Comment on "Nine Attitude Problems in Free and Open Source Software"

Noah Slater nslater at
Thu Oct 23 22:21:48 UTC 2008

On Fri, Oct 24, 2008 at 12:15:45AM +0300, Yavor Doganov wrote:
> Noah Slater wrote:
> >
> > Ubuntu aims for popularity, Debian aims for freedom.
> I disagree strongly.  Both aim for popularity, but Debian still
> try to maintain their old reputation for a distro that cares about
> freedom.

This is a false dichotomy.

An organisation can "care for freedom" or popularity in shades of grey, there is
no artificial extreme to which you must align your self with, as your comment is
implicitly suggesting.

Note that I quoted "care for freedom" as this implicitly judges Debian and
Ubuntu from YOUR ethical position, and from your set of values, which they may
or may not share. It is crucial that one acknowledges the differences here.

To restate my position, Ubuntu priorities popularity, and therefor convenience,
at the expensive of "software freedom" a whole lot more than Debian does. I
consider it reasonable to shorten this to the assertion that Ubuntu cares about
popularity more than Debian does.

Both distributions care about popularity, and both care about "freedom", only to
varying relative degrees. This can be seen in the social and technical charters,
decisions and actions of each group.

I am quoting "freedom" because it means different things to different people.

> If they really did, they would immediately remove the non-free blobs
> from the Linux/FreeBSD kernels

This is another false dichotomy.

You are not considering that Debian may share a different value system from you,
one where they care tremendously about freedom, but also value convenience to
some degree. From Debian's perspective, striking a compromise between these two
goals is perfectly consistent.

> Compare this with gNewSense, where drivers depending on non-free
> firmware are removed completely (not ideal, but still better than
> shipping them as they are), and it took them a few weeks to remove GLX
> entirely [1] once they became aware of the issue.  The Debian project
> acknowledged the problem about five years ago, but nobody proceeded
> with the removal.  Why?

I salute gNewSense for the effort they are going to in order to produce a fully
free software system, as defined by the Free Software Foundation. This is
certainly a laudable goal.

On the other hand, gNewSense has different goals from Debian and shares a subtly
different value system. Namely, the gNewSense developers do not feel that any
kind of compromise with convenience is justified. This is great, and it is their
prerogative to do so.

That is the answer to your "Why?" question.

You must be able to consider the actions of others from the perspective of THEIR
value system, it leads to too much confusion otherwise.

> Because it's all about popularity; if they had the will to be a fully free
> distro they'd do it.

Another false dichotomy, resulting from YOUR value system, not theirs.

I am guessing that in your mind you see an operating system as being:

  * fully free software, and hence good (usable)

  * not fully free software, and hence bad (unusable)

Debian do not share this value system with you.

Extrapolating from this that "it's all about popularity" is patently absurd.

> > cf. the differences between Open Source and Free Software
> Inappropriate and wrong comparison.

Not at all, I was drawing a comparison between differing value systems.

> The last GR that reaffirmed the non-free archive confirms that the majority of
> the Debian Developers are supporters of the open source campaign.

So? I am a Free Software Foundation member, and I support Open Source.

Where is the contradiction there?

> No free software activist would willingly endorse distribution of non-free
> software.

This is a horrendous self-sealing fallacy.

Again, you are illustrating your inability to consider other perspectives.

> Don't get me wrong, I know for sure that some people in Debian care about
> freedom.  But they are not the majority.

This is meaningless rhetoric.

The way I read this sentence is:

 Most people in Debian do not share my personal value system with regards to
 free software, therefor they do not care about freedom in general.

In this context, you have reduced the word "freedom" to an almost meaningless
expression. Sure, maybe they don't share you exact world view, but to publicly
label them as being "freedom haters" (paraphrased) is vitriolic, and vacuous.


Noah Slater,

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