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Proprietary Blobs and the Pursuit of a Free Kernel

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the free-as-in-beerspeech dept.

Editorial 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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405 comments

1 Answer: (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25921127)

Learn from the OpenBSD team

Re:1 Answer: (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25921133)

you must mean "steal from the openbsd team and never give back", but they already do that

Re:1 Answer: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25921189)

Don't be ridiculous. The whole point of BSD licence relative to the GPL is that basically you're allowed copy without giving back. To turn around and get all whiny about it is just fucking stupid. It's why microsoft doesn't fight bsd much, just linux.

Re:1 Answer: (1)

FishWithAHammer (957772) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921575)

There's a difference between what you *can* do and what you *should* do.

Under GPLv2, Tivoization is allowed, but you "shouldn't" do that either, right?

Re:1 Answer: (3, Interesting)

TwilightXaos (860408) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921643)

While the Tivoization is allowed via GPL v2, it has been argued that it was never intended.

This is obviously not the case with the BSD license, and if it was they would have released another BSD license that fixed it.

Re:1 Answer: (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921863)

Microsoft doesn't pretend that adding restrictions makes it more free. It's allowable, but it's douchebaggery at its finest.

Re:1 Answer: (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25921219)

Ah the old "BSD is freer because you can do what you want without being compelled to give back WHAT YOU TOOK WITHOUT GIVING BACK UNDER MY BSD LICENSE YOU'RE A JERK"

At the least the GPL is honest about what obligations people should have in order to improve the software.

Re:1 Answer: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25921485)

Actually, I think you mean

"Steal from the OpenBSD team, then when asked politely to work with them to resolve the licensing issue, throw a temper tantrum and accuse them of being 'inhuman' for talking about a public repository in the public mailing list dedicated to it."

Re:1 Answer: (5, Funny)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921237)

Learn from the OpenBSD team

We should tell the users to go fsck themselves?

Re:1 Answer: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25921281)

No. You should tell users to go buy from someone else and point out that the companies are not fully supporting them.

Supporting the freedom for my hardware to not work (5, Insightful)

QuasiEvil (74356) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Supporting the freedom for my hardware to not w (5, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921249)

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.

Re:Supporting the freedom for my hardware to not w (3, Interesting)

Neoprofin (871029) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Supporting the freedom for my hardware to not w (4, Interesting)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921891)

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.

Mod parent up (5, Insightful)

Kludge (13653) | more than 5 years ago | (#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:Supporting the freedom for my hardware to not w (2, Interesting)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921833)

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:Supporting the freedom for my hardware to not w (1)

TheSHAD0W (258774) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921869)

"So you gave Redhat permission to distribute this data?" "Yes." "And were you aware it was being distributed under the GPL?" "Uhh..." "And that the GPL allows further modification and redistribution so long as it remains under that license?" "..." "Case dismissed!"

Re:Supporting the freedom for my hardware to not w (3, Insightful)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921937)

"So you gave Redhat permission to distribute this data?" "Yes." "And were you aware it was being distributed under the GPL?" "Uhh..." "And that the GPL allows further modification and redistribution so long as it remains under that license?" "..." "Case dismissed!"

If granting distribution rights to someone also meant giving them the right to relicense what they were distributing, the GPL would be defunct.

Re:Supporting the freedom for my hardware to not w (4, Insightful)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 5 years ago | (#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...

Re:Supporting the freedom for my hardware to not w (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25921657)

You don't need them up in your ivory tower...

No, not really. They're already not providing hardware specs, and that's about the worst they can do. Free software isn't about the "users", it's about the developers. Most free software is written by developers, because they need software to do something. If you don't like it, well... sucks to be you.

Ironically, the biggest whiners against "completely free" software are usually the people who contribute the least. They don't want to contribute or do any hard work, but they're more than happy to throw in their two cents on what they think should be done. Unfortunately for you, the people actually doing the "dirty work" disagree with you.

Re:Supporting the freedom for my hardware to not w (3, Insightful)

Kegetys (659066) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921751)

> 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.

Re:Supporting the freedom for my hardware to not w (4, Insightful)

cheater512 (783349) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921791)

I've never had problems with Xinerama and nVidia but yeah I suppose S3 could be problematic.

