Why is Fedora not a Free GNU/Linux distributions?

Kevin Kofler kevin.kofler at chello.at
Sun Jul 13 21:43:05 UTC 2008

Alexandre Oliva <aoliva <at> redhat.com> writes:
> With the current policies, more and more non-Free Software is being
> welcomed into Fedora.

You're intentionally omitting one detail: all that non-Free software isn't 
software which runs on the CPU, it's firmware which runs on peripherals. The 
thing is that most hardware these days has some form of embedded processor and 
is driven by firmware. There's only one difference: the hardware which "does 
not need" firmware actually has that firmware on some ROM inside the device. 
But recently, more and more hardware manufacturers decided to save costs by 
removing that ROM and having the computer upload the firmware instead, which is 
why firmware is included with operating systems. The problem is: by banning 
firmware from operating systems, you do not succeed in getting rid of it. What 
you're getting is that the firmware is inside some ROM, with no hope whatsoever 
of ever replacing it with Free Software. If the firmware is uploaded from the 
main CPU, it is at least technically possible to replace it with Free Software. 
But the way you'll make that happen is by getting such Free firmware written, 
not by banning the existing firmware blobs and thus forcing users to only use 
hardware with hardcoded firmware in ROM, which is impossible to replace with a 
Free equivalent.

The real problem to solve is that there is almost NO Free firmware, not that 
distributions include non-Free firmware. Even OpenBSD, which got an award from 
the FSF for pushing for redistributable firmware, was pushing just for that: 
_redistributable_ firmware (which is what the firmware in Fedora is, too), and 
Free drivers (the famous fight against "the Blob"), but they explicitly did NOT 
ask for Free firmware. (This may have changed since, but I am not aware of such 
a change in position.)

I agree with you that there's a problem to solve, and with technologies like 
Larrabee coming, i.e. GPUs with x86 cores, where there will be more x86 cores 
on the GPU than on the CPU, that may well become a major problem soon (if you 
have 4 x86 cores running a Free OS and 16 x86 cores running non-Free GPU 
firmware, can you really claim with a straight face that you're running a Free 
OS?), but I think you're trying to solve the wrong problem.

        Kevin Kofler

More information about the fedora-list mailing list