iTWire - Debian modifies the social contract and includes non-free packages on the installation media

iTWire – Debian modifies the social contract and includes non-free packages on the installation media

The Debian GNU/Linux project has voted to change its social contract to address the issue of providing proprietary firmware on its installation media. Moreover, the project vote to have only one installation image.

The new social contract will contain an additional sentence: “Official Debian media may include firmware that is not otherwise part of the Debian system to enable use of Debian with hardware requiring such firmware.”

A statement will be issued as follows: “We will include non-free firmware packages from the ‘non-free-firmware’ section of the Debian archive on our official media (installation images and live images). Firmware binaries included will normally be enabled by default where the system determines they are needed, but where possible we will include ways for users to disable this on boot (boot menu option, kernel command line, etc. .).

“When the live installer/system is running, we will provide information to the user about the loaded firmware (free and non-free), and we will also store this information on the target system so that the users can find later.

“When non-free firmware is needed, the target system will also be configured to use the default non-free firmware component in the apt sources.list file. Our users should receive important security updates and fixes for firmware binaries like any other installed software.

“We will release these images as official Debian media, replacing current media sets that do not include non-free firmware packages.”

As iTWire reported in September the issue of including proprietary firmware on Debian installation media was raised in April by former project manager Steve McIntyre, who also leads the team that creates CD images after a new release .

Six proposals have been advanced to solve the problem, by McIntyre, Gunnar Wolf, Bart Martens, Simon Josefsson, Russ Allbery and Holger Levsen. Five included changes to the CD images, but one, from Josefsson, planned to stick with existing practice, “reinforcing the interpretation that any installer or image containing non-free software is not part of the Debian system , but that we support using them and welcoming others to distribute such work”.

Debian has pretty strict licensing guidelines that govern the packages in its main repositories. The Linux kernel, for example, is distributed under the General Public License version 2, and that license has its own stipulations about non-free code. Users can include proprietary software on their systems after initial installation, by adding repositories to the configuration options of APT, the application that helps update the system.

The project, founded in 1993, has over 1,000 developers and counts votes using the Condorcet system where each option is rated against all others. A general resolution amending a parent document requires a 3:1 majority for any option to pass.

According to Debian’s official constitution, “Votes shall be cast by email in a manner acceptable to the Secretary. The Secretary determines for each poll whether voters may change their votes.

“Q [or the quorum needed for a valid vote] is half the square root of the number of current developers.”

Any resolution must be sponsored by at least 2K developers, where “K is Q or 5, whichever is smaller. Q and K need not be integers and are not rounded.”

This all sounds a bit complicated, but guiding so many developers through a decision is probably not the easiest thing to do.

Contacted for comment, McIntyre told iTWire, “I’m happy with this result – it’s the option I voted for the most, after all. **Most importantly**, however, Debian did a clear choice of direction, as I hoped for when I started this process.

“As a free software developer, I’m not so happy that we include non-free stuff in our installation and live media. But it’s basically a pragmatic choice: if we want new people to use our software free to operate system, we need to allow people to install it and use it on their computers.

“A completely free operating system that most people can’t use or install and use doesn’t matter much.”

Debian releases a community-based GNU/Linux distribution, with releases roughly every two years. It supports the widest number of architectures and has served as the basis for a number of other distros, the best known being Ubuntu.

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