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Debian GNU is Not Unix Open Source Linux

Debian 6.0 To Feature a Completely Free Kernel 283

Posted by timothy
from the nothing-dirty dept.
dkd903 writes "The Debian Project has announced that the upcoming release — Debian 6.0 'Squeeze' — will have a completely free Linux kernel. This means that the Linux kernel which ships with Debian 6.0 will not have any non-free firmware. The Debian Project has been working on removing the non-free parts since the last two releases. With Squeeze, they are finally realizing that goal."
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Debian 6.0 To Feature a Completely Free Kernel

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  • by drunkennewfiemidget (712572) on Thursday December 16, 2010 @05:10PM (#34579790) Homepage

    More threads on the Internet of people going, 'I can't find ucide-34235.fw' and 'why doesn't my wireless card work?!'

    • by Ynot_82 (1023749) on Thursday December 16, 2010 @05:24PM (#34580038)

      Actually, from what I've heard (yeah anecdotal, I know)
      Non-free binary-blob firmware in the kernel is fast becoming a non-issue
      With the success of Android and other non-x86 Linux based devices, having a closed CPU specific blob is not an option anymore if you want device makers to use your hardware

      I think you'll find Debian is doing this now, because now most devices have open firmware code that can be compiled for different architectures

      Just look at this
      http://packages.debian.org/source/sid/firmware-nonfree [debian.org]
      Only 14 packages are in the Debian firmware-nonfree repository
      That's nothing

      • by Kjella (173770) on Thursday December 16, 2010 @05:34PM (#34580212) Homepage

        Except one of those 14 packages is a meta-package with about 75 [debian.org] binary firmwares, including microcode for all Radeon cards for example.

        • by Ynot_82 (1023749)

          AMD opened up the firmware for all their graphics cards more than 2 years ago
          http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=article&item=amd_microcode&num=1 [phoronix.com]

          I'm not sure what those things are you've pointed out
          Possibly old legacy firmware images that are being kept for some reason?

          • by Kjella (173770) on Thursday December 16, 2010 @06:45PM (#34581110) Homepage

            They gave us the microcode, but not the source used to compile the microcode. It's basically a blob that runs on the GPU parsing command packets and executing them. So while they've documented the command packets, there's another level of code between it and the hardware. Exactly like how CPUs have microcode to execute x86/x86_64 commands, the only difference is that on GPUs they're loaded after the system is booted by the driver. It doesn't really make the GPU closed source any more than Intel or AMD are closed source CPUs, but if you want to get really formal about it you are distributing a non-free piece of software.

      • by MtHuurne (602934)

        Firmware is the software that runs on the device (PCI card, USB device etc), not on the CPU. This is unrelated to binary blobs like the NVIDIA driver, which do run on the CPU.

      • by limaxray (1292094)
        You realize the host CPU (x86, ARM, POWER, etc - the one that gets all the press) isn't the only microprocessor in the system - many of these binary blobs run on other microprocessors and don't need to be recompiled for different host architectures. In a given system, there are usually several other processors that handle various, often real-time, functions. It is common for these devices to lack non-volatile storage and must boot from their host (the CPU) which is why these blobs are needed.

        For example,
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by LiquidCoooled (634315)

      This is comfortably a self solving issue.

      You can only complain about your network problem if you can get on the network.

      *grin*

    • by couchslug (175151)

      "More threads on the Internet of people going, 'I can't find ucide-34235.fw' and 'why doesn't my wireless card work?!'"

      New users should be discouraged from trying to use plain Debian as their introductory system. Debian should be kept pure and advanced with pure Free and Open goals in mind, but noobs don't need that in most cases.

      Different tools for different jobs.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by arivanov (12034)

      Not really.

      All of it is simply in the linux-firmware-nonfree package now.

      Typing this on a Lenny Mac mini G4 with a backported kernel package and with the radeon happily loading its non-free firmware out of the similarly backported non-free firmware package. Ditto for my G4 Powerbook (TiBook), ditto for my spare laptop which is a HP NC4000 in need for a non-free wireless card driver, firmware (non-free) for the onboard radeon and so on.

      The only missing bit last time I checked was however something which is q

    • by kwabbles (259554)

      All you have to do is enable the non-free repositories. They've removed it from the standard install.

      It will essentially cause this though:
      Me to be able to run a system free of binary blobs and sourceless turds in my kernel.
      More ease of troubleshooting problems with system devices.
      A kernel with less licensing and freedom issues.

