Kernels

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lloydsmart

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Hey,

Just curious about something.

Ever since Debian Squeeze, the Debian Linux kernel has been deblobbed - i.e. it contains only free software.

Given this, what's the actual difference between the Debian kernel and Linux-Libre? And why does Trisquel prefer LL to Deb?

Thanks.
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quantumgravity
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I asked this question some time ago in a debian forum. Nobody knew the answer.
Shoud be minor differences; the fsf and debian have different opinions what "exactly" to call free.

MagicFab
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On 2013-07-03 12:30, name at domain wrote:
> Hey,
>
> Just curious about something.
>
> Ever since Debian Squeeze, the Debian Linux kernel has been deblobbed -
> i.e. it contains only free software.
>
> Given this, what's the actual difference between the Debian kernel and
> Linux-Libre? And why does Trisquel prefer LL to Deb?

The Linux kernel used in Debian will let you install non-free firmware
and drivers. Linux Libre won't. The hooks / facilities aren't there.

I asked this a while ago to the maintainer of the .deb packages of Linux
Libre and that was the answer.

F.

--
Fabián Rodríguez
http://fsf.magicfab.ca

lloydsmart

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Thanks for the clarification.

Is that the only reason they continue to develop Linux-Libre? To restrict what software the user can install? Seems like a bit of a waste of effort to me.
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Michał Masłowski

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The reason is to not recommend nonfree firmware, it would be possible to
implement it without disabling it (e.g. using machine-specific firmware
file names), but no one has implemented it.

lloydsmart

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Not sure I understand this comment.

I totally get the desire not to recomment nonfree firmware, but I don't understand how the potential use of the Debian Linux kernel (which is deblobbed) would lead to nonfree firmware being recommended.
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Dave_Hunt

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I, too, don't understand how running a deblobbed Wheezy kernel equates
or leads to recommendation of non-free firmware or software. Is non
free firmware black-listed, in some way, in Linux Libre? There's
nothing, but my desire to keep it free, to prevent my installing
non-free user-land apps.

Michał Masłowski

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There are two separate issues:

1. Linux includes nonfree firmware
2. when a driver requests a firmware and it's missing, it logs an error
message containing the firmware file name

Both Debian and Linux-libre solve the first problem removing the
firmware from kernel (there are small, unimportant differences). The
Debian project hosts a separate repo with this firmware, it's not a part
of Debian.

The difference is in the second problem: Debian keeps the references to
nonfree firmware, Linux-libre replaces them with the /*(DEBLOBBED)*/
string. It solves the issue of the distro "steer[ing] users towards
obtaining any nonfree information for practical use, or encourag[ing]
them to do so" [0]. There are other possible solutions discussed on the
Linux-libre mailing list, they aren't implemented (you can change this).

A system where the user isn't allowed to install nonfree programs isn't
free (if there are nonfree programs), this is technically similar in
Linux-libre: you can load custom modules, e.g. undeblobbed modules that
use the nonfree firmware. Making it easier wouldn't help users of
completely free systems, so it has a very low priority for the
developers.

[0] http://www.gnu.org/distros/free-system-distribution-guidelines.html

Chris

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I think the main reason to avoid using Debian is that the project points users to non-free software. It's not that the core of the distribution isn't free software friendly (even if you were to use the FSF definition).

I believe there was clarification on the binary blob blacklisting issue and everybody concerned (except for maybe the maintainer of the linux-libre code) has concluded its not necessary or even desirable. I think there was even talk of stopping the practice within linux-libre.

Ultimately I don't think there is a whole lot stopping the FSF from certifying Debian as a free distribution should the project want to go that route.

Some things that would have to be done: discontinue the non-free repository and wiki documentation links to non-free software. A few programs may need to be modified as well to prevent them from recommending or pointing to non-free software (Iceweasel).

stefano
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In a nutshell, this is what happens when the kernel needs a non-free
blob to make some piece of hardware work:

* Linux-libre kernel: "I'm sorry, this piece of hardware requires
non-free software and will not work with a 100% free/libre kernel."
* Debian kernel: "Hey! This piece of hardware requires non-free
software, you can install it from "

Best,

Stefano

Chris

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I don't think the kernel is quite that specific. It'll only say it is missing firmware rather than where to get non-free firmware. Debian on the other hand does have some parts in which it is wording it along the lines you have described such as during the installation process. It does that when it detects hardware that may need non-free firmware that is not included during the installation process.

Simply stating that there is firmware required isn't quite the same thing as pointing users to non-free firmware. As an example there was non-free firmware for the AR9271 chipset and it was excluded in Trisquel. Now you have free firmware available and users can't utilize it.

Now the reasoning behind not stating it is people will go seek it out (at least if they don't understand that it is dependent on non-free firmware or don't understand what free software is, etc). However this to me is just as bad. I think RMS stated something like that too. It's taking away a users freedom. Essentially users should have the freedom to make bad decisions, even though we shouldn't help them make those bad decisions.

If the current wording is disliked I think what would be better is to change the wording of the output. An error indicating that there was no free software firmware at the time of the kernels release, and a URL to get updated information would probably be best.

jxself
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lloydsmart asked: Is that the only reason they continue to develop Linux-Libre?

Continue? As if they should stop merely because some distro has a kernel without binary blobs?

Please remember that Linux-libre predates Debian this area (2008 versus 2011.) I understand that Gentoo also offers the option to deblob their kernels too using the deblob scripts from Linux-libre. Who knows what might have happened in various distros if the work to make a freedom-respecting kernel hadn't happened.

Debian and Gentoo, with their various package formats, aren't the only distros on the planet. It makes sense to consolidate development on the clean kernel instead of having each distro reimplement things from scratch. The work on Linux-libre should continue so as to provide a source that distros can easily use as a drop-in replacement for the kernel that comes from kernel.org.