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Re: on firmware (possible proposal)

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From: Sven Luther <sven@powerlinux.fr>
Date: Thu, 13 Nov 2008 21:01:13 +0100

On Thu, Nov 13, 2008 at 01:43:32PM -0600, Peter Samuelson wrote:
> [Johannes Wiedersich]
> > I would propose to create a new section of the archive, called
> > 'sourceless' or such.  Stuff within this archive doesn't have full
> > sources. It is legally distributable and follows the DFSG with the
> > only exception of missing sources. On top of the DFSG it is required
> > that software in 'sourceless' _must not be executed_ on the host CPU.
> > 'sourcless' therfore applies to firmware as well as eg. documentation
> > pdfs or images without source.
> You know what, I think this distinction about "running on the host CPU"
> is rather silly, and I'm starting to believe it is entirely artificial.
> By this I mean that the distinction itself would not matter, except
> that it sounds a little better than just saying firmware is necessary
> enough to compromise our principles on, but the Flash plugin is not.
> But really, is there a principle of software freedom that distinguishes
> device firmware from, say, a seti@home client using an NVidia GPU for
> compute cycles?  What about the ability to install a whole OS on a
> router - if you plug the router into the PC with a USB cable, could you
> consider the router to be "not the host CPU"?  The other day we were
> told d-i RC1 now supports certain NAS devices.  Would those be "hosts"
> or merely "devices" or "appliances"?  What about proprietary
> abandonware console game ROMs?  Those can run in an emulator but
> they're intended for real hardware that isn't "the host CPU".  Someone
> also mentioned Postscript, roughly the same situation.
> Good thing Z80 daughterboards to run CP/M applications are no longer
> popular.

The important point here is the following (and these are not necessarily
my opinion, but the arguments used here) : 

  - code uploaded into another cpu (a device cpu, not a SMP cpu of some
    kind) does not run in the same memory space, and can thus not impact
    the main software running on the host CPU.

    => The argument is here that it is not as important that this is
    free software, since it cannot corrupt the software running on the
    main cpu.

  - code uploaded on a device cpu, is in no way less free than the case
    where said code would be found in a flash rom or something, on the
    contrary in some way it is more free than those cases.

  - the third point, is that the fact that the code runs in a separate
    device CPU, create a clear interface barrier, and make it clear that
    the the uploaded firmware is not a derivative work of the kernel or
    driver or whatever that uses it.

This means that you are able to use these points (especially the last
one) to respond to most of your question, and explain why the position
of considering it ok to have non-free firmware in main is one that can
be considered.

That said, the above argumentation sheed some light on the issue, but do
not constitute my opinion on what we should do, and anyway, my opinion
doesn't count since i can't vote since i was expulsed as so much garbage
from debian :/

Please forward this mail to the list, since i am being censored.


Sven Luther

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