On July 3, Debian Project leader Stefano Zacchiroli announced the launch of a new effort to
clarify why Debian is not endorsed on the Free Software Foundation's
distribution list, and perhaps even make changes to Debian so that
it met the FSF's requirements. That effort has spawned a mailing list
where the two projects are talking about the differences in their
goals and principles, but a plan of action is yet to come.
Zacchiroli cited three reasons for pursuing inclusion on the FSF
distribution list. First, Debian's absence on the list has
historically led to a duplication of effort, with derivative
distributions created "that are essentially Debian, modulo the
changes necessary to be listed." Second, many in the Debian
community choose the distribution because of its rigorous stance on
software freedom, and there is likely to be a large overlap between
them and FSF supporters. Third, Debian's goals in software freedom
are essentially self-reviewed, so measuring the distribution against
an external standard could reveal valuable information about Debian's
successes or failures and its general perception by outsiders.
Although one of the possible outcomes of the effort is getting Debian
included on the FSF distribution list, Zacchiroli stated at the outset
that documenting Debian's position on why it does not
meet the criteria
listed by the FSF might also be an acceptable result. He proposes
"to work with the FSF to review the issues they claim apply to
Debian" in bug-triage fashion. "Some of the bugs will be
valid, some of them will be not, and on some there will be
disagreement between submitter and 'maintainer'." Should Debian
and FSF be unable to resolve the "bug validity" of the
outstanding issues that keep Debian off of the FSF distribution list,
Zacchiroli said, "at that point we will have obtained a list of
blockers, that could than be used as documentation for Debian users
who wonder why Debian and FSF disagree on the Free-ness of
Accepting the possibility that the two projects might not reach common
ground is important, because the biggest obstacle to Debian's
inclusion on the list is the FSF's requirement that distributions
"not steer users towards obtaining any nonfree information for
practical use, or encourage them to do so," and the projects
are definitely divided on how that guideline applies. To the FSF, not
only must the distribution not have any repositories containing
non-free software, but it must not refer to third-party repositories
that are not committed exclusively to free software "even if
they only have free software today," and individual
applications cannot suggest installing non-free plugins or
documentation. The latter requirement, for example, disqualifies
Mozilla Firefox, because its official add-ons site contains
proprietary extensions and plugins — and it disqualifies
Iceweasel, Debian's rebranded version of Firefox.
Therein lies the tricky part. Iceweasel is a repackaged version of
Firefox built by Debian to cope with incompatibilities between
Mozilla's trademark guidelines and the Debian Free Software Guidelines
(DFSG). Although Iceweasel complies with the DFSG, it does not meet
FSF's distribution guidelines. Conversely, many FSF documents are
under the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL), which does not meet DFSG
requirements. Debian's explanation of GFDL's incompatibility notes
"that this does not imply any hostility towards the Free
Software Foundation" or that the project dissuades others from
Debian intentionally separates non-free software into a separate
repository (named nonfree) which it states is not part of the Debian
system, but in its explanation of Debian's status, FSF argues that
this is not enough — the nonfree repository is hosted on Debian
project servers, and there are references to it in the online
documentation. A related problem is the contrib repository, which
includes some packages that FSF claims "exist to load separately
distributed proprietary programs." Finally, although Debian no
longer includes any binary blob kernel modules, FSF points out that
the installer still recommends some of them for specific hardware.
Assessing the content of those repositories is a natural first step.
Practically speaking, there is no list of exactly which packages in
nonfree or contrib violate the FSF guidelines. Paul Wise pointed
out an older project to document Debian's nonfree packages and
said that "recent policy changes added the requirement for the
debian/copyright file to document why something is non-free."
The information in the non-free tracking system
is quite old (early 2008); updating it could take considerable time,
but Zacchiroli suggested
reviving it — turning each tracking system entry into a bug report
against the relevant package, tagging the reports, and linking each
report to the appropriate policy that clarifies why the package is non-free.
Early on in the list discussion, Thorsten Alteholz proposed
rolling a "Debian" distribution that intentionally follows the FSF
guidelines, and separating it from a "Debian Extended" distribution
that includes access to the non-free and contrib repositories. That
idea did not gain significant traction. Bryan Quigley suggested
looking for packages in nonfree that might be encouraged to relicense,
and compiled a list of "low-hanging fruit" including several varieties of
non-software package: firmware packages, fonts, documentation, data,
and so forth. Daniel Kahn Gillmor liked the concept, but said
that most projects have reasons for choosing the licenses they use, so
"Convincing the upstream of every package in non-free to change
their license seems implausible, so that means that some packages
would likely remain."
But Henry Jensen contended that fixing up nonfree and contrib would
not be enough on its own, because of the "steer users towards nonfree"
requirement. "So, every explicit mentioning of non-free
software could be interpreted as recommendation." He posted
a list of the Debian components he believed needed fixing. In
addition to Iceweasel and other programs that use plugins, he listed
the Linux kernel (because it logs the names of proprietary firmware
files it expects to see but finds missing), the official Debian web
and wiki sites (because they mention non-free software), and the
official forums and mailing lists (which lack a moderation system to
discourage users from asking about or discussing non-free software).
