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Proprietary Blobs and the Pursuit of a Free Kernel 405

Posted by Soulskill
from the free-as-in-beerspeech dept.
jammag writes "Ever since the GNewSense team pointed out that the Linux kernel contains proprietary firmware blobs, the question of whether a given distro is truly free software has gotten messier, notes Linux pundit Bruce Byfield. The FSF changed the definition of a free distribution, and a search for how to respond to this new definition is now well underway. Who wins and what solutions are implemented could have a major effect on the future of free and open source software. Debian has its own solution (by allowing users to choose their download), as do Ubuntu and Fedora (they include the offending firmware by default but make it possible to remove it). Meanwhile, the debate over firmware rages on. What resolves this issue?"
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Proprietary Blobs and the Pursuit of a Free Kernel

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  • 1 Answer: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 28, 2008 @10:12PM (#25921127)

    Learn from the OpenBSD team

  • I have the Answer (Score:2, Insightful)

    by slicenglide (735363)
    Good Old Ass Kickin' Contest. -Then let Chuck Norris Decide.
  • by QuasiEvil (74356) on Friday November 28, 2008 @10:21PM (#25921179)

    Once again, the FSF takes a noble goal to a loony extreme.

    If the device manufacturers had put the firmware in ROM (flash/EEPROM/whatever) attached to the peripheral rather than downloaded by the driver, does that really change anything? You haven't given the user any more or less freedom; you've just redistributed what lives where and probably increased hardware costs (and made firmware upgrades less simple). However, then those releases could support the device and be fully "free" according to this new FSF decision.

    Quite frankly, I'm a pragmatist who admires all the great freedom in Linux (and that's why I choose to use it) and supports hardware manufacturers who release their specs (hence the reason I now have an ATI graphics card). That said, at the end of the day, I want a distro that makes my hardware work without a ton of fucking around because somebody philosophically disagreed with a driver. I also respect those who would rather not use such things.

    Therefore, my hope is that the Ubuntu/Fedora will not change their approach. This is one of those dealbreakers on a distro for me.

    • by Jamie's Nightmare (1410247) on Friday November 28, 2008 @10:31PM (#25921239)
      When you let the FSF define what Freedom is, you've already lost it.
    • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Friday November 28, 2008 @10:32PM (#25921249) Homepage Journal

      I'm inclined to agree, but, apparently, there are hardware manufacturers who sue anyone who distributes their binary blobs without permission, but are quite happy to give Ubuntu and Debian and Redhat permission.. Freedom is not having to ask permission.

      • by Neoprofin (871029) <neoprofin@hot m a i l . c om> on Friday November 28, 2008 @10:59PM (#25921465)
        Is it any more free than having a distro that's free but not having the freedom to run it on your hardware because it's completely useless?

        I understand the moral conflict, but it's not like I could buy a complete set of open hardware, and even if I could, I'd just be compromising on a different front.
        • by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Saturday November 29, 2008 @12:10AM (#25921891) Journal

          Is it any more free than having a distro that's free but not having the freedom to run it on your hardware because it's completely useless?

          Having a distro like that serves at least one practical purpose: I can use it to evaluate a given set of hardware for compatibility. That can inform future purchasing decisions.

          For instance, having used Linux, I now know that I will never knowingly buy a Broadcom wireless card -- or, very likely, anything from Broadcom -- even for devices I don't plan to run Linux on.

          This is just taking that one step further.

          it's not like I could buy a complete set of open hardware

          Actually, under certain, limited circumstances, you can. I believe the OpenMoko Freerunner was such a device.

          • by Neoprofin (871029) <neoprofin@hot m a i l . c om> on Saturday November 29, 2008 @03:51AM (#25923037)
            I just don't see the difference between having to use certain software because of the demands of the hardware (Broadcom, most videocards) and having to use certain hardware because of the demands of the software (whatever can be supported using only completely open drivers). Either way you're sacrificing a degree of freedom in your choices, it's silly to think that one is somehow morally superior or more relevant.

            Very limited circumstances, but to continue with the rest of my sentence: How is being forced to use the OpenMoko Freerunner, a phone which I had no interest in using superior than using whatever phone I want, but having to deal with software I may not agree with morally? Until all platforms are 100% open and firmware support is universal you'll always be cutting corner at one end or the other. I guess they are the FSF not the Freedom Foundation though, so I guess I've answered my own question about their stance.
            • by impaledsunset (1337701) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @07:35AM (#25923979)

              These limits to your choices are not a sacrifice for your freedom. As freedom in your example means to be able to make your choices according to your requirements, not the availability of the choices that will fulfil all your requirements.

              Here we are talking about freedom on another level, and it is how unrestrained you are in your work with the computer system, and the aim is to create a system in which you don't get any forced restrictions, which can be abused. Being disallowed or prevented to do these things with software is an example of a real freedom restriction.

              The hardware is removing part of your freedom. At that moment you aren't affected much by this, as neither this is abused, nor it is limiting anything important that you could do. Still, in the long term, if the issue is overlooked, it might lead to many trouble. And it is already creating issues with creating free systems. So doing something about the issue is good in the end.

              It doesn't mean restricting you from using the said hardware, just putting this hardware at a little disadvantage, which will draw the line on what is acceptable, and will push the things in the direction that you get more freedom with the hardware in the future.

              The aim to create a free phone is also a step in the right direction. While not really that usable, and therefore not helping anyone, it is taking us in the right direction.

      • Mod parent up (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Kludge (13653) on Friday November 28, 2008 @11:42PM (#25921723)

        I agree w/ parent.

        For me the issue is not, do I get the source code or not? Binary blobs are fine. If someone does not want to give the source that is OK w/ me.

