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Editorial Operating Systems Software Linux

Proprietary Blobs and the Pursuit of a Free Kernel 405

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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  • by mlc ( 16290 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @12:59AM (#25922209) Homepage
    A free Java is now in Debian [].
  • by phantomcircuit ( 938963 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @03:19AM (#25922865) Homepage

    Maybe you have not heard of OpenJDK []?

  • Here's your problem: Open Source [] is not Free Software [].

    "Open source is a development method for software that harnesses the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process. The promise of open source is better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in."

    "Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of free as in free speech, not as in free beer. Free software is a matter of the users' freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of the software:

    * The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
    * The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
    * The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
    * The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this. "
  • by MrHanky ( 141717 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @08:32AM (#25924179) Homepage Journal

    To quote Wikipedia: [Citation needed]

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

  • by Rich0 ( 548339 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @09:01AM (#25924273) Homepage

    Keep in mind that linux will never get to the point where a free system will "just work" if everybody just accepts proprietary software all over the linux desktop.

    I have similar problems with flash. Sure, it is a pain to watch flash on a 64-bit linux desktop. However, I see that as a reason to replace adobe flash, not a reason to find 47 hacks to try to get it to work in spite of the vendor's lack of support.

    If you just want something that "works," then buy a copy of Vista. But don't complain when you find certain things that you want to do that the vendor has decided you ought not to be able to do.

    The point of the FOSS movement is to get FOSS to a point where we don't need to compromise. We haven't arrived yet. However, we won't get there by accepting compromise either. In practice we all do it, but that doesn't mean that we have to like doing it. :)

  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @09:06AM (#25924293) Journal
    RedHat Enterprise Linux is not under the GPL. Fedora is not under the GPL. Ubuntu is not under the GPL. Certain parts of all of these are under the GPL, however they are distributed with some GPL-incompatible components (e.g. Apache). The 'mere aggregation' clause of the GPL means that the GPL does not apply to any of these.
  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @09:07AM (#25924295) Journal

    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.

  • by icebraining ( 1313345 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @09:11AM (#25924301) Homepage

    But who in hell is preventing who from installing whatever proprietary software you want? Just go to the manufacturer and download it. The OS won't prevent you from installing and running it, for sure.

    Simply the distros shouldn't have to package proprietary software if they don't agree with it. NO ONE IS BLOCKING PROPRIETARY SOFTWARE, they just don't to help distribute it.

  • by bug1 ( 96678 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @09:30AM (#25924373)

    "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:Go to Root Cause (Score:3, Informative)

    by Tweenk ( 1274968 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:00AM (#25924493)

    How about how a closed-source driver which gives my X 3d-accel is better than one that does not?

    If I have a MIPS system and the manufacturer decided this platform isn't worthy of his attention, then I'm able to use the open driver to get *some* graphics, while I'm not able to use the closed driver at all.

  • by Elektroschock ( 659467 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:11AM (#25924529)

    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.

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

    by jonaskoelker ( 922170 ) <jonaskoelker&yahoo,com> on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:53AM (#25924777)

    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".

  • by Respect_my_Authority ( 967217 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @11:06AM (#25924853)

    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.

    The Debian Free Software Guidelines (paragraph 8) clearly says that "License Must Not Be Specific to Debian". []

    Like the article tells, Debian developers are currently negotiating if the firmware blobs should be removed before or after the Lenny release. In any case, Debian developers are removing all the kernel binary blobs from their main repository and they won't distribute any software where the distribution license is not the same for everyone.

    AFAIK, the Debian installer for Lenny already checks your hardware and it prompts for additional non-free packages of drivers or firmware (which the user needs to download separately from the installer) if your hardware needs them to work properly. Then it's up to the user to decide if non-free drivers or firmware will be installed.

  • by hardwarefreak ( 899370 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @11:06PM (#25929781)

    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.

    Visiting here would be a good start: []

Neutrinos have bad breadth.