    • by silanea (1241518)
      Nope. Those people already jumped ship to *buntu. And rightly so, since this distro better fits their specific needs. Debian being completely free is A Good Thing for those who care what is running on their machines.
    • Just add non-free to your sources.list & download it.

  • by willoughby (1367773) on Thursday December 16, 2010 @05:11PM (#34579814)
    So they're finally catching up with gNewSense. This is very cool. It's not for everyone but it's great to have it available.
    • by micheas (231635)

      So they're finally catching up with gNewSense. This is very cool. It's not for everyone but it's great to have it available.

      gNewSense probably has almost as much non-free software in it as Debian, if not more, because debian has more people looking over source files for license violations.

      Most of the non-free software is non-free common in free distributions is old, and nobody knows exactly who wound up with it when the original company went under or was bought out and sold off a few times.

      There was a redhat engineer (IIRC) that posted a fairly long blog about getting a small program released as opensource software. Most of his

      • Most of the non-free software is non-free common in free distributions is old,

        Ouch. My brain hurts. What exactly are you trying to say there?

        Or was your intent to inflict pain upon anyone reading that? If so, it worked, you bastard. :)

  • Sweet (Score:4, Informative)

    by mark72005 (1233572) on Thursday December 16, 2010 @05:11PM (#34579820)
    Even more people who will just download the "non-free" stuff immediately upon installing. Extra steps FTW
    • by TitusC3v5 (608284)
      Those people are using Ubuntu, not Debian (usually).
      • Ubuntu releases new versions faster than Microsoft releases Service Packs. That's why I choose Debian if I need Linux. However, I want my stuff to work and I do not care about non-free software, well, as long as I (legally) do not need to pay for it. I have installed Debian on a few desktops and I also installed proprietary video card drivers (where they were needed), Adobe Flash, video codecs, Mozilla Firefox...

        And if I need a device that works with Linux, I still do not care about open or closed source dr

        • by mirix (1649853)

          The problem with non-free stuff, is you can't change it, you know. So if your router has a binary blob proprietary driver for the wifi... great, it works miraculously under 2.4 kernel.

          Now - If you want to upgrade to 2.6, you're hooped. No source, and the manufacturer didn't release a blob for 2.6. This is the biggest problem, you're at the mercy of the manufacturer for continued support, unless someone reverse engineers the thing and writes an open driver. I don't like being in that situation.

          • Well, being unable to upgrade to a newer version may be bad, but it's not as bad as the device not working with any version. Also, I would have the same luck trying to modify both open or closed source (with a hex editor) drivers myself so I would still have to rely on somebody to update the drivers.

            And if my router worked with 2.4 kernel I would not try to upgrade the kernel - well, at least I would try to find out if the hardware was supported and if not, well, it works with 2.4, right?

            Again, I do not kno

        • by Draek (916851)

          Then you're in a tiny minority among a tiny minority among a tiny minority, I'm sad to say. Besides, Debian's policy of complete openness has been in place so long it served as the inspiration for the Open Source definition, so really, you have no excuse.

        • by Nimey (114278)

          Ubuntu releases new versions faster than Microsoft releases Service Packs. That's why I choose Debian if I need Linux.

          The standard retort is that you should stick with Ubuntu LTS releases, which only come every couple years and are supported for three (five on the server).

  • From Debian (Score:5, Informative)

    by icebraining (1313345) on Thursday December 16, 2010 @05:12PM (#34579824) Homepage

    The link to Debian's actual announcement: http://www.debian.org/News/2010/20101215 [debian.org]

  • Great news! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sticks_us (150624) on Thursday December 16, 2010 @05:14PM (#34579876) Homepage

    I can think of at least two distros (gNewSense: http://www.gnewsense.org/ [gnewsense.org] and Trisquel: http://trisquel.info/ [trisquel.info]) that are the result of people working diligently to comb through the entire Ubuntu distro (not just the kernel) and checking modules/programs/packages for license compatibility. Binary blobs and other non-free kernel modules have always been a concern.

    Bravo!

  • Actual article (Score:4, Informative)

    by Xtifr (1323) on Thursday December 16, 2010 @05:15PM (#34579892) Homepage

    Here's the actual article [debian.org], as opposed to a link to what I presume is somebody's blog. Took me all of two seconds to find. In any case, as I expected, the "non-free" firmware will be available from the official non-free repository. The only thing we really need now is for someone to provide a minor-variant boot/install disc that includes the non-free network drivers, and everybody should be happy. (No, I'm not volunteering--my hardware works.)

