Md at

tales of a debian maintainer

On sourceless firmwares

This post was part of my answer in a thread about the "sourceless data" general resolution on the debian-project mailing list.

Firmwares are an essential part of any modern computer, and it is an annoying but currently hard to change fact of life that we lack the source for almost all of them.

I reject the notion that we can ignore some fundamental parts of the computers which we use only because we do not distribute them: this would be hypocritical.

Even if Debian stopped distributing sourceless firmwares users would continue to use them, either on a flash chip or by downloading and installing them on their file systems.

Such a change on our part would not drive users to buy hardware whose firmwares are accompanied by their source, because with a very small number of exceptions there are no such devices. The claim that vendors would start to distribute the firmware sources is unproven, and indeed I cannot see how it could happen when only a small part of the community would care enough to deliberately make life harder for their customers.

Instead this would push the less technically competent users toward other distributions, whose commitment to free software is usually less strong than our own.

In this scenario I do not see an advancement for the cause of free software.


This is the blog of Marco d'Itri.

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