        But, if I do not have the right to hack it (whatever form it is) or do not have the right to redistribute my hack, then then it is not free and should not be included in a "free" distribution.

        • Re:Mod parent up (Score:4, Informative)

          by jonaskoelker (922170) <jonaskoelker@gn u . org> on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:53AM (#25924777) Homepage

          For me the issue is not, do I get the source code or not? [...] But, if I do not have the right to hack it

          Back in the day, Battle for Wesnoth didn't do anything with horizontal scroll events. It had a scheme for moving your viewport around in 2D using only one scroll wheel, which sucked and was hard to figure out. I fixed that; when it sees a horizontal scroll, it switches to the intuitive one-map-axis-per-wheel-axis. I would've hated to fix that without source, and I would've hated keeping using a broken scroll model.

          In Nexuiz, at the time, there was no way to handicap yourself (to make the game fun against much weaker opponents). I wrote three lines of Quake C; now you can. How would I do that without source?

          If you use sshfs, you might have noticed that it clears all port forwarding; if you've read the manual, you might also know that there's no option to disable it. I actually want sshfs to do port and X forwarding; what do I do? Grab the source code, grep for ClearAllForwardings, comment out four lines, off I go.

          In most cases, being able to hack stuff requires source code. In all cases, it makes it a hell of a lot easier; often, so much that it goes from "infeasible" to "very easy".

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ShieldW0lf (601553)
        The answer is simple. The way to address the problem is to do to proprietary hardware what free software did to proprietary software. Design non-proprietary hardware and make it accessible to the masses.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by MrHanky (141717)

        To quote Wikipedia: [Citation needed]

        What you're saying would go directly against Debian's free software guidelines.

    • by houstonbofh (602064) on Friday November 28, 2008 @10:39PM (#25921315)
      No doubt... Way back in the day, nvidia was the first graphic card company to support 3d for Linux. That have done a very good job supporting Linux over the years. But now that are the devil because they have secret code? I would rather have a solid card with a binary blob than a "free" card that stinks. Go ahead and piss off the users that have nvidia cards and don't want to buy another one right now. Go ahead and piss of companies that supported Linux for years. You don't need them up in your ivory tower...
      • by Kegetys (659066) on Friday November 28, 2008 @11:48PM (#25921751) Homepage

        > I would rather have a solid card with a binary blob than a "free" card that stinks.

        I'd personally choose that too, but in my experience the nvidia binary driver is everything but solid. On my two Linux systems with nvidia video cards, the nvidia driver is the number one thing that causes me trouble. Sure it works ok with typical "default" settings, but throw in a xinerama setup + S3 suspend support and you'll be faced with undocumented limitations, poor performance and wake up problems cause by the driver module. I have sent bug reports to nvidia about the issues I have had and never heard anything back.

      • Missing the point (Score:4, Insightful)

        by CustomDesigned (250089) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @01:35AM (#25922367) Homepage Journal

        There is a huge difference between cards with proprietary drivers, and cards with proprietary firmware. Drivers run in your OS, are OS dependent, and have significant security risk. Binary drivers are evil (like from Nvidia).

        Proprietary firmware, on the other hand, does *not* run in the OS - it runs on the card. The binary firmware blob is OS independent - works for Windows, Mac, Linux, BSD, BeOS, whatever. It is CPU independent - the card generally doesn't care whether the host system is PowerPC, Intel, or ARM. While there is a small chance that firmware can be a security risk (since it gets DMA access to memory), it is far more remote than binary drivers.

        There is no reason to object to a binary firmware blob - unless there is some stupid restriction on redistributing it (Hi, Broadcom). All it does is save money by replacing a ROM (RAM is cheaper than ROM) - and makes firmware upgrades trivial.

        I can't believe FSF is objecting to this. Someone should do a parody of their new guidelines - with instructions on how to remove all PROMs from the motherboard, I/O cards, disk drives, etc. All those PROMs contain secret proprietary firmware. We can't be buying hardware with proprietary secrets now, can we?

        Seriously, they should simply require binary firmware to be freely redistributable - giving you the same same freedom as if it was in ROM.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by TheRaven64 (641858)

        Way back in the day, nvidia was the first graphic card company to support 3d for Linux

        Really? Because I remember running GLQuake with my VooDoo 2 under Linux before nVidia existed.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Chandon Seldon (43083)

      I'm a pragmatist

      Translation: If I don't personally need something right this minute to accomplish my short term goals, nobody needs it and anyone who wants it is crazy.

    • by lysergic.acid (845423) on Friday November 28, 2008 @10:47PM (#25921369) Homepage

      and what loony extreme would that be? moral/logical consistency?

      a "free distribution" by definition needs to be "free" in the FOSS sense. they're simply modifying the definition to elaborate on an issue that had been overlooked up until now.

      no one is forcing you to use a free distribution. and the FSF hasn't condemned the Fedora project for taking the pragmatic approach. but it would hypocritical for them to overlook the issue of proprietary firmware blobs in their definition of free distributions after the issue has been raised by members of the community.

      i'm a pragmatist too. i run Windows XP because the programs i use for work are Windows-only. but i'm not going to bitch about FSF not including my Windows XP Professional distribution in their definition of a free system just because someone "philosophically disagreed" with an OS.

    • by Korin43 (881732) on Friday November 28, 2008 @10:59PM (#25921461) Homepage
      If the complicated parts of the drivers that they don't want us to know about were in ROM instead of binary blobs, and the drivers were very simple then it would solve the problem, because anyone could write drivers for whatever OS they want. As it is, you have to be using the operating systems that Nvidea allows you to use. I prefer not to have to wait around for device manufacturers to decide we should be able to use their hardware on a specific system.
    • by psr111975 (1419639) on Friday November 28, 2008 @11:06PM (#25921519)

      I propose two new software freedoms:

      -2: The Freedom to run any hardware, for any purpose

      -1: The Freedom to run proprietary software, to run any hardware.

