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Re: Notice: GR to remove non-free support from Debian

On Thu, Jun 08, 2000 at 09:44:56AM +0100, Moore, Paul wrote:

> I agree with this sentiment. Debian is by far my preferred Linux
> distribution, but the "DFSG free or nothing" attitude is a little hard-core
> for me. I don't see any problem with segregating non-DFSG-free stuff from
> the fully DFSG-free software, but rejecting it altogether from Debian does
> little to help.

[. . .]
> The endless issues over free vs non-free and other license-related issues
> makes Debian look more like license nit-pickers than anything else. This
> doesn't seem to me to be a good image to have. It's not done the GNU project
> much good, and it would be a shame if Debian had the same problems.

I don't want to make any invidious comparisons here -- well, OK, maybe I do. 
In any case, I want to make it particularly and explicitly clear that I am
not saying people who try to promote Free software are communists.  _I_ try
to promote Free software, and I doubt many people would paint me as a
communist.  Still, a comparison with a period of U.S. history is
instructive.  (I know that I'm over-simplifying below, but this is hardly
the place for a full scholarly treatment.)

In the Soviet period, the various communist and socialist factions in the
U.S. did as much harm to themselves by constant internal bickering over
ideological purity, as was done to them by external forces (like HUAC and
Jumpin' Joe).  That is, the Wobblies and the Communist Party of America, for
instance, couldn't agree on many details of doctrine, and spent as much time
sniping at one another as they did arguing for the wider political goals
that they shared.  The effect of this was that the broad and generous
large-union support they once enjoyed got frayed.  When the Red panic took
over, unions simply abandoned the bunch of bickering fools for the larger,
established parties.  In other words, part of the reason the U.S's
institutional political left is to the right of many countries' right wing
is because the U.S. political left collapsed into squabbling.

One can give similar accounts of the splintering of some Protestant sects,
or of some flavours of Islam.  It strikes me that the license-purity
leg-lifting contests run the risk of ending up similarly.  Projects rather
grander than Debian sometimes manage to drive themselves to irrelevance and
obscurity with this sort of inflexibility.  Debian is pretty rigourous about
software freedom already.  What is to be achieved by making things yet more
difficult in the few cases where someone wants a non-free package?  (The
bickering also reminds me of the nastiness around *BSD.  But let's let
sleeping dogs lie.)

For the record, the above sentiments are my own, and do not represent the
opinion of the BPL.

Andrew Sullivan                                      Computer Services
<sullivana@bpl.on.ca>                        Burlington Public Library
+1 905 639 3611 x158                                   2331 New Street
                                   Burlington, Ontario, Canada L7R 1J4

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