[Fsf-Debian] Non-free firmware question during install

Gunnar Wolf gwolf at gwolf.org
Tue Aug 7 14:49:26 UTC 2012

Paul van der Vlis dijo [Tue, Aug 07, 2012 at 12:07:00PM +0200]:
> >>> Well, than let's address this problem and reword the text as to warn 
> >>> against non-free firmware instead of hiding the issue under the carpet 
> >>> on the premise that some firmware may be free.
> >>
> >> Can you try to find those words?
> >>
> >> I've tried it, the result was not nice. And if you want to give a
> >> possibillity to load firmware, then it can be interpreted as
> >> recommending non-free firmware. Please try it.
> > 
> > ,----
> > | Some of your hardware needs non-free firmware to operate. 
> No, the hardware needs firmware, there can be free firmware. What you
> are saying is something like: "for reading this file you need Adobe Reader".

«Some of your hardware needs firmware to operate; to the best of our
knowledge, only non-free firmware exists that can be used to run this
hardware». Would that be OK?

(of course, it gets baroquer and baroquer... But it gets the point accross)

> > | Debian does not recommend using non-free software, which is why
> > | it is not provided in the installer.
> Not sure. Not recommending something quietly is something else as saying
> lout and clear: "we do not recommend".
> I think a part of the Debian community will say: we still recommend
> using non-free firmware in this case. So it would be difficult to realize.

As part of the Debian community, and as a user of nonfree firmware
(for my cheap hardware), I think the provided wording is right:
Basically, it says "we are sorry we cannot give you something better;
we'd love to, but there is none. We understand you have reasonable
expectations to use that (wireless card|graphics chip|whatever) your
computer has, but to be able to do so, you must taint our free
software system with some non-free firmware".

It would be something comparable to shipping precompiled versions of
gcc for nonfree unixes in the first days of the FSF: We would love not
to need to do it, but it is necessary for our project to get its point
accross to its users. And, as free software is developed, nonfree
software gets replaced. 

Of course, there is a big difference: Firmware is not something we can
just decide to cook independently, as it needs access to trade
secrets. And given that reverse engineering is now a bad word
(hopefully we don't have to substitute that for "a criminal offense")
we must somehow get the companies to deliver at least documentation
allowing free software to be created.

> What do you think of:
> ----
> | detect network hardware
> |
> | Some of your hardware needs firmware to operate. Debian does
> | not distribute non-free software, for that reason the firmware from
> | the manufacturer was not included.
> |
> | The missing firmware files are: ......
> |
> | Firmware can be loaded from removable media, such as USB stick or
> | floppy.
> |
> | [...]
> |
> ----

Right, I see the difference you propose: Not telling the user where to
get that nonfree stuff. I believe, though, it plays deceptively. The
user will search the Internet for, say, "/lib/firmware/tigon/tg3.bin"
The fact we are not explicitly reccomending nonfree software would not
change the fact that we are telling the user to get a specific piece
of nonfree software and put it in the right place. I do not see the
difference would amount to much, after all.

You could argue perhaps that, instead of giving the list of files, we
should just obscure the fact (or just tell the user, "you seem to have
a Tigon Ethernet card that requires nonfree firmware" and leave it up
to them to find the name). I would not like that, but I'd expect the
FSF to dislike it less :)

More information about the Fsf-collab-discuss mailing list