      I don't understand why people don't want others have the freedom to install proprietary software on Linux system. I use both Linux and Windows. I enjoy running the latest and greatest games with the fastest video and sound cards.

      I want robust support from NVIDIA and Creative. If Stallman had his way, there would be a huge disincentive to have working drivers. I require that my computer works with the hardware I bought for it.

      I'm sick and tired of misguided free software enthusiasts applying free software principals to hardware. Yes, I think that as an individual tinkerer I should have the freedom to study and hack hardware that he owns, but hardware is not software. Hardware is a tangible thing. The structure of our laws protect tangible things more fiercely than ephemeral things, like software and ideas.

      One of the original purpose of Free Software was to liberate hardware from the limitations of its software by protecting the freedom of the user.

      However, Stallman's philosophy that "A free system distribution must not assist users in obtaining any nonfree information for practical use, or encourage them to do so" is ridiculous. Why should this be so? How does this promote freedom?

      This is my computer, and it is my choice.

      Stallman can't see the forest from the trees.

      From http://psr.tumblr.com/post/57576525/two-new-software-freedoms [tumblr.com]

      • by Draek (916851) on Friday November 28, 2008 @11:29PM (#25921649)

        -2: The Freedom to run any hardware, for any purpose

        That has no business as a 'software' freedom, since it explictly affects only hardware. Good 0 Freedom for a Free Hardware Manifesto, though.

        -1: The Freedom to run proprietary software, to run any hardware.

        Except that propietary software conflicts with every other freedom, and as such the manifesto would contradict itself.

        I don't understand why people don't want others have the freedom to install proprietary software on Linux system. I use both Linux and Windows. I enjoy running the latest and greatest games with the fastest video and sound cards.

        Who? Stallman doesn't, he thinks running propietary software is inmoral, but he's fighting that the way a true freedom fighter would: by convincing you of it with arguments, not by force. You're still free to make an entire distro centered around NVidia's propietary drivers, you're still free to use GCC to compile propietary software, and you're still free to use GNU Emacs to write it. Your freedom hasn't been affected, you're just being warned about the consequences of doing so.

        If Stallman had his way, there would be a huge disincentive to have working drivers. I require that my computer works with the hardware I bought for it.

        Yeah, so? Freedom doesn't mean "everybody plays nice with my own wishes". They allow propietary drivers already, no reason why they should incentive them.

        However, Stallman's philosophy that "A free system distribution must not assist users in obtaining any nonfree information for practical use, or encourage them to do so" is ridiculous. Why should this be so? How does this promote freedom?

        How does this counter freedom? the information is not being censored, it is not being eliminated, it is simply being, well, not advertised.

        Stallman can't see the forest from the trees.

        Funny, but that's exactly what I'd say about you. You're not only willing to diminish your own freedom for a simple sound card, but you demand (not ask, demand) the help of Free Software developers in doing so.

        • by himurabattousai (985656) <gigabytousai@gmail.com> on Saturday November 29, 2008 @12:09AM (#25921877)

          -2: The Freedom to run any hardware, for any purpose

          That has no business as a 'software' freedom, since it explictly (sic) affects only hardware. Good 0 Freedom for a Free Hardware Manifesto, though.

          Not quite. Good binary blobs for hardware = hardware that can handle
          software that people will want to run. Conversely, if your hardware sucks, binary blobs or not, no one will use it because it simply won't do its job. That job: to let people run the software they need/want to run.

          -1: The Freedom to run proprietary software, to run any hardware.

          Except that propietary (sic) software conflicts with every other freedom, and as such the manifesto would contradict itself.

          Except that it doesn't. Software freedom allows one to "sell his soul" to Company XYZ in exchange for the license to run that company's software or to give that company the finger if he doesn't like their asking price.

          In other words, a choice between two open-source drivers is more freedom than the choice between two proprietary drivers if, and only if you can make the open-source goods fit your needs. If not, then you'd lose out on the freedom to use your computer as you see fit.

          However, Stallman's philosophy that "A free system distribution must not assist users in obtaining any nonfree information for practical use, or encourage them to do so" is ridiculous. Why should this be so? How does this promote freedom?

          How does this counter freedom? the information is not being censored, it is not being eliminated, it is simply being, well, not advertised.

          Here, you make a very fine distinction between censorship and a lack of advertising. Frankly, most people would not see the difference because in this case, there is none. How is not recognizing that yes, there may a proprietary driver/software that can meet your needs better than this free one not censorship? That is eliminating information that would otherwise be available. And yes, that philosophy does indeed actively inhibit freedom. It may not be vendor lock-in, but the result is the same.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by BruceCage (882117)

            If not, then you'd lose out on the freedom to use your computer as you see fit.

            However by freely choosing to use proprietary software (depending on how restrictive the license is) you lose out on a lot of other freedoms, such as the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and/or improve the software.

            It simply seems you value certain freedoms more than others.

      • But we are talking about the software running on the hardware device, not the hardware its self.
        No one is demanding that nVidia should open up the cad files for their chips and schematics for their boards.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by chromatic (9471)

        I don't understand why people don't want others have the freedom to install proprietary software on Linux system.

        Who, precisely, is saying that you shouldn't?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bm_luethke (253362)

        "I don't understand why people don't want others have the freedom to install proprietary software on Linux system."

        Because some see OSS as a political movement, not a tool.

        Personally I see it as a tool. Open source allows many different things that I could not do with closed source and, even back when it wasn't as technically sound an option it still often won because I could do what I needed with it.

