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    User: my wifi doesn’t work

    Guru: that is the price of admission into the free world

    User: but I have to be able to access the internet

    Guru: “Have To” Is a Relative Phrase, there can sometimes be hard choices to make

    User: nevermind, I dropped the binary firmware blob onto my file system and now my wifi works

    Guru: proprietary software can’t be the answer because proprietary software is the problem

    User: uh, okay, but I have wifi now, so I’ll continue using Linux

    Guru: more people using free software doesn’t necessarily mean more people believing in free software ideals

    User: that’s great and all but ideally my wifi will work

    Guru: It’s more important to spread the ideals of free software than the actual software itself

    User: in that case I’ll just use Windows

    Guru: People will naturally start using free software if they believe in the ideals

    User: not if their wifi doesn’t work

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      this isn’t a Guru, this is a free software zealot, and in real life User stops listening much faster than this.

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        And then when the user goes and cries about their data getting owned or locked up or how they can’t get something they want or how they are getting spied on they have nobody but themselves to blame.

        It’s not an ideal system, mind you, but for schadenfreude it works pretty well. The hell of it is, of course, that RMS et all are right–we are all just doing the expedient things over the correct ones.

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        What’s your point? What difference does it make whether the user uses Windows or Linux-with-binary-blobs?

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          The point is compromise. Spreading the ideals of free software is harder if you can’t connect to the internet, and people can believe in ideals all they want but that won’t help them route packets. Is using Trisquel with no internet access really more free than using Debian with binary firmware to make the wifi work?

          It makes about the same difference as using Debian with a modern wifi card that needs the binary firmware to be uploaded to the device, or using Trisquel with an older wifi card that has the binary firmware already present in ROM.

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            It makes about the same difference as using Debian with a modern wifi card that needs the binary firmware to be uploaded to the device, or using Trisquel with an older wifi card that has the binary firmware already present in ROM.

            Depends what your concerns are. If you’re worried about very sophisticated malware (stuxnet-style) using the wifi card as an attack vector then it makes a big difference.

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            Pray expand.

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          Its good to know that everything that defines my career and private use of computers is unethical.

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            Yours is a flippant comment, but you might be more correct than you know.

            Proprietary software does hurt users, usually in the long term through lock-in. Proprietary software is not always as well-written or debugged as the open-source equivalent (though the reflexive argument also holds that open-source software may be buggy too…it’s at least theoretically fixable) and never can be. Proprietary software can be used to enforce economic disparity and to shake-down users–something you may have run into if you’ve ever paid the Microsoft or Oracle tax.

            These points are not up for debate, and anybody who thinks they’re an exaggeration is overlooking a lot of readily-available history.

            That said, there is often a lot of utility in doing unethical things. Paying for proprietary software is probably equivalent with parking in a handicapped space: you get where you need faster, you’re doing something that if everybody were to do it would make the world a concretely worse place, and nobody really cares about enforcement.

            Debian here is in the difficult position of having to claim ideological purity while still trying to baby users; hence, their semantic gymnastics that let them both be the best libre distribution while trying to support users too clueless to look at a compatibility chart.

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              Proprietary software is not always as well-written or debugged as the open-source equivalent … and never can be.

              That’s an absurd statement. Proprietary software can be better-written and debugged than its open-source equivalent, and often is. Why? Because software is a product of skill and attention, and proprietary software pays more for attention in the general case. Moreover, people who need niche software are often more capable of (and willing to) pay money, rather than offer skill and attention.

              Your statement may be true once all proprietary software has an open source equivalent, and that equivalent has been around long enough to gain infinite attention, but that is not a state of the world that exists.

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                Agreed. Additionally, one cannot draw conclusions about quality of code simply due to licensing.

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                  You said “can be” and “often is”, I’d said “not always”–we’re in agreement.

                  The fact remains that, given two pieces of software, once existing as a proprietary binary blob and the other as a source code, the latter will be more maintainable and debuggable.

                  There are hundreds of examples of projects that have fared better as open-source because later groups have been able to take up an interest and make them better–and they have done so long after a proprietary business would’ve or had gone bankrupt.

                  Proprietary software is all well and good as long as there is a buck to be made, but once that stops the software tends to be rapidly outstripped by an open-source equivalent once established.

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                    You said “can be” and “often is”, I’d said “not always”–we’re in agreement.

                    You’re skipping the part where you said “and never can be” (emphasis yours). That part is absurd.

                    given two pieces of software, once existing as a proprietary binary blob and the other as a source code, the latter will be more maintainable and debuggable.

                    I’m beginning to think you’re imagining a world where the only consumers of software also happen to be developers. We don’t live in that world.

                    Both of your pieces of software exist as source code. On set of source, we can see and audit, the other we cannot. Because of the dynamics of open source development, the most likely scenario is that the binary blob preceded the FLOSS version. Because of that, it’s likely to have more features and fewer bugs right out of the gate – more time has been spent on it. It’s also likely to be maintainable and debuggable, just by a small subset of developers. Until the FLOSS version catches up, you’re asking all consumers of software, developers and otherwise, to use the less functional version. And you’re calling them “unethical” when they instead choose the software that works better.

