Dear Mr Shuttleworth

When you are so worried about the Freedom of software and collaboration, why don’t you start with your own project and do not include proprietary drivers in Ubuntu? While it might be more short term fun for the blink addicted, it is a clear slap in the face for the Free Software community. This is no use for any FOSS project, not for the free driver developers, not for any other distro and (most importantly for you) not for Ubuntu.

  • Free driver developers don’t benefit from that move because they will not get that much bug reports from Ubuntu users.
  • Other distros / projects don’t benefit from that move because the development of the closed drivers is, well, closed.
  • Ubuntu itself risks to loose quite a bit of its momentum when FOSS developers and advocates get pissed off by that move. It’s like if you tricked them to use and advocate Ubuntu because you made a big show about beeing all Free and all that, and then you slap ’em in the face by including binary-only stuff on the install CD.

GNU Classpath is quite a good example that shows why it is important to stand for Freedom. Would Red Hat/Fedora have gone the Sun-Java route in the past and not invested in the GNU Classpath project, we most likely wouldn’t see Sun GPLing Java now.

When one of the most important distros includes binary drivers, then it is much less incentive for ATI and the likes to release their drivers/specs under free terms. OTOH, when such an important distro takes a stand for Freedom, this is much more likely to put pressure on the vendors.

So, please do support the free driver developers and don’t shoot them in the back.

Update: In order to pull a reference to my last post, and because it fits so nicely, let me rephrase Let’s Impeach the President:

Let’s impeach the president for hijacking our religion and using it to get elected. FLIP: Our work on Ubuntu is driven by a philosophy on software freedom that we hope will spread and bring the benefits of software technology to all parts of the globe. FLOP: All of the application software installed by default is Free Software. In addition, we install some hardware drivers that are available only in binary format

Update 2: Planet Ubuntu is now also featuring some articles from Ubuntu developers getting concerned. That makes me hope that Canonical thinks again.


9 Responses to Dear Mr Shuttleworth

  1. My impression is that a large percentage of Ubuntu users still have a lot to learn about what FL/OSS gives them. Their background is binary-only so they don’t know why the source is important for them. Installing binary-only routines by default misses an important teaching opportunity to let users know that binary-only bits are inherently bad for their system.

    The main problem is that from a user’s perspective is that binary drivers can’t be properly supported. All Linux distributions are essentially integration projects; the basis of the integration is access to the source code. Thus the binary modules will ultimately lag behind the rest of the distribution. Bugs will accumulate without being fixed.

    There’s a blog entry from a RedHat engineer that explains this support issue in very clear terms. Unfortunately I don’t have a link handy right now.

    I wish that any advice or instructions (especially automated) that included installing binary-only objects was accompanied by a large warning about the drawbacks of following that path.


  2. Andrew Barr says:

    Unforunately, I fear that Ubuntu and Firefox have attracted a new breed of user…more of the Mac-fanboy-knows-just-enough-to-be-dangerous (or post untrusted repos for APT) mold…they do not appreciate and even react negatively to the philisophical and moral arguments of free software. Hopefully they will come around and learn to appreciate it, as I did, but part of me thinks that they’d rather play ga3m4s using inauditable code running in the kernel…I really wish that MoFo and Ubuntu felt more harshly the negative reactions to their (IMHO, stupid) actions, but this beligerantly clueless user base that seems to have accumulated kind of insulates them and makes everyone else look elitist.

  3. In web browsing, for example, more people will be enticed to install Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 on their Microsoft Windows machines (Vista comes with MSIE7) and Firefox usage will decrease or stagnate because users will have been given no reason to stick with free software. MoFo doesn’t promote software freedom, they promote “open source” development methodology. Users were never taught to value freedom for its own sake and learn reasons to reject software that doesn’t give them software freedom. Open source teaches people to value secondary goals.

    If there were a proprietor that delivered proprietary software which kept up with user’s bug reports, was reliable, and powerful, it ought to be rejected because the program doesn’t deliver software freedom to its users. We need to value social solidarity and software freedom is a part of that. Our goals as a cooperative society should not be built on the lesser goals of developmental progress and technological advancement. We should treat each other in a friendly manner and with respect, working together to insure that we can share information to help one another; it’s unethical to do otherwise. That’s the important lesson the open source movement was designed not to teach. Check out RMS’ response to a questioner at the recent GPLv3 conference in Japan for more on how the free software and open source movements talk about different philosophies and therefore reach radically different results with regard to proprietary software.

  4. Peteris Krisjanis says:

    Sorry guys, no offence, but all it reads like lots of hot air and “selective reality”.

    For you, Linux is freedom. But question remains do I have to use it and share the same values as you do? Of course not! Claiming that would be not only foolish, but limiting and very forcing to users.

    You are talking a lot about RMS, GPL, bla bla bla, etc. But do you realise what will happen after GPLv3? I will say what will happen – everyone will fork and developers who will be paid by companies will stay on no-offensive version on GPL and system. Sorry, but you can’t get a mainstream and don’t be affected by money and greed. We have to try to find a balance, not try to get down all bridges which took so long and hard to build.

    RMS imposibility to compromise was a reason why Hurd is there where it is and Linux was choosen as core of GNU system, why Linus don’t give a shit about FSF politics (but don’t get it wrong, he likes GPL and first version of free software, he explicitly supported that).

    Please, be not ultraconservatives. Yes, you have all rights to have “total freedom”, but please, don’t mess with other people “freedoms”.

    By the way, it is very possible that Ubuntu installation will ask user before installing binary drivers, so I think it is very fair choice to have.