        As a tool many OSS projects have been a great successes - better than most would have believed ten years ago

        • by starm_ (573321) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @02:01AM (#25922505)

          Given that an operating system consists mostly of a bunch of drivers attached together with a kernel, there are good reasons to prevent distribution of closed drivers mixed with GPL ones. I don't think it is legal, not without stretching the meaning of the GPL.

          Consider the following scenario:

          Intel develops new closed undocumented architecture with a 16 core cpu. Similarly to current network or video cards, you need a proprietary driver to enable the super accelerated multicoreness. In order to allow the use of the newer faster cpu's, Linux vendors do what they did with the other proprietary drivers, label these drivers as "not part of the kernel" put them in a wrapper and ship their version of Linux with the proprietary drivers which, for now, intel is giving away for free as a binary blob. For a while everybody is happy and content. The new 16 cores chips becomes the norm. There are even 32 core chips on the market and the 64 cores chips are soon to be released all of which rely on proprietary drivers.

          Suddenly, we hear that a large company, Lintelsoft, started by ex MS executives, makes a deal with Intel, a very lucrative deal for Intel, to license the drivers. Intel then says they won't give away the drivers anymore but you are free to buy the brand new Lintel Linux distribution. This distribution, which sells for 699$ a piece is all GPL'd except for those drivers that have become so prevalent that you need them in order for computers to run at a reasonable speed.

          Open source programmers scramble to write free replacement drivers that work on their Gnubian distribution but only manage to make drivers that can run the multi core cpu's at 1/20th the speed as Intel won't release documentation or specifications. Linux is rendered mostly useless except for the Lintel distro, (which is also available for free and with sourcecode as Lintelora, excluding the proprietary driver sources of course) You can always plug in the Gnubian drivers in the free Lintelora project and get a working computer but it will only run at 1/20th the speed of the commercial 699$ a pop version and isn't powerful enough to run the new Mozilaurus browser smoothly.

          In this scenario, Lintelsoft would have effectively stolen Linux from the open source community, making profit with other people's source code and breaking all versions that are free.

          How can we let anyone close up an obviously derived work based on some wrappers?

          Notice that, even today I sometimes need to pay to get a fully working Linux from certain vendors, like Mandriva. (if i don't pay, 3d acceleration wont work.) I expect that kind of twisting of the law by commercial vendors. It surprises me that even Ubuntu is including proprietary video drivers nowadays.

          What's worst is that legally in order to maintain copyrights you need to make reasonable efforts at protecting those rights. Legally if the open source community waits until the binary drivers become problematic before acting, proprietary vendors will be able to argue legitimately that closed source code has been allowed in the kernel by the open source community for a long time now: The law says that you are not legally allowed to suddenly change your mind about interpretations to suit current needs thus the open source community would be screwed.

          • by bm_luethke (253362) <<luethkeb> <at> <comcast.net>> on Saturday November 29, 2008 @02:41AM (#25922689)

            I do not necessarily disagree with that - though I think that scenario is now very unlikely (OSS systems have enough acceptance that it would be ... difficult for Intel to do that).

            That is why you encourage Intel to Do The Right Thing. They may - one day - do so. However, if you tell them do it or else chances are they will take or else. Further when your OS can no longer run those extensions then your OS will not be run. Not even microsoft can take that hard line a stance and get away with it - I fail to see why many that have a comparatively minuscule market share think that they can.

            So, lets take another scenario (which is much more likely). Intel produces a closed 16 core CPU that requires proprietary microcode. Linux vendors demand it be fully open or they refuse to support it all. Customers needing the 16 CPU core (or wanting it) have two choices: purchase MS products and have it supported or figure out how to hack it into the system yourself through unapproved patches and probably paying someone to re-write what is needed to get it to work (guess which one will be picked). Intel then releases a 32 core processor and noting that few used their last product they decide to not even support OSS at all. While yours *may* happen if I get my way, mine *will* if you get yours.

            Of course, what will really happen is option three - RedHat (and several others) will ignore Stallman and do what they need to sell product. Many of the purists have somewhat woken up and have started to use what they are fighting against (licenses, patents, and such) to *force* OSS to what they want but the thing is just too easy to fork. Distro's that go the "pure" way will live only in hobby land.

            Of course, that is part of why companies like Redhat are both loved and hated - they brought Linux to the commercial success that it is today but "betrayed" those political/social ideals that many in the OSS community started with. Of course, having never truly believed those (like me, they read ESR and thought that buy made a lot of sense) they didn't really betray anything, they more or less showed that one side could gain a larger market and mind share than the other (which is probably even more infuriating than an actual betrayal).

            Now, of course, when HURD is ready then it will sweep the world - but until then I suspect that ESR's view of OSS will win pretty much every time it comes in conflict with Stallman's.

    • by Draek (916851)

      If the device manufacturers had put the firmware in ROM (flash/EEPROM/whatever) attached to the peripheral rather than downloaded by the driver, does that really change anything? You haven't given the user any more or less freedom; you've just redistributed what lives where and probably increased hardware costs (and made firmware upgrades less simple).

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but you would also have removed the need to reimplement the device's firmware if you only wanted to rewrite the driver, which has obvious advantages from a F/OSS point of view.

      Quite frankly, I'm a pragmatist who admires all the great freedom in Linux (and that's why I choose to use it) and supports hardware manufacturers who release their specs (hence the reason I now have an ATI graphics card). That said, at the end of the day, I want a distro that makes my hardware work without a ton of fucking around because somebody philosophically disagreed with a driver.

      Exactly. And the thought of being locked into a specific architecture because somebody philosophically disagreed with the idea of letting their users port drivers to their architecture of choice, well, ain't a pleasant one. Hey, lock yourself up all you want, I know that sometimes a short-term gain is worth a

    • "That said, at the end of the day, I want a distro that makes my hardware work without a ton of fucking around because somebody philosophically disagreed with a driver."