He cited references for the kernel and forum issues, including
a 2010 message
in which Richard Stallman said a distribution's official forums should
not include advice on how to run non-free programs.
The discussion sparked (perhaps predictably) a brief flurry of debate
over the merits of FSF's guidelines, and specifically whether or not
they go too far when they ban discussion of non-free software. As is
typical of debates over free software ideals, there was a wide
spectrum of opinion. But personal opinions are not the issue. As
Mason Loring Bliss put
it, "we're not here to discuss my standards. :P The FSF has,
effectively, drawn a line in the sand, and it's their line to
draw." Ian Jackson encouraged
participants to refrain from dogmatic arguments, and for everyone
to treat each other as allies.
The long road ahead
But Jackson's appeal for respectful disagreement also conceded that
full agreement between the projects might be unattainable. "If
you can't convince your ally on some point then the right thing to do
is not to browbeat them harder. The right thing to do is to agree to
differ, and move onto a topic where cooperation is possible."
So far, there appears to be little progress on the underlying issue of
whether the nonfree and contrib repositories are suitably disconnected
from the Debian distribution. That issue is the most fundamental, and
it is what led to the brief philosophical debate. Documenting the
contents of the repositories may be helpful, but ultimately it is
their availability that FSF finds objectionable. Jason Self asked
if moving the nonfree and contrib repositories to a different virtual
host would satisfy the requirements, but so far there has been no
Exactly where FSF decides to draws its lines ultimately involves
some judgment calls by humans, of course (I am reminded of Matthew
Garrett's 2008 list of things in
your computer that you do not have the source code for, including a
great many firmware and microcontroller examples), but it draws
those lines clearly. If the presence of any information
about non-free software on any Debian site or service disqualifies
Debian from meeting FSF's distribution guidelines, then it is hard to
see how the two projects will find middle ground. Which is not to
say that there is no hope — Michael Gilbert pointed to an FSF statement
about where Stallman presents a more nuanced approach to balancing the
pros and cons of non-free games than he is often given credit for.
But these are clearly two projects with firm beliefs about their own
ideals, and well-established rationales to back them up. Compromise
can hardly be simple.
Comments (36 posted)
Oh, if the kernel breaks some standard user space, that counts. Tons
of people run Debian unstable (and from my limited interactions with
it, for damn good reasons: -stable tends to run so old versions of
everything that you have to sometimes deal with cuneiform writing when
-- Linus Torvalds
Typically I find the freeze time a hard one to work on Debian. I've never
been very effective at chasing and resolving RC bugs. On the other hand,
long, protracted freezes are demotivational for everyone. I'm going to try
and focus on goals which hasten the release of wheezy and resist the urge
to work on things that would not show up until wheezy+1.
-- Jon Dowland
Comments (1 posted)
Jean-Baptiste Queru has announced
the source code release of Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean).
Comments (28 posted)
CentOS 6.3 is available. "CentOS-6.3 is based on the upstream
release EL 6.3 and includes packages from all variants. All upstream
repositories have been combined into one, to make it easier for end users
to work with.
" See the release
Full Story (comments: 2)
Fedora Project Leader Robyn Bergeron has announced that Jaroslav Reznik
will be the new Fedora Program Manager. "Many of you know Jaroslav from his contributions to the Fedora Community both as an Ambassador in EMEA, as well as his work as a Fedora Board member; his previous role within Red Hat was as part of the Base OS Development Team in the Brno office, working on Matahari and KDE, and I'm sure that his past experiences in development will be incredibly helpful to him as he takes on this role.
Full Story (comments: 2)
Fedora 15 has reached its end-of-life. There will be no further updates,
including security updates for Fedora 15.
Full Story (comments: none)
Charles Schulz reports
that the Mandriva distribution will get a new name. "Starting now, we have opened a poll that will let you pick the name of the future distribution (and its foundation). In the future, Mandriva as a brand name will remain the name of the company (Mandriva S.A.) but the community itself will have a different name and a different branding, although it is also possible that the brand and the name will keep a tight connection with Mandriva. We had to prepare the available choices; we came up with some names during the meeting in Paris, we also listened to some ideas expressed on the Foundation mailing list. Last but not least we left the possibility to send us suggestions for other names. If a suggestion appears to be really popular we will consider it provided it’s available of course.
Comments (14 posted)
Emmabuntüs is an Ubuntu based distribution that hails from France. It's
designed to be easy for people new to GNU/Linux to use out-of-the-box.
There are several flavors available. The newest flavor, Emmabuntüs 2 1.00,
is based on Xubuntu 12.04 and will be available July 14, 2012.
Full Story (comments: none)
Newsletters and articles of interest
Comments (none posted)
Henri Bergius reviews the history of MeeGo
and looks forward to what may yet become of it. "Many of the things people associate with iPad were already common for us in the old Internet Tablet times. I was getting my morning news on the 770 with Google Reader just like I now do with Pulse on an Android tablet, and I was sharing my location with friends via Plazes like people now do with Foursquare. The only difference is that back then the tablets were for a bit more exclusive club of Linux enthusiasts.
Comments (64 posted)
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