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

Yavor Doganov yavor at
Fri Oct 24 21:05:59 UTC 2008

Noah Slater wrote:
> > > Cannot Debian teach users about freedom,
> >
> > Yes, they cannot.
> This was the point of my email, you refuse to see that things are
> valuable if they are done in ways that you think could be improved.

It is much more than that.  The goal of the free software movement is
to eliminate non-free software, and the only reliable way to do this
on a long-term basis is if users realize and acknowledge it as an
ethical problem, and in turn insist on their freedom.  That is what I
mean by "teaching users about freedom".

To teach them to insist on their freedom, you have to set an example.
The GNU project has always done this -- there was never a /non-free
directory at, and non-free components on machines
have been replaced immediately when a free analogical program was

If you use or even worse -- distribute and develop non-free software
-- you can't persuade people that non-free software is unacceptable,
simply because it is acceptable for you.  You wouldn't do something
that is bad, right?

> Just because they disagree with you on a few points does not
> invalidate their work.

Please don't mix the technical contribution with the social effect
we're talking about.  Debian's contribution to the Free World is
tremendous, and nobody could ever deny that.  On philosophical level,
they are failing because they accepted the "ruinous compromise".

> > If you use Debian's stock kernel, or X/Mesa, you have installed
> > non-free software.
> I was trying to illustrate that I do all that I can for free
> software and yet somehow I am still made to feel like it is all
> worthless 

I think you misunderstood.  The point I was trying to make is that by
using software only from "main" you are still using non-free software,
even if you wish not to.  That's the case with me too, with my Debian

> Your arguments are ones of principal, so it should not logically
> matter if I use myself as the focus instead of Debian.

Yes, it does not matter.  Debian as a project cannot teach users to
defend their freedom.  You as a free software activist cannot convince
other people effectively, because your value system accepts certain
"compromises".  That is why RMS switched from Debian to an entirely
free distro a few years ago, because it does not hold water to say "I
use Debian, but I don't recommend it".  If you use Debian, you really
recommend it and violate your own principles.

Of course, much less harm is done if a single person like you and me
installs proprietary software.  When a large and important for the
community project does this while at the same time trumpeteering how
much they care about users' freedom, that is a fallacy and I find
myself in the need to protest.

If a project, organization, or a person accepts such "compromises", we
are failing in our mission to establish a completely Free World, with
its citizens firmly and permanently insisting on maintaining it
entirely free.

> > It doesn't make you a bad guy, it just weakens your "I am a free
> > software supporter" statement.
> In YOUR eyes, naturally.

Yes, in my eyes.  I don't mind when other people or projects have
different values.  But I do mind when these different values are
implicitly presented as the values of the free software movement.  The
free software movement does not accept such compromises, and that is
clearly stated in the essays, especially the recently published

> It's not that Debian's top priority isn't freedom, in fact I would
> think that it is, it's just that freedom isn't Debian's ONLY
> priority, hence a compromise is drawn.

Freedom-substracting compromises are unacceptable, because they
destroy the road towards the main goal.  And the main goal is freedom,
not technical excellency.

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