We could go into the economics of downloaded v fixed firmware. The former will be quicker to market, the latter will need higher quality engineering to avoid the expense of returns and so perhaps less buggy compared to the former. etc. The burned-in firmware will have had to have had to be developed in a more rigorous manner, with more QA. Potentially, it will have had to have been designed with more attention paid to the architecture (simpler/cleaner), with more complex functionality left to the host software. So there are side-effects besides freedom - the competing products will *not* be equal on quality / price.
In the field of networking, there are the more simple, functional network adapters and there are the more complex ones that require significant amounts of firmware. In ethernet, the complex firmware ones are things like the TCP/IP offload cards. In wireless, its the difference between cards that do lots of the 802.11 logical functionality onboard, and ones that are more like radio modems with logical 802.11 functionality left to the host. The more simple devices are ultimately more flexible, precisely because more of the software is implemented in the OS than by the hardware vendor.
Anyway.. A line had to be drawn somewhere (RMS can be quite pragmatic). The freedom to modify was a line. There may be other lines, and they have different trade-offs.
Personally, I'll hold my nose and supply firmware blobs to hardware that really needs it. However, the more that hardware is like a general purpose computing device and the more it's expected to be updated regularly, the less I like it, and the more I'll try avoid those products. The more a blob looks like something that needs ongoing software engineering, the more I want the software engineers concerned to be the Linux kernel developers. Unfortunately, that's perhaps too amorphous to draw a clear line between.
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