LKML thread about (re)moving firmware within the kernel

Alexandre Oliva lxoliva at
Sat May 31 15:15:28 UTC 2008

On May 31, 2008, David Woodhouse <dwmw2 at> wrote:

> 1. Who the target audience of your mail is.

Those who are reacting to your proposal with anti-ideology rhetoric.

> 2. What they currently think about firmware blobs.

AFAIK they don't care.  They use it when it's convenient, they don't
when it isn't.

> 3. What _their_ concerns are.

Convenience, and being able to ship as much firmware as convenient
without being bound by concerns such as users' freedom.

> 4. How your mail addresses _their_ concerns

The intent was to attempt to remove the anti-ideology reflex from the
thought processes, explaining that, in spite of the suspicions, the
outcome of this proposal does not advance our cause.

> 5. How your mail will thus affect their opinion

Maybe it won't, if they don't believe me because they don't understand
what my goals and my values are.  I already know they don't agree with
them, but I'm counting on their ability to put themselves in my own
shoes and realize that this proposal does no good for me.

> 6. What you hope the outcome of your mail will be


Seriously, I hope, after people read this e-mail, your proposal gets
evaluated on technical grounds, not rejected on suspicions on your
being part of the big RMS conspiracy against them ;-)

>> > First of all, IIRC last time Debian discussed the issue of non-Free
>> > firmware in the kernel, they decided they wanted to ship it.  DavidM,
>> > to the best of my knowledge, your assumption that Debian would be
>> > interested in a change like this for the reasons you seem to assume it
>> > would be is unwarranted.

> They actually _wanted_ to ship it? Certainly not in the kernel proper.
> They _wanted_ to move it to non-free, at least. But since they didn't
> have the technical means to do that in a fashion which would allow
> people the choice of continuing to use the affected drivers, they chose
> not to split it out.

Back then, they even *added* more non-Free firmware to their kernels,
so I guess you may be referring to a more recent discussion I wasn't
aware of.

> We have a similar situation with Fedora. We _want_ to ship the firmware
> separately, so that we can do 'Freedom' spins of Fedora which don't
> include it at all. But for now we can't realistically do that.

because...  kernel, kernel-smp, kernel-PAE, in both vanilla and -debug
variants, is too much already?  Oh, and there's kernel-xen, too.
Surely adding kernel-libre to the mix wouldn't be such a terrible
thing, especially with the little amount of work it takes to track the
corresponding non-Free kernel builds day-to-day.  The fact that it
would be built out of a separate tarball is irrelevant.  We're talking
50MB in a set of several DVDs of sources.  It really amazes how far
people will go to resist just a small advance in freedom.

> Then Fedora and Debian _can_ ship a Free kernel, by default.

When the condition is "we'll do it only when we can ship the firmwares
along with it", we can tell very well where they stand.  If they want
to ship a Free kernel, even by default, they can already do it today.
And please don't give me that "it's not maintainable" BS that some
fedorents did; it borders the ridiculous, and it's hard to tell
whether it highlights more ignorance or more prejudice.

>> > On May 29, 2008, David Miller <davem at> wrote:
>> > 
>> > > At least from my perspective this looks like a transfer of burdon from
>> > > the folks who want to rip the firmware out, to those of us who find
>> > > high value in the firmware staying in the tree.
>> > 
>> > That's a mistaken assumption.  Please let me explain why.  First, I'll
>> > provide some credentials, so that you can tell I know what I'm talking
>> > about.

> Here, you're responding to a technical concern with rhetoric.

I'm actually responding to the anti-fundamentalist rhetoric, which was
the whole point of the e-mail: to show that this change brought no
benefit to our existing process.

> Dave is concerned that this will be a technically retrograde step
> for him, because he wants to build kernels which combine driver and
> firmware together as one.

I do see that concern, and I don't address it at all, because it's
none of my business.  The only point I'm addressing is his faulty
assumption on the underlying motivations that ended up leading to this

As it turns out, he may be right that the motivations are precisely
the kind of transfer of burden he talks about, even though he's wrong
in that the idea came out of, or would help, the fundamentalists.

> Which do you think is most likely to affect his opinion?