      Thus why HURD hasn't gotten anywhere.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by bug1 (96678)

      "I want a distro that makes my hardware work without a ton of fucking around because somebody philosophically disagreed with a driver. I also respect those who would rather not use such things."

      You want freedom, but only if you dont have to defend it yourself.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Elektroschock (659467)

      The point is that the author of the article is Bruce Byfield and he is known as a news troll. There is nothing wrong in projects which try to extend the realm of free software by going into free hardware.

      As of the philosophical concerns we know that proprietary drivers for Linux often lack quality (Linux is not an important platform for hardware manufacturers) and we can't fix them.

  • holy war batman! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday November 28, 2008 @10:24PM (#25921199)

    Oh god, here we go again with another sequel to "Defining Free Software: The Neverending Story"...

    It's just like people who argue the United States is a democracy. Then some joker has to stand up and correct them and say it's actually a federated republic. And then someone has to mention that it's a capitalistic federated republic. And then the grizzly-haired guy in back stands up and he says it can't be capitalism because we've got things like the Security and Exchange Commission, and rules and regulations, and the FCC, and the FDA, and and and -- why my god there's an awful lot of socialism here. And then someone has to point out that what we're really talking about is whether something is mostly a free market, because nothing out there is truly one thing or another-- And then the liberal arts major stands up and everybody laughs at him before he can say anything.

    I'm going out for a smoke... I already know how this ends. Mr. Rogers wins (in a blood stained sweater).

    • by houstonbofh (602064) on Friday November 28, 2008 @10:44PM (#25921339)

      Oh god, here we go again with another sequel to "Defining Free Software: The Neverending Story"...

      It's just like people who argue the United States is a democracy. Then some joker has to stand up and correct them and say it's actually a federated republic. And then someone has to mention that it's a capitalistic federated republic. And then the grizzly-haired guy in back stands up and he says it can't be capitalism because we've got things like the Security and Exchange Commission, and rules and regulations, and the FCC, and the FDA, and and and -- why my god there's an awful lot of socialism here. And then someone has to point out that what we're really talking about is whether something is mostly a free market, because nothing out there is truly one thing or another-- And then the liberal arts major stands up and everybody laughs at him before he can say anything.

      You capture the essence of the entire debate, and get modded down for Flame bait... :) Like you can flame someone on the surface of the sun... You just left out one part.

      The vast majority that don't care about the vocabulary. They just like the stuff they use, and are amused by the spectacle.

      • You capture the essence of the entire debate, and get modded down for Flame bait... :) Like you can flame someone on the surface of the sun... You just left out one part.

        The vast majority that don't care about the vocabulary. They just like the stuff they use, and are amused by the spectacle.

        Yeah. I'm one of them. Some people take this stuff way too seriously. It's been said before the greatest spectator sport ever is politics. The only thing that would make it better would be if they dressed up in football uniforms while they did it. All those nice padded butts... MMmmmMMMmmmmm.... :D Oh, sorry.. Forgot, room full of guys. achem... carry on.

    • I see. So the discussion isn't worth having, by reason of an analogy? Or can we just call that a straw man?

      I suppose we'd all better find something else to do. Given how much of Slashdot is devoted to pointless arguments, the only thing that makes sense is to shut the whole site down.

      Or maybe you could make an effort to raise the level of discourse. That would be good, too.

      On the subject of free software, I don't think there is a whole lot of argument, aside from perhaps a vocal minority. Most people here w

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Psychotria (953670)

      Well, I think the FSF are taking the exact opposite approach to the example you cite in your comment (note that I am not commenting on whether I agree with their definition or not). But that's the key word. Definition. The FSF are trying to define free software; probably to help ensure that things (subjective arguments) like your comment refers to don't occur. Everything in your comment referred to (by example) was, really, about personal opinion--i.e. people arguing semantics. The thing is though, they're

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Well, I think the FSF are taking the exact opposite approach to the example you cite in your comment (note that I am not commenting on whether I agree with their definition or not). But that's the key word. Definition. The FSF are trying to define free software; probably to help ensure that things (subjective arguments) like your comment refers to don't occur. Everything in your comment referred to (by example) was, really, about personal opinion--i.e. people arguing semantics. The thing is though, they're aguing about something that is not clearly defined. Clear definitions help rule out subjectivity. An unambiguous definition, whether it's 'right' or 'wrong', states clearly the intended meaning--leaving little room for argument over the definition.

        *blinks* Umm wow. I was mocking the common tendancy of smart, geeky types to over-analyze and get lost in the details, and you've just written an entire paragraph to say "It's good to agree on definitions before arguing over substance". You are a case in point tonight my friend. ;)

        • I am a case in point? Sorry, I don't understand what you're implying. Did I attack you? No. Was I offensive towards you? No. So why aren't you showing me the same respect? I actually never mentioned you at all in my comment except to add context. So I'm not really sure what your reply is meant to mean. Thanks.
    • by extrasolar (28341)

      Except all those are actually good points. If someone didn't know anything about the USA then saying "USA is a democracy" will give them a highly distorted view of what the USA is.

      The same is true of free software. Like they say, the devil is in the details.

  • Sometimes there are simply no good alternatives to binary blobs available. Case in point, the nvidia closed source graphics drivers. As it stands nvidia currently produce the best graphics drivers available for linux hands down. The intel open source drivers don't even come close and both open source and closed source ATI drivers are a joke.

