What should Debian do about firmware?

Discussion about development of the Debian OS itself

Since it appears Debian has to make a choice, which would you prefer we do for etch?

Allow sourceless firmware in main
141
61%
Drop support for hardware which requires sourceless firmware
43
19%
Delay the release of etch (so that we can support loading firmware from non-free)
46
20%
 
Total votes: 230

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Jeroen
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What should Debian do about firmware?

#1 Post by Jeroen »

Since it appears Debian has to make a choice, which would you prefer we do for etch?

Please see also the poll about priorities and the Debian Developer-only poll

For more details about this poll, please read the announcement by the current DPL, Anthony Towns:
http://lists.debian.org/debian-devel-an ... 00015.html
Last edited by Jeroen on 2006-08-29 21:59, edited 5 times in total.

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#2 Post by Harold »

Sourceless firmware? Is this different than closed-source software? Gave an example, please.

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#3 Post by ferlatte »

I realize that sourceless firmware is unpleasant in main.

However, etch seems almost ready, and I would much rather have Debian ship etch on time with existing hardware support than either drop existing hardware or delay the release. As a user of Debian (I work for a company called Linden Lab, and we use Debian for our server cluster), I want etch to ship on time so that I can start to use what is there, even if it's not perfect.

I am also, for what it's worth, all for Debian getting the loadable firmware interface stuff all locked in for etch + 1 so that no sourceless firmware is in main for that; at least, in that case, we have have a non-free installer so we can choose to use such hardware if necessary.

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#4 Post by jsmidt »

I voted for allowing firmware in main, but I hope it is a goal of etch+1 to remove it and find a way to get the installer to install it, with your permission, if your hardware needs it.
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#5 Post by lathspell »

Harold wrote:Sourceless firmware? Is this different than closed-source software? Gave an example, please.
Different? Yes, Debian so far only cared about the Operating System levels and not at the ones above (Dictators and Nuclear Plants may run Debian) nor the levels below (if people want Debian in Sun - ok, if they want it on Macs - also ok). The Firmware is currently what other companies put into the ROM, just updateable which is even more convenient.

Example: Wireless network cards come to my mind

Dangers: Yes, might be that the borders between firmware and driver melt or that companies do not open this firmware due to lack of pressure, but that's a post-etch battle and may really wait a couple of month.

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#6 Post by yoush »

Harold wrote:Sourceless firmware? Is this different than closed-source software? Gave an example, please.
Firmware is different because it runs not on a general-purpose computer, but on a specialized processor embedded into peripherial device. Or even not on processor - sometimes e.g. FPGA data is also called firmware.

Environment needed to develop firmware is much less common, and often not accessible for general public for different reasons. Or accessible but at very high cost. And there are much less people that have proper knowledge to develop firmware, compared to PC software. In such conditions, it's not practical to expect alternative (read: free) versions of firmware to be developed, at least in timeframe before the device becomes obsolete.

So 'free firmware' is something that just won't happen.

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Bogus

#7 Post by chealer »

I didn't vote, as the choices look bogus. It's missing an "Other" choice.

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Re: Bogus

#8 Post by Jeroen »

chealer wrote:I didn't vote, as the choices look bogus. It's missing an "Other" choice.
Which other option do you see?

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Sourceless firmware in main for etch ONLY

#9 Post by mattb »

I voted for "Allow sourceless firmware in main" as I think the assumption here (even though it's not explicit in the question) is that this will be tolerated for etch only. I certainly think that etch+1 should have a goal of getting support into the installer for loading non-free firmware.

However releasing etch "on time" is far far far more important than being overly pedantic about problematic firmwares.

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#10 Post by dawgie »

lathspell wrote:
Harold wrote:Sourceless firmware? Is this different than closed-source software? Gave an example, please.
Different? Yes, Debian so far only cared about the Operating System levels and not at the ones above (Dictators and Nuclear Plants may run Debian)
Does Debian provide specialized tools for dictators and nuclear plants in non-free?

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It's still an improvement

#11 Post by Crell »

I voted for releasing on time, with the caveat that work continues on the non-free install method in etch + 1.

Etch is already technologically a big step up from Sarge.

Etch, to my understanding, is also a step up from Sarge on the freedom front.

OK, so it's not 100% perfect on the freedom front, but it's not perfect on the tech front either. But it's better than what is currently recommended to people (Sarge). That means it should replace it as what's recommended to people. That is still furthering the goal of more freedom in the world.

And keeping to a schedule means more people are willing to rely on Debian, which means more people using it, and thus more people using and seeing the benefits of free software.

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#12 Post by DeanLinkous »

Allow it in main - for now! If it does not meet free guidelines then get it out of main ASAP after etch is released.

Please release etch on time. Debian is absolutely awesome in so many ways but if we have another release drag then I would only view that as disappointing and sending a signal (correct or incorrect doesn't matter) that debian can not keep up with the times. That it is too big and unwieldy to maintain the current pace of linux development and that there it truly is relegated to being a server distro and not a desktop distro.

Also I would like to see contrib and non-free become completely seperate entities and not related to the official debian project.

