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Debian to change social contract, include non-free packages on install media | #linux | #linuxsecurity | #hacking | #aihp

The new social contract will have one additional sentence: “The Debian official media may include firmware that is otherwise not part of the Debian system to enable use of Debian with hardware that requires 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 (installer images and live images). The included firmware binaries will normally be enabled by default where the system determines that they are required, but where possible we will include ways for users to disable this at boot (boot menu option, kernel command line etc.).

“When the installer/live system is running we will provide information to the user about what firmware has been loaded (both free and non-free), and we will also store that information on the target system such that users will be able to find it later.

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

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

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

Six proposals were advanced for fixing the issue, by McIntyre, Gunnar Wolf, Bart Martens, Simon Josefsson, Russ Allbery and Holger Levsen. Five included changes in the CD images, but one, from Josefsson, contemplated sticking to the existing practice, “reinforcing the interpretation that any installer or image with non-free software on it is not part of the Debian system, but that we support their use and welcome others to distribute such work”.

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

The project, founded in 1993, has more than 1000 developers and tallies votes using the Condorcet system where every option is evaluated against all others. A general resolution changing a foundation document requires a 3:1 majority for any option to pass.

As per the official Debian constitution, “votes are cast by email in a manner suitable to the secretary. The secretary determines for each poll whether voters can change their votes.

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

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

This all sounds a trifle complicated, but then shepherding this many developers into 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 that I voted highest, after all. **More importantly**, however, Debian has made a clear choice of direction, as I was hoping for when I started this process.

“As a free software developer, I’m not so happy that we’ll be including some non-free things on our installation and live media. But this is fundamentally a pragmatic choice: if we want new people to use our free software operating system, we need to make it possible/easy for people to install it and use it on their computers.

“A totally free operating system that most people can’t use or install and use doesn’t count for much.”

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

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