Laptop running 100% Free Software

Fabian Keil freebsd-listen at
Thu Feb 16 14:20:30 UTC 2012

Ben Finney <bignose+hates-spam at> wrote:

> Fabian Keil <freebsd-listen at>
> writes:
> > Quoting
> >
> > | 1) The world's first fully free software. All system source
> > | files(BIOS, kernel, drivers etc.) are free software, no close
> > | firmware needed.
> >
> > Given that the BIOS is the only firmware that is explicitly mentioned
> > to be free software, I assume "no close firmware needed" actually
> > means "no non-free firmware except the pre-installed one".
> >
> > If that's the case, the system might satisfy the "no non-free drivers"
> > requirement, but it wouldn't really be "running 100% Free Software".
> There is a distinction, IMO a useful one, between what is expected to
> receive firmware uploaded from the operating system, versus chips that
> just run whatever was burned into them and are never altered after
> purchase.
> Firmware that never changes after the recipient gets it may as well be
> hardware, since no-one has special access to alter the behaviour of it.

Usually the main reason that the device firmware in a laptop doesn't
change after the recipient gets it, is that the vendor has no financial
interest to provide updates free of charge.

For most devices there is no sufficient demand for paid firmware
updates. Even if updates already exist the vendor may prefer to
only sell them bundled with new laptops.

> It doesn't impinge on the recipient's software freedom.

I disagree.

> Firmware loaded from the OS is software that the vendor controls, and
> the user deserves that same freedom.

If the vendor isn't able to modify the firmware loaded from the
operating system behind the user's back, the vendor loses control
over the firmware when it is passed to the user, just as if the
firmware was stored on the device from the beginning.

Proprietary firmware the operating system has to upload
on the device for the device to become functional may be
more visible than proprietary firmware already stored on
the device, but that doesn't mean the latter doesn't exist.

> The useful distinguishing question to keep in mind is: Does anyone have
> special access to alter the behaviour of this device after it changes
> hands? If so, the nominal owner of the device must have at least that
> much access also in order to have sufficient software freedom.

How does your definition of "sufficient software freedom"
differ from the one used by the FSFE?

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