Non-opensource drivers

Colin Watson cjwatson at
Sun Nov 26 20:12:27 GMT 2006

On Sat, Nov 25, 2006 at 05:05:40PM +0000, Toby Smithe wrote:
> On Sat, 2006-11-25 at 16:56 +0000, Colin Watson wrote: 
> > On Sat, Nov 25, 2006 at 04:53:53PM +0000, Toby Smithe wrote:
> > > On Sat, 2006-11-25 at 16:44 +0000, Colin Watson wrote:
> > > > Question: should the same checkbox govern binary wireless drivers (e.g.)
> > > > too, i.e. turn off the restricted component altogether?
> > > 
> > > No. This should be separate. People always need wireless more than fancy
> > > graphics.
> > 
> > The reason I ask is: why would you have moral objections to one but not
> > the other?
> Hmm... I dunno. But the wireless blob is purely firmware in most cases,
> not just the driver. This is the same question as asking why don't you
> run a free BIOS if you don't want proprietary drivers.

Let's have specifics. We have the following non-video-driver bits in

  madwifi: (dual-licensed) GPLed driver, but requires the HAL blobs
  which have a no-modification licence. These are firmware, though
  shipped as objects which end up as kernel modules.

  AVM: partly LGPL, partly proprietary: the licence states that part of
  the driver is proprietary, as well as firmware.

  ltmodem: non-free in that (at least) it doesn't allow you to combine
  it with anything other than Linux unless overridden by applicable law.
  Shipped as objects which end up as kernel modules.

  IPW3945d: binary-only program, IIRC for controlling the frequency of
  some Intel wireless cards.

  ACX: not sure of the licence; firmware.

Most of our wireless firmware (Atmel, IPW2[12]00, Prism, etc.) is in
fact in main, as long as we have sufficient permissions regarding it
(I'm not sure of the exact details; Ben knows). My understanding is that
those that are cleanly separated from the kernel and are just blobs that
the driver needs to load at run-time are generally in main.

Perhaps that helps to clarify things.

(I don't really buy into the free BIOS analogy, chiefly because, well,
we aren't shipping the BIOS so it's not our business.)

> Keep it separate. But does that make it too complicated...
> Hmm...
> Perhaps I am coming round to your point of view: one option. "Do you
> want to enable proprietary drivers, including wireless and video
> modules? Here are the pros and cons...".
> Yeah, I think that that is the best way to go... I dunno; as you can
> probably tell, I am very undecided.

Right; it's certainly complicated. main/restricted seems like a fairly
reasonable place to put the boundary to me, and I don't like having too
many options between which the distinction is difficult to define for
the uninitiated, but I'm fine with other options if they're reasonably
consistent as well as being sufficient for most of the people who object
to proprietary drivers.

Colin Watson                                       [cjwatson at]

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