  • by Bacon Bits (926911) on Thursday December 16, 2010 @05:18PM (#34579942)

    This is indeed a wonderful accomplishment and the Debian team deserves a lot of praise for what must have been a lot of hard work, however, I wonder if they're shooting themselves in the foot and removing hardware support. One of the things that drove me to Ubuntu over Debian on my laptop has been that Ubuntu is willing to package binary blobs for drivers. Nothing is quite as frustrating as getting a system installed only to find that some piece of hardware isn't detected right and is non-functional... particularly when it's something critical like network drivers.

    I am very pleased that Debian has been able to get so far while maintaining such integrity to it's mission. I really respect that. But at the end of the day, I want a system that I can use.

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      That is just it. Do they have a list of things that are now flat out broken?

    • by dkleinsc (563838) on Thursday December 16, 2010 @05:37PM (#34580236) Homepage

      My take on this: Debian is much more tied to the FSF philosophy than most of the other distros. That's their way of doing things. That means that the baseline distribution needs to be Free Software.

      I see two major points of this kind of effort:
      1. We get to see how functional entirely Free systems really are. Maybe you don't need the latest and greatest nVidia drivers to still have a machine that does what you need it to do.
      2. In an absolutely Free Software world, the binary blobs and the like were stopgap measures at best. This could potentially motivate people to make Free replacements.

      Now, both of these assume that you have the goal of running entirely Free Software. But if you have that goal, then this is completely logical and worthwhile.

  • sudo apt-get install ubuntu
    should fix any problems.

    It's getting harder to run Debian, which is a shame. I am slowly but steadily converting my machines to Ubuntu just because I don't have time to mess about with drivers any more. (Typically 1 machine a year; when I need an app that won't run under 'stable' without munching in a half-GB of 'testing' libraries.

    • by McGiraf (196030)

      I'm going the other way, I went from Debian to Ubuntu in thr 6.04 days, but now I do not want to upgrade to the next Ubuntu, it's been going Downhill since 9.04. Less stable , more bugs and going way too Appleish/iPodish at every release. Switch the windows button to the left side? WTF, Taskbar freezing every few hours , grmbl.

      I'm now Using Debian again on new installs, and when updates stop for 9.04 9.10 I will not Upgrade , I'll switch those boxes to Debian.

  • Squeeze user here (Score:4, Informative)

    by santax (1541065) on Thursday December 16, 2010 @05:34PM (#34580202)
    First thing I on a fresh system (and I install a lot of fresh systems due to testing that goes horribly wrong :) Just put this in your sources.list and your fine. deb http://mirrors.nl.kernel.org/debian/ [kernel.org] squeeze main contrib non-free deb-src http://mirrors.nl.kernel.org/debian/ [kernel.org] squeeze main contrib non-free deb http://security.debian.org/ [debian.org] squeeze/updates main contrib non-free deb-src http://security.debian.org/ [debian.org] squeeze/updates main contrib non-free deb http://deb.opera.com/opera-beta/ [opera.com] squeeze non-free deb http://www.debian-multimedia.org/ [debian-multimedia.org] squeeze main non-free After that I down the catalyst drivers from ati. And only then I start using the system. With all my closed-source goodies :D I love it!
  • by bonch (38532)

    The only people who really care about this sort of thing anymore are ideologues. Otherwise, this has little to no value to end users or their computing experience.

    • by KiloByte (825081)

      Or happen to want stability and no random crashes you cannot debug. Go read lkml and similar lists about the frequency of crashes due to dodgy proprietary drivers.

      • by jensend (71114)

        And all zero of the posts about crashes due to firmware being distributed with the kernel. How did you get the idea that the topic at hand had anything to do with proprietary drivers?

      • by afabbro (33948)

        Or happen to want stability and no random crashes you cannot debug. Go read lkml and similar lists about the frequency of crashes due to dodgy proprietary drivers.

        Possibly true, but 99.999% of users have zero ability to debug a device driver. We/they're reduced to googling and asking in forums based on error messages and their experiences, which is not really much different (from their perspective) than if they were using a proprietary driver.