Personally I think I'll stick to Intel for the moment.
I'm not a gamer and as long as it handles KDE 4's compositing, then I'm happy.

Their drivers are stunning and they are completely open.
2.6.28 and 2.6.29 have some really neat stuff for Intel cards.

Re:Supporting the freedom for my hardware to not w (1)

finity (535067) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921859)

I've always purchased NVIDIA cards when given the chance, as the hardware and drivers (Linux) seem to be rock solid. My laptop came with an ATI and (these days) it works very well too.

I think NVIDIA has done a good job supporting Linux, but they should still be pushed to release hardware specs and open source their drivers. Just because someone has supported the open source movement over the years doesn't give them license to sit back and say "I've done my part."

I wasn't aware that ATI had released any information more helpful than that which NVIDIA had. ATI's drivers are still closed source. Competition through capitalism is the thing that will drive a company to get better, and from my view better includes "more open source." If ATI has topped NVIDIA in this respect, maybe folks should start supporting them over NVIDIA...

There's nothing wrong with being fickle. I don't think anyone at NVIDIA will cry over it, though they may put on puppy-dog eyes.

Re:Supporting the freedom for my hardware to not w (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25921321)

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? Yes because software internal to the kernel should be more trusted and open. These proprietary blobs are not sand-boxed, remember.

Talking about what's best will make people aware of their options and will encourage a company to open their code, especially for peripherals where the profit is more in hardware than secrets.

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.

Well the GPL has always had a network clause and your scenario is like that.

Quite frankly, I'm a pragmatist

You're a short-term pragmatist, not a long-term pragmatist.

who admires all the great freedom in Linux

I very much doubt that. If you've got a bug can you feasibly fix it in a proprietary blob? Will you go years without being to run that proprietary blob on a 64-bit platform? Can a government ensure their sovereignty and verify that the software behaves correctly? Can you improve the peripheral and integrate it better with your system? Even if you don't know how to program do you think that no one else in the world wants that? Proprietary blobs aren't the end of the world but they're not a good idea and it's ok to say so. It's great the FSF raise awareness about what scenarios you can and cannot do with these secret blobs. These people who call the FSF un-pragmatic really don't "admire all the great freedom in Linux".

Re:Supporting the freedom for my hardware to not w (2, Insightful)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921347)

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.

Re:Supporting the freedom for my hardware to not w (4, Insightful)

lysergic.acid (845423) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921369)

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.

Re:Supporting the freedom for my hardware to not w (4, Interesting)

Korin43 (881732) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921461)

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.

Two New Software Freedoms (4, Insightful)

psr111975 (1419639) | more than 5 years ago | (#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]

Re:Two New Software Freedoms (4, Insightful)

Draek (916851) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Two New Software Freedoms (3, Insightful)

himurabattousai (985656) | more than 5 years ago | (#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:Two New Software Freedoms (1)

cheater512 (783349) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921803)

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:Two New Software Freedoms (2, Insightful)

chromatic (9471) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921817)

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:Two New Software Freedoms (1)

inKubus (199753) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921871)

It's a slippery slope, I think, is all. Hardware manufacturers in particular are under increasing pressure to provide drivers for Linux and other free software. For those of them that won't release source code, yes we have to suffer with proprietary drivers. However, there are a number of good reasons users should have to go to the manufacturers' distribution sites to get it.

The proprietary drivers shouldn't be included in the distribution for a lot of reasons: there could be legal consequences to the distribution and use of the binaries that cannot (and should not) be monitored or communicated by the distro distributer. In addition, this setup places more responsibility on the user (they have to go and find the drivers, or choose hardware from a more open manufacturer) AND on the manufacturers (they have to provide a distribution point for the binaries, etc.) which then in turn makes it more likely the manufacturer will release the source eventually. The reasoning is actually pretty good:

Users demand convenient driver installs and in some way the market will provide it. There are two ways this could happen: #1, the vendors pony up source code for Linux/Free Software drivers. In this case the users will continue to pressure the vendors or threaten to move to better, more open vendors. As free software grows, those vendors that don't support it will be left in the dust. #2, free software accepts and packages and distributes proprietary, closed-source blobs with the rest of the distro. This provides no real benefit to Free Software as a whole, except to the few users that happen to be currently using the closed hardware. Nothing is contributed other than a "license" to use the hardware on a Linux machine.