    The nvidia driver is the only linux graphics driver which supports:

    a) The full opengl spec, in hardware. The intel drivers fall back to software for some opengl calls and don't support frame buffer objects at all.
    b) A proper memory manager which enables, among other things, framebuffer objects and true redirected direct rendering, none of this AIGLX bullshit.
    c) Any kind of opengl or compositing on multiple monitors
    d) Reliable video and opengl vsync
    e) Working video decode acceleration for modern high definition h264 video.
    f) Proper colour/gamma adjustment for the X screen
    g) Overscan adjustment for dvi to hdmi adapters

    It also has by far the fastest opengl performance, is the most stable and just generally works the best out of all the linux graphics drivers. If you want decent graphics performance on linux, forget the open source drivers, go with nvidia. I'm sure anybody who has struggled getting dual monitors to work properly with any other driver will agree with me.

    I know this might be a hit to my karma, but one area in which open source really isn't up to par is graphics drivers. I'd love good open source drivers for display hardware as much as anybody but for the moment nvidia's closed source drivers just wipe the floor with everything else. If you're going to complain to anybody, complain to ATI for not putting enough effort into their open source driver, although recently this has been improving with additions like DRI2 and GEM.

    So before becoming evangelical and denouncing closed source modules as evil, try improving the open source modules so that they come close to the same stability and functionality.

    Sam

    • by Chandon Seldon (43083) on Friday November 28, 2008 @11:00PM (#25921469) Homepage

      Sometimes there are simply no good alternatives to binary blobs available.

      If that's true, then you can't accomplish your task using only free software. You apparently care more about "Overscan adjustment for dvi to hdmi adapters" than about using 100% free software - and that's your choice - but not everyone agrees with you. Even for people who do agree with you, there's still some value in *knowing* when you're using binary blobs.

    • Sometimes there are simply no good alternatives to binary blobs available. Case in point, the nvidia closed source graphics drivers. As it stands nvidia currently produce the best graphics drivers available for linux hands down. The intel open source drivers don't even come close

      And yet my expensive nVidia graphics card in my gaming pc does a lousy job when it comes to compositing effects in KDE 4, while the same effects work flawlessly on my cheap, underpowered netbook with a intel grapics chip...

  • Go to Root Cause (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Friday November 28, 2008 @10:36PM (#25921285) Homepage Journal

    For things like wireless drivers the vendors can hide behind the FCC's restrictions and not release open source firmware for their hardware. This is among the worst forms of lazy regulation as it treats all users as criminals, shifts complexity to the masses, and results in products of lesser quality.

    Get rid of the bad government policies and our computers would start working better. And we'd have more freedom, both on and off the expansion bus.

  • And who cares? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cstec (521534)

    " The FSF changed the definition of a free distribution..."

    And as soon as anyone cares what the fascist software foundation says, we'll let you know. Seriously, why do those cranks get airtime? You want free? Try digging back to our time, comp.unix.sources. No religion, no restrictions, no 'freedom' with a stack of rules. We just chipped in code and sent it around to share. It's miserable how they have hijacked the word "free."

    • No, it's not (Score:3, Insightful)

      by symbolset (646467)

      It's miserable how they have hijacked the word "free."

      Back then, the "free" was implied. We called it software and that you could use it as you would was assumed. It's only a generation of lawsuits that have pulled us back from the brink of progress.

      Get off my lawn kid.

  • I just don't know... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Choozy (1260872)
    I understand the reasoning, if you wish to compete against commercially available software *cough* Microsoft *cough*. You need to provide a product that works as well as (if not better) than the competition. Should you use the proprietary software (I'm not talking about just firmware but also things like flash, etc). I just don't know. Would Ubuntu be as big as it is now if it didn't use proprietary? Would Microsoft see a loss of market share if there wasn't a (in the average user's perspective I am no
  • by trims (10010) on Friday November 28, 2008 @10:37PM (#25921295) Homepage

    I've been watching the non-free blobs issue for awhile (particularly over here at Sun, where in JDK we call them "plugs"), and it's a good discussion to have.

    However, looking at the new "Free Distro Guidelines" above, I'm struck by a particular section which seems extreme:

    A free system distribution must not assist users in obtaining any nonfree information for practical use, or encourage them to do so. There should be no repositories or ports for nonfree software. Programs in the system should not suggest installing nonfree plugins, documentation, and so on.

    and later:

    All the documentation in a free system distribution must be released under an appropriate free license. Additionally, it must take care not to recommend nonfree software. [...] What would be unacceptable is for the documentation to give people instructions for installing a nonfree program on the system, or mention conveniences they might gain by doing so.

    That's just ludicrous. Frankly, it's just a (very) small step away from requiring that you don't (or can't) run any non-free app on your "free" OS. That single clause has just blown any notion of a "free" (in any sense of trying to protect the end-user's freedoms, which is the FSF's major ideological foundation) distribution. I don't know who the manic that wrote that section is, but it's going to cause immeasurable harm to the Free Software movement.

    If we go by that clause, NONE of the distros are free. You'd have to cut out a huge chunk of the Ubuntu distro, remove the entire non-free Debian archive, and I'm not even sure how to get it out of Fedora.

    Honestly, the addition of those clauses take it from an entirely reasonable "Please use Free Software, and this distro contains only Free Softare" to a "Free Software! Free Software! (la-la-la there-is-no-non-Free la-la-la)" freakazoidal world.

    The rest of the proposal is OK, with minor quibbles, but that clause is a show-stopper. Get rid of it right away. Or lose any credibility that the FSF has.

    -Erik

    • Or lose any credibility that the FSF has.

      You don't seem to understand the issue at hand.

      These are the FSF's policies for determining what GNU+Linux distributions that they directly promote. If they promote Ubuntu and Canonical promotes Adobe Flash Player then the FSF would be drastically more likely to take a credibility hit than if they remain consistent with the principles that the organization was founded upon.

      Or do you think that they have some sort of obligation to endorse random distros?

      • Except that, by saying "you can't talk about proprietary software", you're taking away freedom. It's called censorship.

