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Author: Martin Steigerwald
To: devuan-dev
Subject: Re: [devuan-dev] Free software question
golinux@??? - 15.06.19, 01:50:
> Someone posted the email copied below to the freedom.devuan.org
> mailbox. I hoping that someone on this list could pen an answer and
> post here for me to reply or directly if you have access there. I
> really don't want to say something that's not quite right especially
> since FSF is tangentially involved. Thanks.

This may not be as easily answered as you think, cause ideally it would
require an agreement on how Devuan project handles this.

As far as I am aware to qualify the distro must be 100% free of any
proprietary software and software that comes without source code, that
includes any firmware blobs delivered with the Linux kernel.

Also the distro has to have a policy to include only free software.

While Debian GNU/Linux ships an installer without non free software,
AFAIR it still did not qualify. The reason for that is that while Debian
ships only free software by default, it allows the user to easily add
non-free software to the system¹.

> They do not have a policy of only including free software, and
> removing nonfree software if it is discovered.?

quoted from: Explaining Why We Don't Endorse Other Systems¹

As far as I am aware Debian developers decided that way to balance two
sometimes conflicting goals: Putting freedom first and putting the user
first. Debian has both of these in their social contract²: "Our
priorities are our users *and* free software" (highlighting by me). As
making non-free firmware difficult to install cripples the experience of
many users of the currently common non-free hardware they considered
that this would not be putting users first. So they relayed the decision
whether or not to use non-free software to the users, while the FSF seem
to prefer a position to decide this for the users.

There is also a special Linux libre kernel with in addition to not
shipping non-free firmware also disabled loading those and apparently it
even still includes non-free firmware³:

> Even after allegedly moving all firmware to a separate project as of
> release 4.14, Linux so-called "sources" published by Mr Torvalds
> still contain non-Free firmware disguised as source code.?

AFAIK Debian does not ship this kernel.

Devuan, based on Debian GNU/Linux, currently AFAIK share the same two
issues regarding being included in the free software distribution list
of the FSF. However of course Devuan contributors could decide
differently than the Debian contributors.

As much as I like to see free hardware, hardware with completely free
firmware, I also understand that using >5 year old laptops with Intel
Management Engine removed or at least disabled and BIOS/UEFI firmware
replaced by Coreboot/SeaBIOS may not be for everyone. I am currently
still holding back either buying a new laptop myself or having my
employer buy one for me cause I do not like to support the crap anymore.
Proprietary firmware crap, broken CPUs with a ton of side-channel attacks
and all of that. So I still use that ThinkPad T520, but still with
proprietary firmware, as it is a laptop payed by my employer.

On the other hand, still buying Intel, AMD, NVidia, Arm and other non-
free hardware does not give those companies a motivation to open up. But
if you like to have a laptop, that's almost about what you can do,
unless you are fine with ThinkPad up to X230/T430 as these can be
somewhat freed up (with compromises). Of course you can argue, that
those companies opened up a little or even a bit more already, however
as far as I am aware all of them require proprietary firmware blobs at
least for their current generation of GPUs. And both Intel and AMD have
proprietary firmware support packages (FSP), which in the case of Intel
includes some form of Intel Management Engine. There are currently some
Intel people looking into opening up the FSP. Also AMD and Arm also have
something similar to Intel Management Engine.

So the decision would be: Would Devuan make it difficult for users to
install the proprietary firmware that is required to get a fully working
system, increasing the difference between Debian, or would it go along
with Debian's decision to let the user choose?

As much as I like to see free hardware, I trying to force the decision
on whether or not to use non-free firmware onto users does not sound
exactly like freedom to me either.

In any way, I see it as a tough ethical decision and can understand both
sides here.

Wow, this has been long, probably too long, but I really chose to
highlight the conflicts behind this.

[1] Explaining Why We Don't Endorse Other Systems

Free System Distribution Guidelines (GNU FSDG)

[2] Debian Social Contract

[3] GNU Linux-libre, Free as in Freedom