There is no real harm done to free software by staying on the sidelines and waiting for the users to demand open source drivers from their vendors. I don't think they should cave because then the vendors will never change. Vendors will only change in response to market pressure. If they are getting by with binaries distributed in the distro, they will NEVER release source. Those binaries, and the convenience of their packaging means they will NEVER have to answer to the users. The conversation, at that point ends.

On the other hand, if free software starts the war of attrition, the users will evenutally complain a lot or switch to another vendor. I can just imagine a fictional scenario where a sales and marketing-type-guy is called in front of the board to explain why the server-class RAID card the company sells has stopped selling. His reply: "Well, the majority of our cards will find their way into servers running Linux, but company policy prohibits us from releasing the source code to our drivers, which means it isn't included in most major distributions." The CEO asks him "How many more units a year would we sell if we could get into those Linux machine." After doing a few calculations, the sales and marketing guy says "Oh, about 40% more." "Release the source!"

And seriously, if there's that much secret crap in the DRIVER, there is something seriously wrong anyway and you shouldn't use the hardware. Likely it's farming most of the work out to the CPU anyway!

Re:Supporting the freedom for my hardware to not w (1)

Draek (916851) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921559)

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 long-term sacrifice and I do that as well sometimes, but let's not pretend that people who think differently are instantly 'loony'.

Re:Supporting the freedom for my hardware to not w (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25921655)

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?

Yes because software internal to the kernel should be more trusted and open. These proprietary blobs are not sand-boxed, remember. Talking about what's best will make people aware of their options and will encourage a company to open their code, especially for peripherals where the profit is more in hardware than secrets.

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.

Well the GPL has always had a network clause and your scenario is like that.

Quite frankly, I'm a pragmatist

You're a must-work-now kind of pragmatist, not a long-term pragmatist.

who admires all the great freedom in Linux

I very much doubt that. If you've got a bug can you feasibly fix it in a proprietary blob? Will you go years without being to run that proprietary blob on a 64-bit platform? Can a government ensure their sovereignty and verify that the software behaves correctly? Can you improve the peripheral and integrate it better with your system? Even if you don't know how to program do you think that no one else in the world wants that? Proprietary blobs aren't the end of the world but they're not a good idea and it's ok to say so. It's great the FSF raise awareness about what scenarios you can and cannot achieve with these secret blobs. These people who call the FSF un-pragmatic really don't "admire all the great freedom in Linux".

Re:Supporting the freedom for my hardware to not w (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921783)

"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:Supporting the freedom for my hardware to not w (1, Troll)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921907)

RMS and FSF are really pushing it too far. Their agenda subconsciously is to prevent people from making money from their work.
1. Free Software and Source Code. (There goes the traditional business Model, of software profit)
2. SaaS is now considered Evil. (Fine you have have the software and the source however if you want to run it you will need our huge infrastructure to get the amazing things our product does, but you can use ours for a nominal fee, now that is out)
3, Firmware/Flash (Ok you have the software for free you can easily afford the hardware, but we open ourselfs and loss of millions of dollars of R&D the next week because our firmware needs to be open source)

It seems they just want you to make money by supporting the product. But a well done application should be easy enough to use that you don't need expensive support. You can talk about greed and capitalism but pushing to reduce methods of making money with software will have a chilling effect on the world.

holy war batman! (5, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#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).

Re:holy war batman! (3, Insightful)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:holy war batman! (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921531)

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.

Re:holy war batman! (1)

Tenebrousedge (1226584) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921415)

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 would agree that software should be free and open, and although it would be ideal to have everything be FOSS, most people are willing to compromise a little in order to have a working system. As long as we approach the ideal, and continue to progress towards it, we can be relatively happy. The reverse is probably also true, and probably we are a bit more outspoken when something is perceived to be a backwards step, but that is probably only human.

Re:holy war batman! (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921609)

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.

Can't do that. I don't have anything better to do; That's why I'm here. ;) And you give me way too much credit -- I don't care at all about how FOSS is defined or Richard Stallman's latest diatribe, or how linux is being ruined by code of an impure nature. It's just the adult version of what boys do when they play with their toys...

