[Arm-netbook] Debian GNU/Linux, nonfree software, and FSF's free distros list

Wookey wookey at wookware.org
Sun Oct 16 04:02:51 BST 2016

On 2016-10-15 16:47 -0500, J.B. Nicholson wrote:

> I too believe that Debian is hosting nonfree software and integrating
> nonfree software with free software and this is indistinguishable from what
> other distros not listed do (such as Ubuntu's GNU/Linux).

There is a difference: Ubuntu will install non-free software (firmware
needed to make hardware work, and binary drivers) by default. Debian
will not do so unless the user adds the non-free repository (SFAIK).
> If Debian wanted the FSF's approval Debian could remove the nonfree and
> contrib repos from Debian entirely, and remove mentions of packages from
> these repos from the free packages.

They (we) could. Ironically a large fraction of the packages in
non-free are FSF documentation. Most of the rest is firmware blobs
(usually running on a different CPU from your main one). 

Debian has taken the view for many years now that having this stuff
available relatively painlessly is the right balance between usability
and freedom. There have been suggestions made about putting firmware
in a different categary, as that's the main reason people enable
non-free, and once enabled you get all of it available, not just the
one or two bits you needed, and it would be good if it was less
all-or-nothing. Not sure where those changes got to.

I have 11 non-free packages. 5 of them are FSF documentation (gcc x2,
make, cpio, emacs). 4 others are firmware for this thinkpad (bluetooth
and wifi). In fact I even made and uploaded a non-free package:
cpio-doc as the cpio docs were not available on Debian without someone
doing that (have you tried using cpio without the docs? - it's hard
going). The others are tools installed for interacting with other
people, where free alternatives do not exist: unrar, nautilus-dropbox.

None of that is particularly unethical, except maybe the last two
packages, but whilst I am a big supporter of free software (that's why
I'm on this list), I think it's OK that Debian manages this stuff
properly for when one needs it: it's much better than having to go
find random binaries on line to install, for example.

I've just installed unrar-free, and removed nautilus-dropbox, as these
days one can use some non-free software online to do the same job,
when tiresome people send you things via that service. That's more
'FSF pure', but I don't think it really makes much ethical difference:
Dropbox is proprietary however you access it.

Principal hats:  Linaro, Debian, Wookware, ARM
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