one of the many reasons why removing non-free is a dumb idea
One thing that all of the advocates for dumping non-free have in common is a
complete disregard for the actual contents of non-free. they like to pretend
that it's all proprietary software, that it doesn't even come close to free,
that source-code isn't available.
Nothing could be further from the truth. while there are a handful of packages
in non-free that don't have complete or usable source code, and even fewer that
don't have any source code, the vast majority of software in non-free is there
because the license doesn't quite meet the requirements of the DFSG, just as
much GNU documentation does not quite meet the requirements of the DFSG.
The majority of programs in non-free come with source code and allow the user
to modify and use it as they like. However, some prohibit commercial
exploitation or sale, some prohibit distribution of modified versions, some
prohibit use by government agencies, some allow free use only for educational
or private purposes. some of it is affected by software patents, so it is
"free" in certain countries but "non-free" in others.
In short, almost all of the software is almost-free or (using RMS' terminology)
Debian doesn't distinguish between the types of non-free...whether it is
non-free because it is proprietary or non-free because use by spammers is
prohibited, it is treated the same: if we can distribute it at all, it can go
in non-free. if we can't distribute it under any circumstances, then we can
Aside from the convenience for our users, this has also been useful in
motivating some software authors to get their programs out of the non-free
ghetto by changing the license to one that is truly free. there have been
numerous examples of this happening over the years.
As well as software, the non-free section also contains documentation and data
that, for one reason or another, does not have a DFSG-compatible license. the
reasons for this are pretty much the same as for the software - prohibition of
sale or commercial exploitation, discrimination for/against a class of users,
no right to distribute derived works, etc.
This non-free data & documentation can still be used and even modifed by the
end-user, however, and the fact that modified versions can not be redistributed
really makes NO PRACTICAL DIFFERENCE to anyone at all. no one really needs to
modify doc-linux-nonfree-text, or povray-doc.....any possible need to modify
can easily be worked around with an errata sheet, or by submitting a change to
ditto for data sets like the 'yale' star catalog. this is the sort of data
that end-users don't need to change and, more importantly, where changes should
be managed by qualified experts. for some data sets it is a Good Thing that
there is only one official, authoritative (preferably peer-reviewed) source.
The proposal to remove non-free is nothing more than rabid ideology, completely
divorced from reality. if it succeeds, it will be a triumph of insanity over
a far better use of everyone's time would be to:
- write DSFG replacements for non-free software (or encourage & assist others
to do the same).
- try (politely!) to convince the non-free authors to change to a DFSG-free
- get a life and stop worrying about what other people run on their own