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Re: A rebuttal (was: Re: Formal CFV: General Resolution to Abolish Non-Free)

On Sat, Jun 10, 2000 at 05:12:11PM +1000, Anthony Towns wrote:
> The general resolution to abolish non-free is flawed in a number of ways.


> It weakens the social contract
> ==============================
> The social contract is one of the foundations on which Debian users
> base their expectations for Debian's future directions. Up until now,
> Debian users could rely on having both a fully functional and free
> distribution available to them and a number of non-free components that
> they may require. While we will, with the proposed changes, continue to
> acknowledge our users' needs for non-free software, we will no longer
> make any attempt to satisfy them.

Do you wish Debian to be known for providing non-free software?  The
social contract says that Debian is 100% free software, yet you quite
clearly point out above Debian has an obvious double standard.  We say
Debian is 100% free software and yet it isn't really.  Debian has been
providing non-free software and people expect this of us now.  When we
start tossing around the idea of changing that, it becomes obvious that
many of us don't really mean for Debian to be 100% free software.

> Futhermore, the success of this proposal would set a precedent that
> the Debian developers may, by a simple majority vote, modify the social
> contract as they wish, without making any attempt to determine if this
> is truly in the interests of their users, or even the free software
> community at large.

This is a valid point and regardless of the outcome of this resolution I
am almost insistant that we should also resolve to make the Social
Contract and DFSG require a 3:1 vote to alter, just like the constitution
on the grounds that they are just as fundamental (if not moreso) to the
project and should not be tampered with lightly.

> It offers no tangible benefits
> ==============================
> This proposal is purely negative: it seeks to remove all the functionality
> that the non-free component offers Debian users, without offering anything
> that will directly improve a user's experience of the Debian distribution,
> or make participation in the Debian project easier or more productive.

This is subjective.  I think it's pretty damned negative to see Debian
people claiming we already do not support non-free software enough, so
therefore how could anyone but a zealot consider trying to support it
less?  I'm not accusing you of this viewpoint, however if you've read at
least as much of the flamefest as I have, the view has been expressed
several times.

And I consider that view to be directly contrary to the goal of the Social
Contract which indeed we are all so concerned about protecting (even those
advocating changing it see it as an attempt to protect it..)

> It creates both immediate and long-term tangible drawbacks
> ==========================================================
> The initial result of this proposal will be to cease updating non-free
> software which will make maintenance and installation of contrib packages
> significantly more difficult, since there will be no reliable site for
> the non-free software many contrib packages depend upon. In the longer
> term, it will make it impossible to assure users that contrib software
> can be installed and is usable.

I cited this point in my own message a day or two ago, and agree it is a

> Similarly, it will make it impossible for Debian to assure its users that
> particular items of non-free software will be available. It is commonly
> held that this change will make non-free software for Debian no harder
> to find, but this is a best case scenario assuming a single archive of
> comparable quality to Debian's is set up. If multiple archives are setup,
> or the archives are of lower quality (eg they do not follow a technical
> policy document, eg, or they do not check uploads for authenticity),
> using non-free software on a Debian system will become significantly
> more difficult.

There's a lot of what-ifs in that paragraph, but it too is a concern.  A
lesser concern to my view as I advocate (regardless of the outcome of this
GR) moving the "unofficial" list of apt lines to someplace on the Debian
website.  Keep it branded unofficial, stamp a warning that these aren't
Debian's packages and we don't know what's in them, and let people add
whatever repositories they wish to it.  I'd like to add regular CVS
snapshots of a few of my packages to such a list.

> It's premature
> ==============
> non-free software is still necessary: there is still free software based
> on it (as evidenced by contrib), and many of our users still require it.
> The premise of section five of the social contract still holds: some
> of our users do still require the use of programs that don't conform to
> the Debian Free Software Guidelines. Which programs are required and have
> no free replacements has changed and continues to change, but the fact
> that some programs are still required has not.

Arguably there will always be free software depending on non-free,
especially that which is no longer actively maintained or that which is
old and uses something like XForms and was never updated.

That said, I still have netscape, xanim, and blender on my machine.

> It forks the Debian infrastructure
> ==================================

Reasonable points herein.

> Confusion between the Debian project and the Debian distribution
> ================================================================
> It is undeniably true that the Debian GNU/Linux and GNU/Hurd distributions
> solely contain free software. This does not, however, imply that the
> Debian project is exclusively limited to distributing free software,
> and indeed the Debian project has distributed non-free software and has
> codified that practice in its social contract. Distributing non-free
> software is not evidence of hypocrisy or compromised ideals, it is a
> corollary of the needs of our distribution's users, and the project's
> support for those users.

But it is, and you said so yourself: non-free software is necessary.  If
it is necessary for the average system to include non-free software to be
fully functional, Debian is not doing a very good job of following the
first point of the Social Contract:

  1. Debian Will Remain 100% Free Software

     We promise to keep the Debian GNU/Linux Distribution entirely free
     software. As there are many definitions of free software, we include
     the guidelines we use to determine if software is "free" below. We
     will support our users who develop and run non-free software on
     Debian, but we will never make the system depend on an item of
     non-free software.  

If tasks as basic and common as browsing most web pages requires non-free
software such as netscape, Debian is not producing a 100% free-software
distribution with no dependencies on non-free software.

Of course this is off on a serious tangent because it is implied that the
reason we will support non-free software is because at the moment the
Social Contract was drafted and even to this point, in order to have a
reasonable desktop machine without having to give up things most people
take for granted, you can't do it with Debian main alone.  Idealistically
we would change that.  Realistically, changing that is probably some time
off, to be sure.

> Confusion between the Debian project and Debian developers
> ==========================================================
> The social contract does not dictate what individual developers must
> work on, only what the project as a whole will try to achieve. Just
> as individual developers are not required to only ever write free
> software, individual developers are similarly not required to work on
> non-free software or assist with its infrastructure. With or without
> the commitment to non-free software contained in the social contract,
> developers may completely ignore non-free software, without decreasing
> their contribution to the distribution or the project in any way.

I'll give you this point, however as I said before I am extremely wary of
developers who have openly stated in this discussion that they believe
what Debian is trying to achieve is wrong.

> The effects of this proposal on the free software community
> ===========================================================

I'll give you this one even though I disagree with how much of an effect
it seems to be having in the grand scheme of things.  We do have our
impact, but some would like a little more obvious (and less seemingly
contracdictary) position from Debian given that many of us consider Debian
to be one of the last distributions really defending free software.

Perhaps the GR proposed is not the most adiquate solution to do this, but
I think if there were a second alternative on the table which did not
alter the social contract and was less technically damaging to the project
that it actually would have a fair chance at passing.  At least, so I
should hope.

Joseph Carter <knghtbrd@debian.org>               GnuPG key 1024D/DCF9DAB3
Debian GNU/Linux (http://www.debian.org/)         20F6 2261 F185 7A3E 79FC
The QuakeForge Project (http://quakeforge.net/)   44F9 8FF7 D7A3 DCF9 DAB3

<Culus> And don't get me started on perl!
<Culus> :>
<shaleh> perl is beyond evil
<jim> you don't know perl yet?
<netgod> gotta love a language with no definable syntax

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