"I blast you with my laser beam"

"I block your laser beam with my shield"

"nuh uh, because my laser beams are mega fusion powered"

"yeah so? I told you my shield bounces all lasers back to you. so you blow up."

"no I don't! it bounces into the ground underneath you and you fall into the hole." *kicks sand*

This can go on for hours. Then they grow up, forget about all of this, and then standing by the soda machine one day...

"I just built this server with raid 1+0 running an oracle database and 4GB of RAM"

"Well that'll only handle about a thousand users unless you use dual NICs, which you don't have"

"nuh uh, it has a gigabit ATM card which is more than enough to handle those requests"

"Yeah until that guy in marketing runs a query on the entire recordset to find week to week sales figures" *kicks sand*

Re:holy war batman! (2, Interesting)

Psychotria (953670) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921427)

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.

Arguing whether it's right or wrong is a different story.

Re:holy war batman! (2, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921665)

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. ;)

Re:holy war batman! (1)

Psychotria (953670) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921759)

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.

Re:holy war batman! (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921911)

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.

The seriousness cops will be by to pick you up shortly, please place your hands in the little circles on the wall. :) I meant no disrespect... You just underscored my point which is that geeks like to argue over minutiae. Sometimes a little ambiguity is okay, that's all. I think the definition of "Free as in freedom, not free as in beer" is a good enough definition for 99.9% of all these arguments, but many people insist on making something that could be simple into something really complicated.

Re:holy war batman! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25921603)

You just described Slashdot, period.

I come for the nigger jokes and tales of eating shit outta the toilet pot.

Re:holy war batman! (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921653)

At the end of the day, there really is no such thing as a completely free system -- at least not one that is practical for most people to use. Every PC in existence has some sort of firmware and most of that firmware is closed. Moving the firmware out of the kernel and into ROM doesn't improve anything. Running a system with only completely open firmware/hardware will leave you without a working wireless connection, without working 3D acceleration, without a working HDD controller and pretty much without a processor. So that leaves --- nothing.

So I agree, the debate is pointless. You have to say that free software is an ideal that we should strive towards, but we have to make comprises somewhere unless we're willing to throw out the whole copyright and patent systems.

Re:holy war batman! (1)

extrasolar (28341) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921827)

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.

How about when there is no alternative? (5, Insightful)

sammydee (930754) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921261)

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

Re:How about when there is no alternative? (4, Insightful)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921469)

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.

Re:How about when there is no alternative? (1)

an unsound mind (1419599) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921709)

Sacrificing functionality for ideals is harming open source.

Re:How about when there is no alternative? (1)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921739)

Sacrificing functionality for ideals is harming open source.

It sounds like you're confused in at least two ways.

What goals are being harmed by what actions on the part of who here?

Re:How about when there is no alternative? (1, Flamebait)

PenguSven (988769) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921821)

Sacrificing functionality for ideals is stupid

fixed that for ya.

Re:How about when there is no alternative? (1)

neuromanc3r (1119631) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921749)

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...

Re:How about when there is no alternative? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25921835)

The Linux Hater's Blog has a great explanation of what differs between Nvidia and ATI's drivers: http://linuxhaters.blogspot.com/2008/06/nitty-gritty-shit-on-open-source.html. Summary: Linux requires driver manufacturers to do a lot of hacks to get decent functionality. Nvidia does it. ATI does not.

This whole debate brings up another point which you can see throughout LH's blog as well. What is the objective of building a desktop Linux distro? Is it to provide a working, useful OS? Or is it to run some kind of experiment to see what can be done with only free software licenses? So many FOSS advocates go for the second, and then they wonder why the OS has zero userbase on the desktop, why it's painful to use and unstable, etc. If you want to make a useful product, be pragmatic, and acknowledge that nobody's pulled off a useful desktop OS before without allowing closed-source software. (Linux on the server is another story BTW; we know how to write drivers for CPUs and disks, and that's pretty much all that matters.)

Negro Savages Stomp Wal-Mart Clerk to Death (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25921277)

Crazed Negro Savages [cofcc.org]

A mob of 200 or more people, mostly African Americans, forced their way into a Walmart early today breaking the doors off their hinges. A 34 year old employee was trampled to death. As paramedics worked to save the man, more people [Negroes] streamed in and ignored them.

