
> proceed accordingly?

        This is like legislating the value of Pi not to be
 irrational -- I mean, rationality is to be prized, no?

>> What is firmware, then?  Speaking as en electrical engineer, I
>> would say that firmware is just compiled binary programs that are
>> meant to be executed by a processor (that often lives on the
>> mainboard) which happens not to be the contral processing unit.

> Yes, these are reasonable definitions of both "program" and
> "firmware."  They're also not the ones that Debian has been
> operating under for most of its history; the previous version of the
> Social Contract said that Debian would remain 100% free software,
> and I don't think anyone will argue that there are programs which
> aren't software.  So if firmware was already supposed to be covered
> under the DFSG, how is this reconciled with the fact that no one
> ever worried about firmware in Debian until the past couple of
> years?

        These are not just reasonable definitions -- they are the
 overwhelming majority of definitions found for the terms.  I searched
 the digital libraries of the ACM and of the IEEE, and I have yet to
 come across any mention of firmware that does not concede that it is
 software programs -- perhaps software programs that are read off
 non-volatile memory, instead of magnetic fields on a hard-drive
 platter, but in either case the storage media is some kind of (semi)
 persistent elecro-magnetic field, and the stored instructions are
 acted upon by a processing unit.  No textbook, no reference, no
 definition in dictionaries of electrical engineering, no online
 dictionaries, seem to be ambiguous or confused -- seems hard to
 imagine that people can be genuinely confused for long.  It is easy
 enough to correct ones understanding of the term firmware with a
 little research.

        Now, I also understand the convenience factor -- it is vastly
 more convenient to just let this slide under the carpet, and let what
 is technically non-free under the DFSG into main by cleverly
 redefining words to suit -- the users want it, the hardware vendors
 want it, and the benefit of sticking to principles of freedom seem
 silly and appear to have little immediate benefit.

        But pretending that firmware definition is somehow ambiguous is
 Clintonian ("it depends n what the meaning of the word 'is' is")  in

        Oh, as to why we still have non-DFSG material in main, well,
 cleansing a distribution the size of Debian takes time, and we have
 been working towards this goal -- and it is not so long ago that an
 editorial change to the SC clarified the meaning of the SC for some

"Even the most boundless love can end." Rhett Butler, to Scarlet
O'Hara, _Gone With The Wind_
Manoj Srivastava   <srivasta@debian.org>  <http://www.debian.org/%7Esrivasta/>
1024D/BF24424C print 4966 F272 D093 B493 410B  924B 21BA DABB BF24 424C

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