                    Here’s the thing, though: for the average user, all software is closed source, because they cannot read source. For the average user, both versions are equally un-debuggable. The difference? One, they can get paid support for. The other, they have to navigate unfamiliar mailing lists and forums, and hope that someone responds, and responds helpfully, to their problem.

                    Your world makes it very hard to both be ethical and also use computers.

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                      Here’s the thing, though: for the average user, all software is closed source, because they cannot read source. For the average user, both versions are equally un-debuggable. The difference? One, they can get paid support for. The other, they have to navigate unfamiliar mailing lists and forums, and hope that someone responds, and responds helpfully, to their problem.

                      Your world makes it very hard to both be ethical and also use computers.

                      That’s exactly it! That’s the interesting discussion to have, not the more common “well this is libre software versus not”.

                      I think all of us would be better off if we figured out how to feel about users that are, due to their lack of ability, basically without rights. Half of the problems I feel like our industry has in regards to security and usability and freedom stem from one side being unable to acknowledge that users are helpless, and the other side being unable to acknowledge that they are not due the same respect as developers–and so a bunch of poor compromises occur and arguments happen.

                      We’d be better off if there was a common agreement about how much to care about users, and to what extent we should cater to their inability; even if the agreement is only to state which (bad) assumptions we’re making!

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                  His comment might be flippant, but I’m guessing by the upvotes that many can relate to it. I would love to be able to be paid to give software away for free; it has long been a dream of mine to work on open-source projects for a living. That’s unrealistic in the short term, but if I ever win the lottery, or a distant and super-rich uncle of mine dies and gives me everything, or a Nigerian prince needs me to give him 400$ so he can unlock his huge bank account… anyway: If I get stupid rich, that’s what I intend to do with my free time.

                  I understand and agree with the idea that software could and should be a great free advancement for mankind, but I also need to feed my family.

                  A short list of great advancement in technology that I think should belong to everyone for free:

                  • All knowledge
                  • Access to medical care and medication (especially medication, goddammit Epi-pen)
                  • Electricity
                  • Internet
                  • I probably should put food, because like, with agricultural technology, we have more than enough to feed everyone

                  Fact of the matter is, most of those don’t come for free, and as such, I can’t provide my software for free without risking my life (let alone my family’s well-being). Also please, people in ideological disagreement with my “people should get stuff for free” thing, let it not derail the discussion. I’m merely using those as examples that I think are just as valid as software-should-be-free. For the record, I really think we could be in a better place as a species if we were more worried about everyone’s needs instead of banking on the developed world’s wants.

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                    | it has long been a dream of mine to work on open-source projects for a living

                    | but I also need to feed my family.

                    That’s a myth. There are plenty of people who get paid to write free software.

                    It may be an exception but that’s what I’ve been doing for my entire career. It started as a side-job before I graduated. The first step was to look for a company that’s doing something that involves free software and apply for a job there. Nowadays, I’m independent, and it’s been free software all the time.

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                      Say I really wanted to do that, I’d apply to places like Redhat? Canonical?

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                        What I actually did was I got a copy of Linux magazine (German version) which had a list of companies in the back. I rang the ones that were local to me (Berlin) in order. The first gave me an internship for a few weeks. The second one hired me.

                        EDIT: I’d like to add most well-known projects in the open source community have at least a few developers who are paid full-time. Many are paid part-time, there are consultants serving clients using the software, and so on. It’s of course hard to start from an angle on a specific project. You can’t just pick your favourite project, work on it for a few weeks, and auomatically get a job. The point is though that the most widely used open and free code bases don’t write themselves out of thin air. There is money in open source, simply because there is money in IT in general and there is a lot of economic interest in open source code for various reasons.

                        EDIT2: A magazine is a bit old fashioned these days, of course :-) These links might help get you started:

                        https://www.fossjobs.net/

                        https://twitter.com/JobsOpenSource

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                          If you look, the jobs are there. Just today I saw that Odoo is hiring.

                          @stsp’s advice is very valuable though and if you want a start, you could do worse than starting out with one of the large (or even not-so-large) open source companies. Red Hat, Canonical, SUSE, Docker, ARM, HashiCorp, etc. etc. Lots of companies are doing things with OpenStack these days, if that’s your thing.

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                      Vendor lock-in happens with open source, too. Case-in-point: OpenSSL. Sure there was GNUTLS, but practically no one uses that. Now there’s also LibreSSL, BearSSL, BoringSSL, and a few others. But it took a vulnerability that affected nearly every SSL/TLS service to give us alternatives.

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                        Not to mention the classic below that shows just how much lock-in happens just due to complexity of legacy codebases in FOSS:

                        http://queue.acm.org/detail.cfm?id=2349257

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                        This is debatable. The proprietary software almost always harms users in the long term who depend on it. Dependence is the problem there. Dependence on a good or source that has incentives that harm you. People who used cross-platform apps or at least data storage aren’t stuck on proprietary stuff. I was doing that with Windows for a long time. I bought Linux distros but that rarely made them any good. Windows & Mac still dominated in usability + app support. I stuck with those delivering but insulated myself against long-term risk.

