Fedora not "free" enough for GNU?

Gregory Maxwell gmaxwell at gmail.com
Sun Sep 7 09:15:27 UTC 2008

On Sun, Sep 7, 2008 at 3:31 AM, Tom Lane <tgl at redhat.com> wrote:
> "Michel Salim" <michel.sylvan at gmail.com> writes:
>> I was just over at gnu.org to download the anniversary video recorded
>> by Stephen Fry, and while I was there decided to take a look at what
>> systems they recommend as being free.
> I've got all the respect in the world for the work that RMS has done
> over the years ... but:
> gnu.org does not acknowledge any license but the GPL as being "truly
> free", and they'll never acknowledge any system that is not 100.00%
> GPL code as being "truly free".  Draw your own conclusions about how
> that stance connects to reality.

Tom,  having been advised by RMS to use the three clause BSD license
on code, I have personal experience that refutes your claim.  It's
also pretty easy to refute it based on documentation on the GNU.org
site: http://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-list.html#SoftwareLicenses

The reason the FSF isn't advocating Fedora at this point is pretty
much only because Fedora doesn't yet strip the binary firmware
provided by the Linux kernel (and still provides some re-distributable
binary firmware in other packages, the microcode package and
alsa-firmware I think).  I suppose there is also still some inertia
from back at a time when Fedora wasn't as good it is now with
licensing checking on packages.

I think the situation right now is pretty unfortunate for all
involved:  Fedora isn't getting the level of acknowledgement it
deserves,  and the FSF is indirectly promoting Ubuntu, a distribution
which is, as far as I can tell, a primary driving factor in new users
using and depending on proprietary software.

The notion that firmware ought to be free isn't absurd: It doesn't
take much effort to find examples of firmware imposing unreasonable
limits on users, or firmware containing nasty hidden security bugs.
But non-free firmware is something that has only been called for in
earnest somewhat recently,  in the past it wasn't the lowest hanging
fruit in improving user freedom that it is now. It also wasn't so
obviously important, but since firmware is increasingly able to spy on
users or limit their actions, and since it's increasingly subject to
upgrades by manufacturers which are against the user's interests, it
becomes increasingly important that people have the ability to
understand and modify their field-replaceable firmware.  We can
probably expect that once free firmware becomes easy for everyone to
accomplish the FSF will move on to promoting an additional tougher
requirement, thats their job and their nature.

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