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Re: Proposal: Keep non-free

On Tue, Feb 24, 2004 at 01:23:51PM +0000, MJ Ray wrote:
> I consider this proposed position statement poorly justified, for the 
> reasons that follow.
> On 2004-02-21 15:48:48 +0000 Anthony Towns <aj@azure.humbug.org.au> 
> wrote:
> >First, it allows us to provide useful packages that we could not 
> >otherwise
> >provide.
> It also reduces the demand for developers to encourage and help 
> DFSG-free alternatives to those packages. I think such 
> encouragement/assistance is consistent with Debian's stated goals. Is 
> it coincidence that the free Java systems in main progress more 
> rapidly now that we do not have a Java in non-free?

I believe it has more to do with the upstream of the free java
alternatives to be more active, or those projects getting more mature,
than any influence of java being or not being in non-free. I think the
latest java we had in non-free was 1.1 or something such, and this was
obsoleted years ago, so its removal could hardly be the reason for the
recent maturity of the free java alternatives.

> >software
> >that's in non-free can be maintained with all the usual tools we have
> >for the main Debian distribution: dependency analysis, autobuilders,
> >even security support.
> It does not really seem healthy for the Debian operating system 
> development to use its facilities to help develop software that cannot 
> be part of the Debian operating system.

Oh ? Please tell me how it is a health problem for Debian ? What are the
symptoms of the disease, and how is it related to the non-free area ?

> >Third, it allows us to establish productive relationships with 
> >upstream
> >authors of non-free software, which gives the free software community
> >an effective channel for communicating their needs and desires.
> This seems almost entirely independent of non-free being in the 

Thus speaks the one who doesn't care about non-free, without even caring
to hear the experience of the non-free packagers who repeteadedly
claimed the contrary here.

> archive. *Developers who care about freeing non-free software* allows 
> us to establish those relationships. In recent discussions on -vote, 
> no case was presented where non-free alone caused the relationship or 
> freeing of the software. Always, diplomatic developers were involved. 
> Is there a "magic of the non-free archive" case? If so, why is it not 
> in this rationale?

Yeah, but the real argument is : see, we already have the package in
non-free, we can prove that having it packaged for debian is a good
thing, but non-free cannot go on CD distributions, and is in general a
pain in the ***, would you please consider freeing the licence, or we
will maybe see if we can reimplement or replace your packages with other

The only two kind of packages where this is problematic, apart from
those whose upstream author is adamant in not wishing to free the
software, are documentation and other kind of data (is the bible text in
main really modifiable ? and what about the whole lot of GFDL
documentation) and naturally binary only driver, where one could argue
that the ultimate source is not the source in itself but the full
hardware specs, which are often available only with an NDA, and even
then, often incomplete. These hardware manufacturers making their money
mostly on windows, and often being in a monopoly situation, they don't
care about what the relative small userbase debian decide to not ship
those drivers. Ideally, they would distribute nicely working packages,
built for all the debian architectures, directly from their web site,
but if they support linux at all, they will most probably only ship rpm
packages, and those are often a mess, and i say this from experience.

> >-- the fact that people bother to maintain it and
> >install it is evidence that some non-free software continues to be 
> >useful,
> I suspect people often install non-free through ignorance and habit. 

They install them, because there is no free alternative. At least for
the most important remaining non-free packages. And those are the ones
for which we said we will have the non-free area in our net archives, to
support our users needing them. By all mean, the current social
contract doesn't stop us from removing those packages that indeed have
free alternatives, and altough this has maybe not be done in a timely
fashion in the past, i guess this is mostly because nobody cares enough
about non-free to properly purge it when the time has come.

> Some maintainers appear to maintain packages there through 
> intransigence and because it is possible. I do not yet offer any 
> evidence to support this, as this is only a first reaction to your 
> comment and I have not had time to collect any evidence.

I will be very glad when all the non-free packages i care for have free
alternatives, but sadly, i don't think this will happen in the near to
medium future, at least not for hardware drivers.

> >By contrast there is not, to the best of my knowledge, any evidence 
> >at all
> >to support the claims that supporting non-free costs as anything 
> >notable.
> Then, the sides are equal, at best. However, your rationale is not 
> presenting the case against the motion, so I would not expect it to 
> include that evidence, but the absence of evidence for your proposal 
> is unusual.

blah blah blah.

> >The costs in manpower are also fairly
> >small: all the ongoing support is a freebie from supporting software 
> >in
> >main (and contrib); and the setup support is (by my estimation) 
> >trivial,
> >and having already been spent isn't able to be recovered.
> If nothing else, do ftpmasters have to check uploads, as with other 
> packages?

Naturally they do. But i guess this would be not more work than checking
the uploads of someone trying to sneak in one of those packages into

> >Similarly, there
> >have been claims that without non-free, we'll have a bigger incentive 
> >to
> >encourage people to relicense their software freely: that if they 
> >don't,
> >we won't distribute it, but those claims haven't been supported by any
> >evidence at all, anecdotal or otherwise.
> What evidence would you like? The above line of reasoning seems fairly 
> obvious, from a classical supply-demand theory of markets. It is 
> difficult to compare effects of alternate realities, because both 
> cannot exist simultaneously.

Because the whole lot of installed debian machines doesn't represent a
potential market even enough to pay these hardware manufacturers
employee time needed to follow the release of the specs and such things.
Or so they say at least. Please step back in reality.

> >On the other hand there are reasonably measurable potential costs to
> >removing non-free. [...] the only people
> >that seem likely to invest that time seem to be people who would have
> >otherwise invested it in doing things beneficial to Debian
> This Great Unanswered Question is the core of that debate: would the 
> maintainers of an alternative non-free framework be already active 
> Debian developers or not?

Yes, naturally, or else, they would be persons who would otherwise have
become one.

The only way this would make sense, would be if there were money in this
alternative non-free framework, enough money to pay the non-free devels,
or to reach some agrement with the hardware companies so that they
either give us access to hardware specs, or that they allow us to build
the drivers for those hardware parts from their source.

But even if this happens, is this really something that would be a
benefic result of removing non-free ? I have some doubts about this.

> There could be another benefit to removing non-free: developers would 
> need to accept that the Debian project is not the only source for 
> Debian packages and actually resolve some of the third-party package 
> support matters, like Origin and Bugs, and enabling something like 
> apt-checksigs as default.

Third party packages are evil, this is what the whole rpm situation has
showed us.

> >Finally, I believe that making a resolution to keep non-free is a 
> >better
> >outcome than further discussion so that we can ensure that it's clear
> >to all our members and all our users what our intentions are on this
> >controversial issue for the forseeable future.
> What approaches "the discussion is over" is not really a healthy 
> position statement. Reading the docs, I'm also not sure that such a 
> position statement is non-null.

You don't like it, because you fear you will loose it, and would prefer
and endless discussion than a resolution in your disfavor.

Anyway, sure, someone can propose a let's remove non-free resolution
later on again, but at least we can be out of it for now, and
concentrate on real work, instead of endlessly hearing the same


Sven Luther

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