Re:Negro Savages Stomp Wal-Mart Clerk to Death (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25921847)

This reminds me of the looting that took place after hurricane Katrina. A Negro was captured on video stealing a Power Wheels toy from a Wal-Mart. This is what happens when Negroes are allowed to roam free.

Go to Root Cause (3, Interesting)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921285)

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? (2, Insightful)

cstec (521534) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921287)

" 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."

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

Choozy (1260872) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921293)

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 not talking slashdotters here) viable alternative?

Non-free blobs are a problem, but... (5, Insightful)

trims (10010) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921295)

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

Re:Non-free blobs are a problem, but... (1)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921395)

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?

Re:Non-free blobs are a problem, but... (4, Insightful)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921605)

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:Non-free blobs are a problem, but... (2, Insightful)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921819)

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 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.

There's no GPLv2 vs GPLv3 "wars", just rational people making rational license choices. It's certainly not in the interest of the FSF to allow their software to be distributed in such a way that it can't be modified by end users.

Re:Non-free blobs are a problem, but... (2, Insightful)

trims (10010) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921629)

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 viewed as a License, as it will be used in the same way - to control a set of code) goes far beyond that. It makes two additional leaps that I think are enormously harmful, and would be vociferously condemned by the FSF if anyone else attempted to do so:

  1. It makes restrictions on code that is NOT part of the original codebase - that is, programs that merely sit side by side with FSF-approved code.
  2. It attempts to shut off free information flow, in the name of "correctness". In otherwords, this guideline is in FAVOR OF CENSORSHIP. You can't talk about other "non-Free" code in any way other than to bash it. Yep, that's what it says.

The harsh reality of this guideline set is that it is almost identical in effect to proprietary licenses, which directly contravenes the FSF's founding principle.

take a look at the FSF's own words on what is Free Software [gnu.org] .

This guideline is in direct conflict with Freedom 0, and places severe impediments on Freedom 1.

I honestly don't understand who thought these clauses were a good idea. Clearly, they weren't thought through.

-Erik

Re:Non-free blobs are a problem, but... (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921757)

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.

Re:Non-free blobs are a problem, but... (1)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921771)

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:Non-free blobs are a problem, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25921727)

I am going to have to agree with you on this. Freedom in software means the right to choose. By excluding proprietary software to this extreme means that FSF policy is no better than the proprietary systems that exclude free software. Same horse, different color.

Change the language to "recommend" promoting free software over proprietary and that works.

When we reach a day where we have viable, reasonable alternatives to proprietary hardware and software then the market will decide, and I believe the market will go with the free alternatives.

I have a solution (1, Insightful)

DurendalMac (736637) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921301)

Tell the FOSS purists/zealots to shut the hell up already. Guess what? You will have to deal with proprietary something-or-other all the time. Get used to it and quit bitching. Your OS is damn near completely free, so stop complaining if that last tiny tidbit isn't completely open. Oh, and quit listening to Stallman. He's a hairy hippie nutcase.

Re:I have a solution (3, Insightful)

Enderandrew (866215) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921345)

Let's assume that Nvidia completely opened their driver tommorrow and broke NDAs and third-party licenses to do so.

Stallman would still complain that Firefox allows proprietary extensions.

Stallman would still complain that Google supports proprietary software too much.

Stallman would still complain that patents exist. (He may have a good point here).

Stallman would still complain that some drivers in the kernel contain proprietary firmware.

Stallman would still complain that Ubuntu doesn't use all free artwork.

Stallman would still complain that we use proprietary BIOS on our motherboard.

Stallman would still complain that companies are using GPL software to turn a profit and not enabling their customers to not pay them (ala Tivo).

Remember kiddies, true freedom is only achieved through constant vigilance and annoyance, and an ever-increasing strict list of restrictions that remove choice.

(Yes, I'm prepared to burn karma for the inevitable flame/troll mods, but search your feelings Skywalker, you know these words to be true.)

Raise of hands (3, Insightful)

Enderandrew (866215) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921323)

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.

Re:Raise of hands (1)

Korin43 (881732) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921555)

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.

