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Re: Possible draft non-free firmware option with SC change

Steve McIntyre <steve@einval.com> writes:

> On Thu, Sep 08, 2022 at 05:22:58PM +0200, Simon Josefsson wrote:
>>Simon Richter <sjr@debian.org> writes:
>>> The reason I'm in favor of changing the SC is not that I believe it to
>>> be a good thing, but that I think we need to stay relevant for running 
>>> on actual hardware, and changing the SC now is the only way to do so
>>> given that the actual hardware is non-free.
>>What has changed making us fear Debian's relevancy, and is compromising
>>on our ideals the best way to deal with that?
>>I recall the same situation with hardware requiring non-free software
>>since I started with computers and free software back in the mid 1990's.
>>The challenge will continue be the same as long as there is proprietary
>>software.  The amount of hardware compatible with free software is
>>enourmously larger today than it was back then.  I don't see that Debian
>>or other free software projects having become less relevant over the
>>years.  In fact, I perceive sticking to these principles (while offering
>>high quality products and processes) has been instrumental to shift the
>>proprietary software industry our way.  People will continue to talk bad
>>about free software, and promote proprietary software, but I am hoping
>>Debian will be a factor against that.
> You're missing the point. Debian will *still* be producing Free
> Software. We're talking about enabling people to *use* that Free
> Software on the computers they already *have*, not some idealised Free
> Software compatible computers that barely exist today. It's just like
> the FSF providing support to users wanting to run software on top of
> proprietary OSes back in the day.
> If new users cannot sensibly install and use our Free Software on the
> computers they have, they'll go elsewhere. We won't get the
> opportunity to educate them about the benefits of Debian and Free
> Software if they've already discarded our installation media and moved
> on. We don't get new users, we don't get new developers.
> None of us *like* this situation, but we have a pragmatic solution.

I'm trying to understand, but as far as I can tell so far the problem
isn't that I'm missing the point, it is that there is a difference of
opinion on what the solution should be.  Let me try to explain.

I believe that this problem has been around since the start of the free
software movement.  Free software was developed on non-free OS's, and on
hardware that required non-free software.  That always caused
frustration and a desire to "just get things to work".  Debian was one
distribution putting together the free GNU tools (developed on non-free
Unixes) with Linux (also developed on a non-free OS) and made a free OS
possible.  There has always been an incredibly large amount of hardware
that Debian cannot run on, because of missing firmware or other
requirements of non-free software.  A lot of people have gone elsewhere
because of this (and other reasons), for example to Ubuntu.

Over time, people engineer solutions to important hardware and that
support end up in Debian so it is possible to use that (now slightly
aged) hardware with free software.

I read your proposals as a deep frustration with this situation and a
desire to solve the problem faster than waiting for free software
support for relevant hardware to materialize.  I don't think this is a
problem that Debian should solve by compromising on the free software
principles.  I think this is a problem Debian has been and is (slowly)
solving by remaining what it has been: a free OS.  There is much more
hardware that works with free software today than it was 20 years ago.
Many hardware vendors today realize that support for GNU/Linux
distributions like Debian is important for their success.

Let's see it from another side.  What would make Debian different from,
say, Mac OS X with your proposal?

Apple produce a lot of free software, significantly more than what I
perceive that the Debian organization produce.  Apple also provide an OS
that runs free software.

The difference, to me, is that Debian is guided (so far) by the policy
that the entire Debian system should be free.  Mac OS X has no similar
policy, and their source of revenue basically comes from keeping parts
proprietary.  The installer is non-free and important software
components is non-free.

With your proposal, Debian 'main' would still consists of free content,
but to practically install and run any of it, we and our users would
have to download non-free content.  To me, that is a significant step
back.  The next step is to depend on non-free content when the OS is
installed, which as far as I understand your proposal would be permitted
and intended.  That is another step back.  The result, philosophically
and from a free software perspective, is that there no longer is any
difference between Mac OS X and Debian.

I think the difference of opinion is that your proposal is based on the
argument that it is worth compromising on the ideals of free software in
order to allow users to be able to run free software.  I disagree with
that opinion.  If you disagree with my characterization of your
proposal, let's discuss and see if there is a middle ground somewhere.


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