        Proponents of free / libre software shouldn't act like they're afraid of proprietary software. It just makes us look stupid and weak. The grandparent poster is exactly right. It's the same with the GPLv2 vs. GPLv3 wars - GPLv3 is "necessary" because of TiVO? Because of lard-arses who want to watch TV? Fuck that.

        Freedom includes freedom of speech. If a free distro wants to include instructions on how to install a proprietary OS alongside it, that doesn't make them suddenly "non-free". Or are we now against "information wants to be free" this week?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Chandon Seldon (43083)

          I'm as big an enemy of censorship as you're likely to find. I've had my current slashdot sig for something like 10 years now. But a non-profit organization issuing guidelines about how they're going to label things cannot possibly be censorship.

          Try again when a government passes a law saying that all distributors of software must meet these guidelines, or maybe when there are roving bands of vigilantes assaulting people who talk about distributing proprietary software.

          Proponents of free / libre software s

        • Except that, by saying "you can't talk about proprietary software", you're taking away freedom. It's called censorship.

          I'm a little lost since I'm not sure how you mean this quote. Exactly who said that quote and where? I didn't find that quote in the grandparent post to which you followed up nor do I recall the FSF ever arguing this. To the contrary, they talk about proprietary software all the time: the problems it poses for society, the conflict between what schools ought to be doing and the message p

        • by MrHanky (141717) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @08:47AM (#25924231) Homepage Journal

          I can't believe a totally illogical comment like yours is "+5, insightful". There's no censorship to not recommending a distro as "free" software when said distro itself recommends non-free software. It's only a matter of policy for whom and what the FSF wants to recommend. That's no more censorship than if Amnesty stated they would not recommend a political party that recommends torture. OH BUT THAT'S AN ATTACK ON FREEDUM OF SPEACH! No, it's not, idiot.

          Fuck, this site is so full of morons that it makes me sick.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by trims (10010)

        No. This is an ideological statement, in the same vein that the GPL is. Both are intended as an implementation of an ideology. The root ideology at the FSF (up until now, it seems) can be shortly summarized as follows:

        It is in everyone's best interest that software be freely available and usable by everyone.

        The GPL thus establishes some (in my opinion) reasonable and limited restrictions on software, in the name of protecting the Greater Good.

        This guideline set (and, in that respect, it can be view

        • How is this in direct conflict with the freedom to run any program? The users are free to run the program. The point of the guideline was that the distro should not be instructing users to run proprietary software; worded poorly, yes, but the intent was just that. A free-libre distro cannot fall back on proprietary to fill in the gaps from free software, that's all they wanted to say.
        • That's nonsense.

          Whether a given distribution choses to meet these guidelines or not is entirely voluntary. If they chose not to, all they miss out on is being endorsed as a "free distribution" by the FSF. Hint: They weren't being endorsed before either.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kjella (173770)

      All the documentation in a free system distribution must be released under an appropriate free license. Additionally, it must take care not to recommend nonfree software. [...] What would be unacceptable is for the documentation to give people instructions for installing a nonfree program on the system, or mention conveniences they might gain by doing so.

      I hadn't bothered to read the damn thing as I expected it to be rather RMS-freakish but this... "The Ministry to Truth today decleared that there is only free software, there shall be no alternatives less it be a ruse by our enemies. Free software is perfect and at no point could there be any mention of imperfection, or anything else that might amount to criticism. It's doubleplusgood!"

      That is not free. This is brainwashing into believing there is no alternative, and that anything else on the outside isn't

  • Raise of hands (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Enderandrew (866215) <enderandrew&gmail,com> on Friday November 28, 2008 @10:41PM (#25921323) Homepage Journal

    Other than die-hard believers here on Slashdot, to the rest of the world, what percentage of the population cares of their software gets the Stallman stamp of approval, and what percentage just wants their software to work?

    Now I understand that having OSS drivers helps the kernel devs troubleshoot those drivers, and keep them up to date with constantly changing ABIs/APIs. I prefer free software, but I won't be a zealot about it. I am quite comfortable with proprietary software if it is the best solution for my need.

    • by Korin43 (881732)

      Now I understand that having OSS drivers helps the kernel devs troubleshoot those drivers, and keep them up to date with constantly changing ABIs/APIs..

      That is the issue exactly. Also the fact that Open Source drivers don't leave people with certain hardware behind (because there's no financial incentive to stop supporting old hardware), and Open Source drivers can be integrated better with the operating system, and they can be ported to operating systems that the manufacturers don't care about.

      • That is the issue to many devs who just want to put out the best product they can. For others the issue is having a completely "free" box.

    • by fermion (181285)
      I wonder how many of the people who complain actually have worked on device drivers, or even interfaced with device drivers.

      First, device drivers, if properly written, are part of the delivered hardware. If one asks for the drivers to be open, one might as well ask for the firmware in the device to be open. Now, I would argue this would be a good thing, but not such a good thing that I would want to arbitrarily limit the selection by making it a requirement.

      Second, at the device driver level, there sh

  • by foom (29095) on Friday November 28, 2008 @10:46PM (#25921359) Homepage

    I've always wondered why I, as a Freedom-loving-user, should prefer a device which has its non-free firmware embedded in a ROM or Flash chip rather than as a file on a CD or FTP server with my linux distribution.

    Because, let's be clear: *where* the non-free firmware is being stored is usually the choice you have.

    100% Free hardware would clearly be better, but there's precious little of that around...

    So: why is it evil to have the firmware distributed on CD? Why should I care even one itsy-little-bit where it's stored?

    • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Friday November 28, 2008 @11:04PM (#25921493) Homepage Journal

      If the firmware comes with a liberal license that says that anyone can distribute it, then no, you probably won't care, but if it doesn't, and you start handing around copies of it, then you'll care when their lawyers come knocking.