About the patch?  Honestly, I don't care.  As I tried to explain in my
e-mail, it's at *best* a long and busy nop for my main concerns.

>> > Moving non-Free firmware within, or even out of, the linux tree,
>> > doesn't advance our goal at all.  

> Having Fedora and Debian ship a Free kernel doesn't advance your goal?

It might, and they could do so already if they wanted to.  And they'd
be using a kernel that explicitly promotes freedom even in the name
while at that, and that saves them from the burden of doing so

And doing so wouldn't deprive them from the possibility of still
shipping whatever other pieces of immoral software they wanted to, in
an attempt to fool themselves and their users that sacrificing freedom
for convenience and popularity will somehow someday get them all
better off.

> Yet it was your attempts to get Fedora to ship such a kernel which
> prompted me to do what I'm doing now.... I'm confused.

Such a kernel already exists.  Your patch won't fix the whole problem.
Having to work a lot more to walk not closer but farther away from the
goal doesn't seem like progress to me.

And if Fedora and Debian don't care enough to ship a Free kernel that
already exists and is well maintained and kept up-to-date with the one
they've come to love, this just shows where they stand and how much
they value freedom.

> But Alex, there _are_ no other pieces of non-Free software in the
> kernel.

You pointed me to "false positives" yourself.  We're failing to

The issue is not what license the code provided under.  The issue
is whether all 4 freedoms are respected.  The portions you called
false positives are just as non-Free Software as the firmwares you're
moving out.  And since these are not firmware, I suppose they're not
going to be handled with the firmware loading mechanism, even though
in theory they could.

And then, there's the issue of obfuscated source code, like the one
Alan Cox mentioned on fedora-devel in the nv X drivers.  This sort of
thing is also non-Free Software.  And if the gNewSense folks that are
auditing the kernel sources by hand looking for this stuff do find
such occurrences, we'll take them out as well.  But even if they do,
unless the kernel had policy against adding this sort of code, we
can't entrust it with our efforts to ensure our kernel remains Free.

> That seems like nonsense to me, too. The 'deblob' scripts need updating
> from kernel to kernel anyway,

Yep.  Minor.  And I generally catch these updates during the -rc
cycles anyway.  It's still more work if it changes than if it doesn't.

> and we're rapidly getting to the point
> where all you need to do is 'rm -rf firmware/'.

That's a faulty assumption.  Your approach does NOT solve the whole
problem we do, even though you appear to believe that it does.  Your
assessment of 'false positives' shows you've misidentified the problem
we're trying to solve, so you went for something that would solve only
part of it.

> You plan to answer DaveM's technical concerns about that plan
> with rhetoric -- do you really think that's going to help?

I can't even tell what 'help' amounts to in this context.  I wrote the
e-mail to remove silly concerns that were brought into the discussion
and that appeared to be clouding the judgment of some parties, and to
present my opinions about the patch and the approach.

> I disagree. What it facilitates is _choice_. People would have the
> _choice_ to distribute and use non-Free software, or not, as they see
> fit.

Freedom and Choice is an Open Source slogan.  The Free Software
movement already made its choice, and the choice is freedom.  The
choice to ship non-Free Software or only Free Software is just as
there as it was before your patch, and their implementations is just
as trivial.  It doesn't add or remove choice, it merely shifts the
balances, and it doesn't seem to me that it shifts the balance towards
freedom; quite the opposite.

> Where previously they were forced to either do so, or manually
> strip it out for themselves.

linux-libre has existed for quite a while, and they could use it if
they want to spare themselves from the work to strip things out.

> This whole thing is being done to advance your goal, which I share in
> this particular instance. And it looks like you intend to argue
> _against_ its inclusion.

As I wrote in my e-mail, it was misguided, and now I begin to
understand why: you appear to have misidentified what the goal is,
limiting it to a point that makes it seem much narrower.

Thanks for your feedback, and for trying.  I hope you know I don't
mean ill.

Alexandre Oliva
Free Software Evangelist  oliva@{,}
FSFLA Board Member       ¡Sé Libre! =>
Red Hat Compiler Engineer   aoliva@{,}

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