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

Bernhard R. Link <brlink@debian.org> wrote:
> * Matthew Garrett <mgarrett@chiark.greenend.org.uk> [060823 17:31]:
>> If you can find a single hard drive on the market that doesn't contain 
>> some sort of firmware, I'll be greatly impressed. Or, for that matter, a 
>> vaguely modern processor. Let alone bootstrapping a system (LinuxBIOS 
>> will suffice for a very small range of hardware), running a modern 
>> network card, using a graphics chip for any purpose other than 
>> unaccelerated 2D, or, well, pretty much any piece of hardware on the 
>> market today. For all practical purposes, it's impossible to obtain 
>> hardware that doesn't depend on firmware.
> In case it was not clear I was discussing things where firmware is also
> loadable.


> I've never seen BIOSes being part of the Operating system, but you can get
> hardware that runs with LinuxBios. I've not yet met a hard drive (as
> opposed to all kind of Bus controlers) needing any firmware before
> operating. I don't know about new graphic cards (all I really need is
> 2D), but looking at how ugly the drivers are and what a secret even
> communicating with the hardware is for the vendors, I really doubt any
> firmware on the card is involved. Network cards I never looked to
> deeply, but most of them were so small I really doubt they are more than
> plain hardware. WLan cards might be something different, but I never
> used them.

Several drivers load microcode to graphics chipsets on startup. Gigabit 
cards pretty much all run some sort of firmware. Wlan cards certainly 

But anyway. Your computer depends on non-free firmware. It's basically
impossible to avoid that nowadays. From a practical viewpoint, I would 
prefer it if we encouraged hardware that was amenable to easy firmware 
replacement. You seem to prefer hardware where that's more difficult. I 
don't see how that's a win for freedom.

> OK, never saw that drives. But where is the problem with them. Works
> without needing any non-free stuff being put in the operating systems
> and people might be able to replace it. No good example.

Wait. So by "Non-free stuff being put in the operating systems", you 
mean "Non-free stuff lives on my filesystem"?

> Put again, what part instead if my BIOS (which mostly runs in CPU so
> some people might not call it firmware, and at least with PCs is never
> needed to be shipped by a driver) and IDE drivers (which also always
> come with some pre-installed firmware, so not relevant), is found in
> every cheap box? (assuming to wireless).

You mean "Other than these bits of hardware that require firmware, which 
bits of my hardware require firmware"? If you've got a laptop, the 
embedded controller will have some sort of firmware that runs it. As 
I've already noted, it's quite likely that your network card does if 
it's reasonably new. Your CPU probably has new microcode loaded by the 
BIOS. In other words, almost all of it.

Your argument seems to be "If I don't see it, it doesn't matter". 

>> Or you'll go and buy some hardware with the firmware in eeprom where 
>> it's a pain to replace with free firmware.
> As I said. As long as noone cares for free firmwares, what difference
> does it make? I the vendor opens the specs, there should be a free one
> and not problems. If it does not open the specs the eeprom version has
> the advantage to work even when the firmware-binary gets lost and
> the manufacturer might have tested it before. (Or introduced something
> to replace the firmware, which again defeats your point).

Do you believe that hardware with the firmware in ROM is preferable 
(from a pure freedom point of view) to hardware with firmware loaded by 
the OS?

Matthew Garrett | mjg59-chiark.mail.debian.project@srcf.ucam.org

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