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Proprietary Firmware and the Pursuit of a Free Kernel

Dec 01, 2008, 16:34 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Bruce Byfield)

"As a result, the FSF has changed the definition of a free distribution, and a search for how to respond to this new definition is now well underway. Who wins and what solutions are implemented could have a major effect on the future of free and open source software.

"In some distros, people have advocated a kernel that meets the new definition, perhaps using Alexandre Oliva's linux-libre kernel. In some cases, these free kernels are being made available from non-official sources, such as Ali Gunduz's free kernels for Debian-based distributions. These solutions are supported by free software advocates, who see such efforts as a logical extension of basic definitions of software freedom.

"However, others actively resist such solutions. Fedora Leader Paul Frields says, "Fedora's position on firmware is that firmware is something that you can't consider in the same case as the code that is running on a CPU. We don't find that a compelling argument for considering those things in the same way." A similar position was expressed on the debian-devel list earlier this month by developer Loic Minier, who suggests that, since the firmware is required for peripherals rather than for the CPU itself, it ought to fall into a separate category in discussions of freedom. Unsurprisingly, such claims are dismissed by free software advocates as meaningless hair-splitting."

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