Re:Raise of hands (1)

Enderandrew (866215) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921577)

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.

Re:Raise of hands (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25921631)

Yeah, and all propietary graphic drivers for linux sucks, the open source one work better but has limited function.

Re:Raise of hands (1)

fermion (181285) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921705)

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 should be no constantly changing API. There should be a relatively fixed abstract patten or adapter to provides a uniform interface to whatever driver is delivered by the manufacturer. This is the open source part.

If one is serious about keeping things open source, then one solution might be to only buy products that will work with standard based generic drivers that can be open sourced. The generic post script driver. The Picture Transfer Protocol, or TWAIN. Or we have Webdav.

Of course products that support such formats are often more expensive, and many people complain that freedom is not free.

To satisfy those people, we used closed source drivers, with an agreement that, since the drivers are part of the hardware, and not the software, there will be no charge beyond the purchase of the machine the needs the driver. Of course, if a vendor does not feel they are going to sell enough machines to pay for the driver, or the machine has been made to work with a single OS, then such an agreement may not be possible. Which means that one is back to buying standards compliant machine.

Who cares *where* the non-free firmware is? (5, Insightful)

foom (29095) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921359)

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?

Re:Who cares *where* the non-free firmware is? (3, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921493)

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.

Re:Who cares *where* the non-free firmware is? (1)

foom (29095) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921619)

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. :)

More like, who resolves this issue. (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921363)

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.

Please define "firmware blob" (4, Insightful)

sunderland56 (621843) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Please define "firmware blob" (1)

Psychotria (953670) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921533)

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.

Re:Please define "firmware blob" (1)

nsayer (86181) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921927)

I don't have a specific example for Linux, but back in the day I used to work for Specialix [perle.com] (they've since then been acquired). They had a multi-head serial port card that was supported by the si driver in the FreeBSD [freebsd.org] kernel.

The card had an embedded coprocessor on it and RAM that was shared between the coprocessor and the host. The first thing the driver did was copy a chunk of code for the coprocessor over to the RAM and reset the coprocessor. The binary code chunk was in the form of a const char[] = { 0x1, 0x2.....}; with
a license that allowed free redistribution in binary form (that file was considered a binary form even though it was actually C source code per se), with an embargo on decompilation or reverse engineering.

The actual host driver was in C and had a BSD license. The result of compiling it was either that it was part of the entire kernel, or a loadable .ko module.

Admit that almost everything is partially free (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921381)

As long as what's free and what's not free is clearly labeled and the non-free part can be easily excluded, you should be able to call it "mostly free."

I am typing this from Gnewsense (3, Interesting)

br00tus (528477) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:I am typing this from Gnewsense (1)

Zombie Ryushu (803103) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921639)

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 makers then we can start pushing the hardware makers to do something about the binary blobs. Not before.

The only way to truly resolve this (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921543)

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.

The solution (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25921637)

The solution to the proprietary driver problem is obvious: Vendors should put whatever code they deem to be protected and private in ROM on the device, and then publish a spec to talk to that driver that can be completely open. This splits the driver in half: The public part that can be published in C and comprises all the necessary interfaces, and the private portion that can hide hardware functionality and reside on the device.
This would have been a problem back when there were CPUs other than Intel, but that's just not the case anymore. Any CPU can emulate an X86 to drive devices if necessary. At this point, X86 is a universal virtual machine.

It still isn't free (4, Insightful)

stox (131684) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921693)

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 a reason that it is called nuisance. (2, Interesting)

rwwyatt (963545) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921725)

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 the installation. It was better than dealing with an entity that complied with misleading the users about capabilities such as Intel. Buying off the shelf hardware shouldn't disqualify me from using the operating system of my choice. Microsoft does very little well, but Linux outright hates the user. I hate to say it, but Linux is rapidly becoming a niche os because of attitude. I tried to get my employer to use Linux for test equipment because we need kismet, and too few people are willing to deal with the pain of learning a new OS and dealing with the attitudes of developers. For GNU/Linux to succeed, egos have to start being checked at the door. There is a way to profit from open source hardware, but freedom should be ensured during the design phase and not after the product is already commercialized. If you come up with a plan that will cut costs and increase margins, most companies will accept and embrace it. The cries of freedom cause nothing but alienation. Start putting forward designs that are free or quit complaining. I can't tell you how many "free" developers have told me RTFM, only to find bugs in their code.