        I appreciate your point, but I just don't think the average user cares. My $NEW_HARDWARE is crashing. I either find a fix by googling/foruming/manufacturer website or it doesn't work. Having the source available to me doesn'

    • It could also be said that the only people who will look at this as a bad thing are ideologues...
      • Who is saying it's a bad thing? I see some people who think it's good and many more who don't really care, but nobody is saying this is bad.
        • Yeah the OP didn't say it was bad, just that it had "little to no value to end users". Another person upthread claimed this will "kill the project". I realize he didn't say "This is bad", but saying it will "kill the project" or offers "little to no value", isn't exactly merely "not really caring".
    • Re:Honestly (Score:5, Insightful)

      by selven (1556643) on Thursday December 16, 2010 @06:27PM (#34580928)

      Thankfully, us ideologues do exist and are willing to fight against computer proprietarization while we still can and aren't going to wait until everyone is running an iPad-like walled garden with the US government holding a backdoor key. These things do have long-term consequences.

  • by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Thursday December 16, 2010 @05:43PM (#34580334) Homepage

    This is the result of a few years of work by Alexandre Oliva (FSFLA), who worked on the Linux-libre project and travelled to give presentations about the amount of non-free software in the default Linux kernel.

    http://www.lsd.ic.unicamp.br/~oliva/ [unicamp.br]
    http://www.fsfla.org/svnwiki/selibre/linux-libre/ [fsfla.org]

    (it's also generally thanks to the gNewSense guys, Paul O'Malley & Brian Brazil in Ireland, who worked on the general issue of non-free software in distros, but the specific work on the kernel was championed by Alexandre.)

  • I always use testing (stable's too dull and experimental too exciting), so I'm currently on squeeze.

    Just bought a new Core i3 server system, Asus Mini-ATX mobo, built in video, built in gigE for house side, added an old PCI 10/100 Eth card for cable modem side, Intel SSD for /, 1TB SATA for /data, 4 GB RAM. Cheap as hell, like $250 for the whole thing.

    No hardware issues at all so far, everything just seems to work. It's firewalling, media serving, web serving, and all the other bits you'd expect it to do. B

  • I don't get it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AcidPenguin9873 (911493) on Thursday December 16, 2010 @06:19PM (#34580822)

    Non-free, closed-source binary blobs running on the CPU in the kernel are bad, I fully agree. They can corrupt system memory in terrible, subtle ways, and without the source code it's nearly impossible to diagnose problems. Non-free, closed-source binary blobs running on an external device with completely separate microcontroller, RAM, etc? What's wrong with that?

    The whole point of having firmware in an external device is to separate/wall-off the functionality of that device from the general-purpose CPU and memory. In fact I can't think of a single device in a modern computer system that doesn't have some sort of firmware. Not all devices have loadable firmware like the ones Debian is targeting, but who gives a crap if it's loadable or not? In fact I would rather that every device have loadable (or at least flashable) firmware so that I can upgrade it or get bugfixes from the vendor.

    The usual argument against these firmwares goes something like, "IO devices have access to full system memory, and are thus unsafe unless we see their firmware." Well, any IO device has access to system memory whether or not it has firmware. A buggy piece of firmware-free hardware can just as easily scribble on anything in memory or generate a flood of interrupts or whatever as something with firmware. This requirement is tantamount to requiring all the RTL for every device attached to the computer, which is certainly not going to happen.

  • Why should I care if the Linux kernel is free of non-free firmware? Does that have the added benefit of rending the hardware devices I use unusable? If so, well done Debian: you've successfully maintained the honourable badge of forcing your users to work as if it was 2000.

  • Not just Linux, they yanked it out of the kfreebsd kernel too, which is causing problems because you can't just install a firmware-kfreebsd package - yet. I think they were a bit premature pulling the trigger on the kfreebsd kernel. Check out: http://lists.debian.org/debian-bsd/2010/12/msg00046.html [debian.org] and http://bugs.debian.org//cgi-bin/bugreport.cgi?bug=594940 [debian.org]
  • Sure, it's a noble goal, but how does a completely free kernel benefit users if at all? (or even worse).
    That "freedom" is only noticeable in licensing and stuff, and unless the user is extremely self-conscious about copyright laws, it'll offer a diluted, incomplete experience. What means that user will bounce back to Win/Mac after trying linux and seeing how many devices don't work without binary drivers.

    Seriously, they want to become more niche or satisfy users? I really can't tell.

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