                        Most people don’t mitigate the risk. They also enter abusive relationships with IT vendors and make excuses for them. That’s where the problem comes from. They avoid that they avoid the evil of proprietary software in vast majority of the cases. The rest comes from a principle called “vote with your wallet.” People use it to promote greed and evil vast majority of the time. (shrugs)

                        Note: One distro did eventually become usable enough that I could switch over fully with little loss of participation in overall IT or Web. Don’t even have to think about it because the little things just work. Everything else is a quick, Google fix. Should’ve happened 10+ years ago.

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                        Even your shoelaces are unethical.

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                        We find you guilty of ideological impurity.

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                          What’s the sentence, your honour?

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                            Presumably, using some less friendly but freer piece of software, like OpenBSD. :)

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                              OpenBSD is also unfree per RMS. There is a URL in a ports tree makefile, and if you visit it, you will be presented with the option to install unfree software.

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                          I would say that Debian is encouraging user freedom. There’s a balance between constraining oneself to software that Respects Your Freedom and supporting others' freedom to choose the software that they want by making an effort to ensure that said software works with yours. That seems to be a goal of the Debian project.

                          For those who don’t want a compromise, there’s Trisquel.

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                            Exactly. The concept of pure FOSS was interesting until I tried to watch a YouTube video:

                            “You are missing something Stallman considers evil that should never exist on your box. Do you want to remain pure and isolated? Or do you want to experience all that content creators are publishing in video form?”

                            Well, that was an easy decision. Rinse, repeat.

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                            Let’s think on this. What if, for example, Canonical decided to move all of Ubuntu’s proprietary software packages into a repository called non-free? What if they then decided to not enable that repository by default and then make a public statement that those packages are not “part” of the distribution? Yes, I understand that there are additional issues beyond proprietary software (like spying) but in this hypothetical example, all such problematic software would go into non-free.

                            I think that would be a genuine, substantive improvement - it would make it much easier for people to obtain, use, and fork a pure-free variant of Ubuntu. It would, in short, be something people who care about users' freedom should encourage (which is the opposite of what this post is doing).

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                              I disagree. Canonical got where they are today by making an out-of-the-box experience that’s similarly usable and easy as software like Windows. There were plenty of distros containing piles of free software. Nobody wanted them. I’d dare to say that the vast majority of Ubuntu users also wanted to be able to watch YouTube and listen to their MP3 collections.

                              This idea that supplying FOSS-only distros to masses that don’t want FOSS-only distros will greatly advance market- and mind-share of FOSS-only distros is a dangerous myth. Better to give them what they want instead in a form that leads them away from the worst stuff. Ubuntu was a nice start on that for desktops.

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                                You can have it both ways though, it could even install packages from the proprietary repo by default too, just have either a slightly obscure way to disabled it in the installer, or have an easy way to remove the repo after installation.

                                There is also the Fedora option, only FOSS is installed by default, but you can enabled non-free later.

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                                  Canonical did many things that Debian didn’t - a lot of marketing/branding, sending out CDs for free, a big focus on a good installer experience. There’s a space for a distro that does those things and also offers a FOSS-purist install option.

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                                    It’s true one could do that with more success. Im just not seeing Canonical’s level of success in consumer or enterprise spaces if they avoid everything proprietary. It would be interesting to see how far FOSS-only would go.

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                                The cool thing about being human is that depending on who you ask, everything is both good and bad, right and wrong, and since I’m not a Sith and the Absolute Truth is visibly both Star (Wars|Trek), I don’t have to care who’s right, also it would be quite illogical. In conclusion, I would like to add that as a guy who would like to not consume animal products, it’s a damn shame milk and cheese come from cows. Peace out! Drops mic

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                                  the Debian Project doesn’t seem to see anything wrong with the development and distribution of proprietary software.

                                  I don’t see anywhere in the Debian Social Contract where it says that Debian is committed to freedom in the manner that the author of this article expects in fact, it says that they will support proprietary software and that their system (i.e. not all packages) will be free as defined by the Debian Free Software Guidelines.

                                  The main thrust of the article is that Debian isn’t “free” and is therefore acting unethically. I know exactly how Debian defines free because they wrote it down in their document (linked above). I have no idea what the author of this post expects from free software because nowhere does he mention or link to any definition of “free” that he expects Debian to ascribe to. Further, even if we presume that this one aspect of Debian’s operations are unethical, I don’t think that somehow tips the scale towards Debian as a whole being unethical.

                                  In conclusion, I don’t see any incongruities between what is in the Debian Social Contract and what Debian is doing.

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                                    It might also be worth mentioning that the default Debian install is 100% DFSG compliant. The non-free repository is provided and maintained, but users have to explicitly opt in to it.