Ease of use versus true freedom? (1)

the2cheat (986144) | more than 5 years ago | (#25921807)

As a recent convert from windows, I would rather have all my blobs built in, then have a true free kernel and have to hunt down for my blobs. Perhaps many linux fanboys will cry that their favorite distro isn't 'truly' free, but linux converts aren't made when users have to hunt to make their distro work to its fullest.

Perhaps you should just use Windows(R) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25921945)

The thing is that, at the end of the day, the purpose of the Linux project is presumably the creation of a operating system (including of the GNU userland) that aspires to be completely and totally Free Software. Too, it is also meant to be used by programmers with the wherewithal to modify it to suit their needs. You could say the same thing about the BSDs (and OpenBSD even moreso).

Now, the neat thing about Linux is that it can be used by anybody for largely any purpose. Sadly, it seems the majority of Linux proponents have decided to push the purpose of Linux-as-the-leading-desktop-OS. As a byproduct of this, you hear a lot about the hardware support of consumer PCs, and how in some spots it can be very good to iffy to broken with FLOSS support, but okay with proprietary, closed, binary blob drivers. Such is the state of Linux hardware support today.

And as a result, you have an increasing group of people who use Linux on hardware that is only supported to a usable degree through the use of vendor-supplied binary blobs, thus compromising the ideal of a FLOSS OS.

These people then rationalize this cognititve dissonance by pulling out the "pragmatist" card, and also by painting those people (e.g. RMS) who would still preach about the concept of a Free OS being something to aspire to as zealots, or lunatics not living in the real world, and then maybe throw in a few puerile slurs (stinkin' hippie doesn't shower, hurrrr) for garnish.

It is my opinion that these individuals are not so much "pragmatic" as they are "too cheap to buy Windows(R)". Seriously now, if getting trifles like ACPI hibernation and a couple more frames per second is so important to you that you'd install crap that is a cross-purposes to the ideals of the underlying OS, why the hell wouldn't you use Windows. What's the difference between one component being a blob or ten? or a hundred? Oh, what's that? You'd prefer your directory separators lean in the other direction? Then buy a Mac. Hell, that's even a certified Unix!

No, a person who is truly deserving of the description of a "pragmatic Linux user", is not one who would install a binary-only driver or application, but one who would do a little research into the hardware situation, and then only buy hardware that is supported by FOSS. This is the pragmatic approach.

Let me tell you about my experience in this regard. I first tried FreeBSD on an old Duron with a GeForce FX 5200 graphics card (pokey no matter what kind of driver you have). I used the "nv" driver for a spell--then I wanted to play some OpenGL games. This necessitated the use of the "nvidia" proprietary driver. As a result, I got fair 3D performance, but oftentimes the system would lock up totally[1] (fortunately, the power button could be pressed to interrupt the system and do a clean shutdown). This computer eventually died--as old computers are wont to do--and so I went out and got a new one. However, I had been reading up on the state of Free Software graphics acceleration, and so I made certain that the GPU chipset in whichever computer I bought was Intel. Is Intel hardwarily poor compared to Nvidia? Sure. But the i810 driver gets a whole lot better performance than nv, and past experience meant the proprietary nvidia didn't even enter the equation. And I am keeping abreast of the FLOSS DRI situation, and I can assure you that, when I desire a more capable video card, it will most certainly be AMD, who supports FLOSS, and not Nvidia, who doesn't.

To sum up, if you use Linux, don't use blobs (because then what in God's name is the point of using Linux in the first place). And if as a result your hardware doesn't work optimally, don't complain (unless it's a bug report or a patch that contributes to it working optimally--see the first paragraph), because you knew what you were getting into. If this isn't your idea of a fun computing experience, you have two other options at the expense of spending a little cash.

[1] At this point I would ask for an abstention from the well-i-don't-know-what-your-problem-is-it-always-works-fine-rubs-my-feet-and-gives-me-a-blow-job posts. Your evidence is anecdotal, my evidence is anecdotal, neither of us can prove anything to the other.

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