    Ahhh, and by the way, if you prefer total freedom, please, remove X-Windows, lot of tools, Flash from your computer. Stick with a console. Ohhh, can’t do that. So nevermind then, nothing is perfect.

    Right? 🙂

  5. Tester says:

    Mr Shuttleworth,

    Please respect our community. Please respect our license. Don’t compromise long term success for short term market share. Please use your immense resources to support the Nouveau project. Please use your resources to promote hardware vendors that support free software like Intel.

  6. Paul says:

    Maybe we should learn what Mono taught us too as it probably had some effect on the opening of Java?

    Regardless of whether you “trust” Microsoft or not Mono was slowly winning acceptance in FOSS desktop projects where Java had consistantly failed to make any impact.

    It is not just a matter of demanding FOSS drivers and (maybe) trying to reimplement FOSS versions of closed ones but a matter of supporting and promoting “good” products that operate openly so as to give them a competative advantage. this will both encourage them to continue and encourage competitors to join the party.

    I got a new laptop recently and specifically got one with an Intel Graphics chip because I wanted to see the new 3d desktop stuff on free drivers but most people wouldn’t know to make that decision.

    I think individually distros should do more to promote “good” hardware.
    Maybe they should even band together to create some equivalent to the Windows Logo which can be promoted as a way of recognising and labeling FOSS friendly hardware.

    But if you don’t treat proprietary vendors as second class citizens then there is less incentive for them to improve.

  7. roman says:

    @Peteris: I don’t expect anybody to share my view or have the same attitude towards freedom as me. My critizism was aimed towards the schizophreny that Mark/Ubuntu shows in public. On the one side he likes to make a big show on how he values software freedom and collaboration, he even actively tries to pull developers from OpenSUSE to Ubuntu because he thinks that Novell doesn’t respect certain freedoms etc et al. But for Ubuntu he doesn’t seem to worry about software freedom that much. I don’t care when a project decides to shit on certain ideals, but then _it shouldn’t advertise on its frontpage these exact ideals_. The parts of the community that care about freedom and which helped Ubuntu because they advertised it are no feeling pissed off, understandably. I say that they should be more careful how they treat the community that they are for a large part dependend upon. Just like Novell should care to treat the community right. There’s really no big difference.

    Personally, I also have a couple of non free programs installed. Namely, this is Sun’s JDK, simply because I have to use it as reference for testing against while hacking on GNU Classpath. Then there is Jamaica, which is the VM that I work on for my employer (they invest quite a fair share into GNU Classpath too). Then there is the win32codecs on an on-off basis to enable me to watch the latest Neil Young videos. 😉 But: It is a big difference if I decide myself to install certain bits of non-free software, or if a big project like Ubuntu decides for everybody to install non-free bits. I don’t need the proprietary ATI drivers because the free driver does pretty much everything that I need, including beryl, 3D shooters etc. In fact this is only possible because ATI opened up their specs a little due to the pressure from the free software community. Now do you think that would have happened when all the major distros simply ship with the closed ATI driver? Very unlikely I say. For those that try to teach people the value of freedom it is a big arrow in their backs when the distro which’s CDs they hand out contains non-free software in the core. I for one would no longer recommend Ubuntu to others like I did in the past when they really do that step for the next release. And I’m sure I’m not alone.

  8. Meneer R says:

    I think everybody here is missing a crucial point. The fact that the end-product is meant for USERS.
    Now I agree, that we should be clear about not LIKING closed source drivers, we shouldn’t make it the USERS’ problem.

    Perhaps bling bling isn’t very important to you or me. But for example, being able to play games on my NVidia card is for me.

    The question should not be do we DISALLOW (make it so difficult only terminal hack’s make it work) or do we make it THE DEFAULT?

    You and I might be able to get it to work using some terminal hacks, but the ordinary user doesn’t have this FREEDOM.

    Secondly, you people are not helping Ubuntu’s momentum at all. You can’t have the chicken if you kill the egg. If Desktop linux is to gain some serious ground, you need to put the USER FIRST (and then our ideals).

    When (if?) Linux desktop gets a serious place in the market, THEN we will have a strong position in the negotiation. With the current market share they are never going to listen to us.

    @Roman: Ati opened up the specs for the old driver, because the technology is old-fashioned and they were too lazy to maintain their own driver.

    The current situation is, that when company A opensources their driver, some company C will come along and create a driver-compatible budget card. They are absolutely right when they say its going to loose them money if they opensource their driver. When Linux is on one third of all the desktops, THEN they will be more than happy to make this change if it means they have to spent less on driver-development themselves.

    Until then, ASK THE USER. Tell them why it sucks, and why they should currently buy an Intel. Perhaps even supply some links to order the thing online. Secondly, Canonical can still ask any computer supplier to only use freed-hardware if they want to claim that they pre-install Ubuntu. (the name is trademarked)

    Please. I support the free cause. But NEVER EVER push our ideals at the expense of the user. Please leave this type of strategy to zionists, republicans and muslim terrorists.

    We are tolerant people, aren’t we?

  9. Matthew says:

    I realize this thread is rather old, but I wanted to mention how pleased I am with Ubuntu’s use of proprietary drivers. They are not installed by default, and the dialogs for installing and managing proprietary drivers are very clear about the limitations of closed-source drivers.

    “Proprietary drivers do not have public source code that Ubuntu developers are free to modify. They represent a risk to you because they are only available on the types of computer chosen by the manufacturer, and security updates to them depend solely on the responsiveness of the manufacturer. Ubuntu cannot fix or improve these drivers.”

    I didn’t choose the hardware running in my (office) computer, and I don’t have time to figure out (again) how to install proprietary drivers. I’m pleased that Ubuntu gives me the option to painlessly install these drivers if I so choose.

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