Oh and world peace please.

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#13 Post by Lavene »

Keep it out of main.

The release date for Etch is not critical. This is due to the fact that all branches (testing, unstable... even experimental) is available anyway and most of us 'can't wait' people are already running Etch.

The release hysteria seen in other distro's communities is often related to the fact that they have no alternative than using the old version untill the new one is released. It's not really like that with Debian. I see no reason what so ever to 'contaminate' main with sourceless stuff just to be able to release Etch on time.

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#14 Post by ajdlinux »

I voted to drop support of hardware that needs sourceless firmware for etch. As Lavene said the release date is not critical, it would be nice to have it released soon, and IMHO a release soon is still important, but not as important as making Debian compliant with the Social Contract.
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#15 Post by Jeroen »

Lavene wrote:I see no reason what so ever to 'contaminate' main with sourceless stuff just to be able to release Etch on time.
Woody, Sarge, current testing/etch, and sid all contain sourceless firmware at the moment. The question is not about adding it, but about whether or not removing it. The linux kernel has for a very very long time contained firmware of even mostly unknown origin.

So the current situation is that all branches are 'contaminated' if you wish to use that wording. Delaying etch does not decontaminate the current stable release, "sarge".

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#16 Post by StCyr »

I also voted to allow "non-free firmware" in etch but having a non-free install method in etch + 1 is a must!

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#17 Post by ajdlinux »

But decontaminating Etch will finally mean Debian can keep its promise to its users. *Some people* actually care about Debian being 100% free, others don't. Last time the release team just said 'ignore it for sarge, we'll fix it for the next one' and now that Etch is coming around people are saying 'just let it through again and we'll fix it in etch+1.'
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#18 Post by smurf »

ajdlinux wrote:Last time the release team just said 'ignore it for sarge, we'll fix it for the next one' and now that Etch is coming around people are saying 'just let it through again and we'll fix it in etch+1.'
Last time the focus was on documentation. This time it's binary firmware.

So what?

I do not want to alienate our users. The user buys a device that's supported, it may even have a nice Linux sticker on it, every other distro installs perfectly fine with it -- only Debian doesn't.

The user will either use some other distribution (which I can live with), or be very frustrated and go back to W*ndo*s (which I don't like them to, and which is far more likely).

No thank you; that outcome is far less palatable to me than shipping another release with a few strange bits which we don't know the origin of.

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#19 Post by Lavene »

Jeroen wrote:So the current situation is that all branches are 'contaminated' if you wish to use that wording. Delaying etch does not decontaminate the current stable release, "sarge".
So since it happen to be done in earlier releases it's OK to keep it happening for future releases? Temorarily permanent...

Delaying Etch will off course not clean the earlier versions but that's not the question is it? The question (atleast the questions asked here) is wether or not to have sourceless firmware in Etch main. It's a problem that has to be dealt with at some point in time anyway.
smurf wrote:So what?

I do not want to alienate our users. The user buys a device that's supported, it may even have a nice Linux sticker on it, every other distro installs perfectly fine with it -- only Debian doesn't.
To put aside what I view as one of the biggest plusses in Debian; its well know policy... the social contract et all.. towards FOSS. Continuing the dilute this with non-free/ sourceless/ whatever is not a good signal to send.

Also, by including sourceless firmware in main Debian is sending a message to the manufacturers of hardware: "We need to support your hardware so bad that we set aside all our principles for you".

To prostitute one self to gain some benefits might seem like a good idea in the moment, but remorse inevitably follows... but then you're already screwed...

Tina

Edit: Typos

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#20 Post by THR4K »

I have voted to release Etch in time.

The question about firmware is too complex and can not be resolved easily and rapidly. I think its better to discuss and prepare a real strategy to working efficiently on this subject for the next release(s) (etch+1 or after if necessary).

Some arguments :

1) The firmware problema not only concern a single approach of freedom. Its not simple as "black or white" because these are many ways to considerate the nature of a firmware. Where's the real boundary between the code and a component in this particular case (wich operates really really closer with the hardware depending on it) ? Am i evil if i use free software with proprietary firmware and proprietary hardware ? Am i less evil if i use free software and free firmware with proprietary hardware ?
My point of view is : if you really considers the freedom as absolute than all others considerations then you should probably doesn't use a computer at this time...

2) Until here, all releases of Debian contains sourceless firmwares, so users who have already installed Sarge, Etch, Sid or previous versions should not be more harm than actually.

3) Providing a good solution (ethical _and_ usable) for users will certainly delayed for many months (perhaps one year ?) Etch wich is quite a non-sense if we keep in mind his actual level of achievement.


Conclusion :
Debian Etch is not perfect but shows for now many improvements (and not only technical, as the free documentation is one step beyond in the way of freedom). Rome wasn't built in a day and we must admit that Etch will probably never was the free system of our dreams because there's still too many and huge goals to achieve before.
THRAK (def.) :1) A sudden and precise impact moving from intention and commitment, in service of an aim. 2) 117 guitars almost hitting the same chord simutaneously.

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