[Mageia-dev] free software purity question

Johnny A. Solbu cooker at solbu.net
Thu Jul 19 17:48:40 CEST 2012

On Thursday 19 July 2012 16:31, Frank Griffin wrote:
> All CPUs contain microcode or some programming 
> equivalent, even going back to the days of gates wired in series. You 
> may get a Principles of Operation manual that tells you what the 
> instructions (are supposed to) do in detail, but that's not the same as 
> seeing the "source" (microcode or wiring) that makes it happen, and it 
> certainly doesn't allow you to change it at will.

I am not talking about the hardware. If I want to change the hardware I have to make something myself, or more realistically, replace it.
Don't mix the actuall hardware with the software that makes it work.

> Free Software is about not removing your ability to examine and modify 
> things you can reasonably be expected to have the skills and equipment 
> to examine and modify.  

That is exactly my point.

> Most of us don't have the ability to manufacture  
> our own disk controllers or interrupt controllers. Yet both of those 
> contain closed-source custom programming, and nobody seems to think 
> twice about using them in FS environments.

If it cannot be changed without replacing the chip or hardware, then it is hardware. Stallman said this himself in many of the various speaches he'd made.
But if it can be changed by flashing the chip with new software/firmware/biios, then we should have the sourcecode and freedom to do what we want with it.

> Personally, I think that the reasonable lower limit on "free" 
> expectations is the ability to burn your own BIOS ROMs if you wish to.  

Yes. BIOS is also firmware. :-)=

> As far as hardware devices that are built with custom programming, I 
> don't see any distinction between wired logic, immutable ROMs, or 
> flashable/loadable firmware.  Those are all just aspects of how the 
> manufacturer supports the device (assuming he does).  Loadable firmware 
> may make it simpler for the manufacturer to supply updates and easier 
> for you to get fixes, but it's no more closed than wired logic is.

That's where the difference of opinion is.
I have the same opinion on this as Stallman and FSF have. If it can be changed/replaced by using software (i.e. flashing the hardware), we should have the sourcecode with the four freedoms.
If I don't need to install a non-free package to make the device work, then I don't have a problem with it. I mean, I use computers with non-free BIOS. I don't have to install something to make the BIOS work with my operating system.

> In economic terms, what you seem to be asking for is absolute 
> unbundling, 

No. I just want to be able to change the software that is needed to make the hardware work. How they solve that is not my concern. They can release free drivers and firmware, or they can document how it works, and have the community make the drivers. I don't remember who or where, but there exist a community that is willing to make the drivers. All they need is the documentation on how the device works, and they will make drivers and if needed, firmware.

> where every manufacturer is limited to making one and only  
> one thing 

They already make only one thing: The hardware. The firmware and drivers only interact with the hardware to make it do what we want it to do.

> That works best when "commons" are involved, e. g. infrastructure that 
> can only have one owner, just as the fiber optic cable in a town or the 
> POTS copper cable.  In those cases, whoever granted the monopoly 
> (usually local government) can classify the resource as a public utility 
> and require the owner to rent its capacity to anyone who has the price.  
> This is what happened years back in the U.S. with telephone service and 
> dial-up ISPs, where the phone companies were told they couldn't refuse 
> to carry data traffic for independent ISPs at competitive rates.

Again you are confusing hardware with software. I am not talking about having the hardware manufacturrs to publish blueprints on their hardware, only document how it works. There's a difference.

> If I design a graphic card and I'm not 
> allowed to bring it to market until I can convince one or more 
> independent software development companies to do the programming with an 
> open, documented interface, I may not be able to financially survive the 
> delay.

Which is not at all what I'm discussing. You can publish the driver/firmware as Free Software, and the Free Software community will happily buy your hardware just like any other hardware. They migth even prefer and recommend it.

> Theoretically, if the market wants me to document the interface  
> so that others can compete with me on the firmware, it will punish me if 
> I don't.  But in the meantime, I have the opportunity to make early 
> profits that will allow me to cover the overhead of doing that later on.

I have no problem with that. That only means that those of us who insist on Free drivers and firmware will be looking for other hardware that have free drivers, untill the time comes that you publish free drivers/firmware.

> Most people will weigh the inconvenience against the probability that they or anyone 
> acting on their behalf will ever exploit that freedom.

I am not most people. ;-)=

Johnny A. Solbu
PGP key ID: 0xFA687324
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