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FSDG status of chromium

From: bill-auger
Subject: FSDG status of chromium
Date: Tue, 25 Sep 2018 09:29:22 -0400

regarding the recent proposal of introducing chromium into guix; i have
done a lot of research and participated in much discussion regarding
it's fitness regarding the FSDG; and i am quite surprised to see it so
much as suggest into guix

for the benefit of anyone who does not not know, the controversy
regarding the allegedly improper licensing of chromium is nearly
10 years old now and has been discussed ad-nauseam over the years -
many people want it to be resolved one way or the other; but as of
today, it is not resolved; and therefore guix, as a GNU project, and
guixsd, as an FSDG distro should not be so eager to package or
distribute it - someone from the FSF told me that RMS has expressed an
interest in resolving this; but it would be a huge task to scrutinize
that entire code-base, even with the assistance of tools such as
fossology - as of today, no one has done that, and no FSDG distro
carries chromium - that is not an oversight, because they have not
yet gotten around to packaging it, nor that the devs or users do not
want that program; but because the consensus among the community is
that this program has never been shown to be 100% freely distributable
- unless the FSF makes a definitive statement about this, it's
introduction (or re-introduction as the case may be) into any FSDG
distro should be considered to be premature at this time - seeing as
how the issue has not been resolved after 10 years, it is not even
clear, if such a time will ever arrive when it will be justified

to be clear, it is assumed that the issue pertains to all
chromium-derived browsers such as iridium and "ungoogled" chromium, the
qt5-webengine library and browsers linking to it such as qupzilla and
falkon, and all electron "apps" such as riot, atom, and vscode - one
fedora developer has told me recently[1] that anything built on electron
is probably a hopeless cause; but a qt5-webengine dev has stated
that this issue bothers them too and they will fix any problems found
even if the upstream does not - that is encouraging because clients of
qt5-webengine account for the majority of programs that are on the
parabola blacklist for using chromium-derived code - a wiki page was
created recently the FSD especially for such programs that should be

early this year, the FSF published an interview promoting qupzilla,
while that program, along with numerous other electron and
webengine-based programs were, and are still, blacklisted from FSDG
distros; which made matters worse - now there are mixed signals
floating about regarding what exactly is the FSF's opinion of this; and
distros have no answer for users to the question of why we are in this
predicament at all - shortly after that, i started a new thread on the
FSD mailing list[3] to entice the FSF to, once and for all, state
something definitive about this - that thread is something of an
anthology of chromium woes as related to the FSDG; including links to
the original chromium upstream bug report from 2009 (still open)[4],
the parabola mega-issue[5] (which attempts to consolidate all of the
packages that could be re-instated in parabola if ever chromium is
cleared of doubt and actually deemed to be free software by the
consensus of the FSDG distros), and many of the relevant discussions
on the FSDG mailing list over the years

shortly after that, the community on the FSDG mailing list were
successful in convincing pureos to act on a long-standing freedom bug
report to remove chromium from their repos in solidarity with the other
FSDG distros - to their credit, they did so, albeit reluctantly;
expressing the sentiment that "this is a dis-service to our users" as an
explanation of why it took so long to remove it - that presumption is
perhaps understandable; but when you think about it, is it really a
dis-service for a freedom-respecting distro to remove a program that is
not known to be free software? - the fact that the users might *like*
that program is not the primary concern of the FSDG - parabola users
liked those blacklisted programs too; but parabola removed them on the
principle that their removal was in the best service to freedom-minded
users until they were determined to be 100% freely licensed; even if the
users wept - tough love, ya know - thats exactly what the FSDG are for

it is not the objective of the FSDG to allow exceptions for certain
high-profile programs to pass scrutiny only because users may complain
of their absence - if those users would want to use those program even
though they are not known to be free; then those users may as well be
using a proprietary OS - short of that, those users can *easily* go to
www.krome.oogle.comm and grab the binary if they desire it so much;
but the FSDG does not cater to that desire - i would like to think
that all software is to be considered non-free until proven otherwise;
with no exceptions on the grounds that: *users want it anyways*

regarding 'ungoogled' and 'iridium', the modifications they make are
aimed at privacy issues - as far as i know, hey have done nothing to
address the concerns of dubious licensing - i have been told that devs
for both of these have been asked and had no information whatsoever
regarding the alleged/phantom unlicensed files; so there is no grounds
to assume that these browser are any more or less freely distributable
as chromium  - someone from qt-webengine mentioned on that thread that
they had no information either but were willing to fix anything found

luke has written a much more thorough treatise about this that was
intended for the FSF to publish last year[6] - that describe several
issue with chromium beyond the allegedly dubious licensing

like it or not, believe it or not, this is still an open issue - the new
FSDG guidelines for the evaluation of prospective new distros[7]
includes as a criteria:

  "Programs commonly known to have freedom issues are liberated
  or excluded"

that is referring directly to the "List of software that does not
respect the FSDG"[8]; upon which chromium is listed - so until the day
that chromium is removed from that list, i think it's blacklisting is
compulsory, in lieu of any known liberation procedure - if ever the day
comes (we can hope) that a liberation procedure is found or the software
is otherwise determined to be freely distributable, then it can be
removed from that list and all FSDG distros would be able to offer it
to their users; but until that day comes, we should want all of the FSDG
distros to send a consistent message regarding this and all freedom
issues that are common to all

this is fairly common knowledge by now in the free software community;
so i would hope that someone on this mailing list would have already
mentioned all this, and/or someone representing guixsd is reading the
FSDG mailing list and participating in those discussions of the issues
that are common to FSDG distros

i have no particular opinion of chromium myself as i do not use it -
one thing i can say with certainty though, is that if guix does begin
distributing this program, someone is going to open a freedom bug report
immediately, and the solidarity of FSDG distros will be set back six
months to when pureos was the one outlier among them still endorsing it


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