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Re: [Fsuk-manchester] Talking about non-free software on the list

From: MJ Ray
Subject: Re: [Fsuk-manchester] Talking about non-free software on the list
Date: Thu, 21 Feb 2013 15:13:11 +0000

Simon Ward <address@hidden>
> > Debian **(without the non-free repository)** as a "free software"
> > distribution

Note that FSF calls its blessed distributions something like "free
system distributions".  Its official position IIRC is that asking
whether anything other than a program is "free software" is not
sensible.  I don't agree with that, because that's how we get
documentation we can't edit completely because some of it is
"artistic" or "opinion".

I'd be quite happy not to describe debian as a free system
distribution and only call it a free software distribution (give or
take any bugs) or a distribution containing free software.  Could the
guidelines allow that, please?

And apparently it's not a free system distribution mainly because the
project makes it too easy to discover that non-free software exists.
Like anyone didn't know already.  Heck, the Free Software Definition
mentions non-free programs!  Should FSF be condemned for recommending
non-free software?  Or does whether it's a recommendation depend on
who's talking about it?  Anyway, non-free software brings me to:

> Debian’s argument that the non‐free repository is not “in Debian” is a
> bit weak in my view. It is distributing non‐free software, however many
> weasel words you try to disguise it with.

Well, it comes from a time when the official CD set was the primary
way most users got debian.  The non-free repository still isn't on the
official CD, DVD or BD sets as far as I know.  The old master probably
seemed like a good place to put it for whoever wanted it - the system
was already set up for ftp and it's not like anyone offered
alternative hosting.

Now, as I mentioned, we're rather snookered with the repository.  Its
supporters don't want to move it, its opponents don't really want to
work on its content at all, and since the FDL many are ambivalent
towards FSF - so who's got any incentive to move it?

Actually, I agree it's distributing non-free software.  That's not the
same as the project recommending it (almost the opposite: "As a
service to our users, we also provide packages [...that] have some
onerous license condition restricting use or redistribution of the
software"), or it being included in the system distribution.  Whether
you feel it's a worthwhile activity may depend on what you think of
needle schemes for drug addicts...

It's very simple not to use it, which is far better than most systems.
The only ones currently that give you finer control are those where
you can list particular licences as acceptable or not (like Gentoo) -
and on most of those you pretty much have to list licences, else you
get non-free nonsense by default.

The complaint http://www.gnu.org/distros/common-distros.html#Gentoo
"makes it easy to install a number of nonfree programs" is pretty
funny.  Most people still find it even easier: just leave Windows on
the PC.

That's what we risk if we take this friend-bashing too far.  I'll
cheerfully suggest that people work for the volunteer-led debian
project rather than the company-led Ubuntu project or amorphous
Trisquel one, but as long as they're working on or using free
software, there's a chance it will still benefit us all.

MJ Ray (slef), member of www.software.coop, a for-more-than-profit co-op.
http://koha-community.org supporter, web and library systems developer.
In My Opinion Only: see http://mjr.towers.org.uk/email.html
Available for hire (including development) at http://www.software.coop/

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