on disabling drivers that use non-Free firmware

Alexandre Oliva lxoliva at fsfla.org
Fri Jan 23 16:02:30 UTC 2009

On Jan 21, 2009, Richard M Stallman <rms at gnu.org> wrote:

>     If we're talking about drivers, the user won't usually know they're asking
>     for firmware files, unless she's knowledgeable enough to check dmesg.  OTOH
>     I think it's bad to assume the firmware is always going to be non-free.  It
>     could be liberated, or others could write a replacement, and then not having
>     the ability to load the free version becomes a technical inconvenience.

> When someone frees a firmware package, we can add the driver we
> previously removed.  I don't think that firmware blobs will be freed 5
> times a day thus and overload us ;-{.

Removing all the code in a driver, rather than simply disabling its
requests for non-Free firmware, creates another major burden: any patch
that touches files in that driver becomes an additional maintenance
burden.  Cleaning up patches is already the most time-consuming portion
of the job of maintaining Linux-libre.

Because of the currently-taken approach (removing blobs and disabling
drivers), it doesn't add up to much time; it's far less than what it
used to require when drivers were completely removed because of non-Free
blobs in them.

I wouldn't want to grow it back, and even more (out of covering other
drivers that never had non-Free blobs in them) unless it makes a major
significant moral difference.

If it's not clear whether it's ethically better to remove a driver
entirely, or to remove just the portions in it that might promote the
use of non-Free software, I'll take the latter, out of major practical

Alexandre Oliva           http://www.lsd.ic.unicamp.br/~oliva/
You must be the change you wish to see in the world. -- Gandhi
Be Free! -- http://FSFLA.org/   FSF Latin America board member
Free Software Evangelist      Red Hat Brazil Compiler Engineer

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