      • by foom (29095)

        If the firmware comes with a liberal license that says that anyone can distribute it, then no, you probably won't care, but if it doesn't, and you start handing around copies of it, then you'll care when their lawyers come knocking.

        Good point. I completely agree with that: distros should make sure that all the firmware they're distributing at least comes with a "anyone may distribute this" license.

        I don't suspect having such a requirement would even cause much of a flamewar. :)

  • Meaning the user more interested in the out-of-the-box experience than in ideological purity. The user who just might make the "Year of Linux" on the desktop a reality.
  • by sunderland56 (621843) on Friday November 28, 2008 @10:48PM (#25921375)
    TFA doesn't define what they mean by "firmware blob in the kernel"....

    If they mean a piece of firmware for download to a specific hardware device, then that is rarely in the *kernel*. Usually it is held in a separate file on disk, that is downloaded to the device at boot time. If it is in a separate file, the binary firmware blob is then not a part of the kernel, so the point is moot. The little bit of loading code that opens and reads the file and blasts it to the hardware is part of the kernel - and is most likely already part of the open source code.

    If they mean a part of the kernel with no open source, then it is kernel code and please stop calling it firmware.
    • Blobs can take many forms. Sometimes, they will be provided in separate files. Other times, they may be incorporated into the source of the driver itselfâ"for example, it could be encoded as a large array of numbers. But no matter how it's encoded, any nonfree firmware needs to be removed from a free system

      I think the kernel inclusion of stuff they were getting at was/is something like:

      static const unsigned firmwareXXXX[] = {...};

      This might be in the "source code", but is obviously not the source code for the firmware; it's embedded chunks of data. I can't say whether the linux kernel does this for any of its drivers... would have to look.

  • by br00tus (528477) on Friday November 28, 2008 @11:08PM (#25921537)

    I am typing this from a Gnewsense system. I really appreciate the position Stallman holds - that the sole reason he would ever use unfree software would be to write free software to replace it. Thus, until he wrote the GNU system, he used proprietary systems and components until he could write his own free one. I am not able to go that far, but for non-work related things, I usually avoid non-free software, and even at work, I am working with Red Hat and other free software a lot of the time.

    I guess I wasn't following things closely as one thing I was surprised at when I started using Debian (and later Ubuntu) was that there was no free Java out there. Gcj/gij and Kaffe are out there, but neither is at a level that can run most modern Java programs. Sun said in 2006 they were releasing Java as GPLv2, but that is still going on as far as I know. No full-featured Java means problems for packages I use like Eclipse or Vuze or Freenet.

    Video players also have a lot of problems. Mplayer and Debian had a long history (of no Mplayer), but over the past two years it has been brought into Debian (but not Gnewsense). Flash videos from places like Youtube is a problem as well, I use Gnash, which can see some videos on Youtube and can't with others. It's also a whole rigmarole for me to watch Youtube videos on Gnewsense, I actually paste URLs into a shell script instead of watching them through my browser.

    I figure if I'm going to put binary blobs, Java, and so forth on, I might as well being using Microsoft Vista. I agree with Stallman that a system is not 100% free if it allows an automatic method of installing non-free things. I personally think Debian, while not 100% free, is still close enough to suit myself in terms of allowing the option of installing non-free stuff. I don't use Debian any more but I can appreciate their position. With regards to Fedora and Ubuntu, I do not think the "you can remove non-free stuff if you want" argument holds water. That is a slippery slope as far as I'm concerned.

    I appreciate Stallman's position very much. The problem with technical people is they tend to think very logically and practically and technically and don't really appreciate what Stallman's stance does. For every Stallman out there, there are thousands of guys in suits out there who want to see Vista, or at the very least some Suse hybrid on everyone's desk. I think we are very lucky to have Stallman around. I have to admit he has been helped by the Linus's and Debian's out there which are a little more practical, and a little less ideological (although to the average suit, they seem as ideological as Stallman). But stepping too far away to me is on a slippery slope to Vista land. It's an old story - if you can't beat it, then sue it for patent crap, start making Suse Linux/Microsoft hybrids and all of that.

    • I appreciate your point, and I even support your position. But you have to realize that what this buys us is time. Running a Binary Blob for Nvidia's cards, and running a firmware blob for Broadcom support is no where NEAR the same thing s running Vista. Right now what Linux needs is to survive in the face of Billions of Windows users who want to see us disappear. If we can accept the time being and stay alive, wait until Linux gets a share of the OS Market large enough to really threaten the hardware maker

    • by mlc (16290) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @12:59AM (#25922209) Homepage
      A free Java is now in Debian [debian.org].
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Maybe you have not heard of OpenJDK [java.net]?

  • is to reverse-engineer the proprietary software. Never mind the recent regulations against reverse-engineering; they can't last anyway... they are too restrictive to research.
  • by stox (131684) on Friday November 28, 2008 @11:37PM (#25921693) Homepage

    until you have the code for every PGA, the microcode for every processor, the schematics of every logic element. These all embody code of some sort. Where do you draw the line?

  • There is no such thing as all encompassing freedom. We procure certain hardware and some of it may even be off the shelf. I deal with the tools given to me to perform the job. I certainly aim to procure hardware which is more open, but certain attitudes will kill the open source movement. I recently tried to install Fedora 10, and the graphics are completely broken with the nv driver. I was able to complete the installation by guessing at the number of tabs that I had to press in order to complete t
  • This question is on a par with other weighty issues [wikipedia.org] that mankind has wrestled with in the past.

  • by peacefinder (469349) * <alan...dewitt@@@gmail...com> on Saturday November 29, 2008 @12:47AM (#25922141) Journal

    'What resolves this issue?"

    OpenBSD, of course.

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