Is Ubuntu set to become non-free?

by Sander Marechal

Last week at the Ubuntu Developer Summit the release goals for Feisty Fawn-scheduled to appear April 2007-were discussed and drawn up. Ubuntu's next version is aiming for some pretty good features such as a bullet proof and network roaming. There's one change that bothers me to no end though: composite by default.

Composite window managers quite popular lately. They allow for some pretty impressive 3D desktop effects on–par if not better than MacOSX or the upcoming Windows Vista and on much cheaper hardware to boot. The problem is that, in order to reach this goal, they want to install and configure binary video drivers by default, after which a popup will appear on your screen that will try to educate you about the free v.s. non-free driver issue. I have nothing against 3D desktops (aside from the eye candy I see potential to do some really neat stuff with it) and with the free Intel drivers and reverse engineered ATI drivers it's perfectly possible to try to enable it by default. Doing it with proprietry, binary 3D drivers for nVidia cards and new ATI cards is a firm slap in the face of long term Ubuntu users everywhere though.

Ubuntu is a great desktop distro and has always worked very well for me, but that is not the only thing that drove me to Ubuntu. I also like the Ubuntu philosophy. After all, when Ubuntu started there were several other good desktop Linux distributions, but they all contained many non-free elements. Ubuntu on the desktop is to me what Debian is to me on the server: free, open and better. The philosophy is quite clear (emphasize mine):

Ubuntu is a community driven project to create an operating system and a full set of applications using free and open source software. At the core of the Ubuntu Philosophy of Software Freedom are these core philosophical ideals:

  1. Every computer user should have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, share, change and improve their software for any purpose, without paying licensing fees.
  2. Every computer user should be able to use their software in the language of their choice.
  3. Every computer user should be given every opportunity to use software, even if they work under a disability.

Our philosophy is reflected in the software we produce and include in our distribution. As a result, the licensing terms of the software we distribute are measured against our philosophy, using the Ubuntu Licence Policy.

When you install Ubuntu almost all of the software installed already meets these ideals, and we are working to ensure that every single piece of software you need is available under a licence that gives you those freedoms. Currently, we make a specific exception for some "drivers" which are only available in binary form, without which many computers will not complete the Ubuntu installation. We place these in a restricted section of your system which makes them trivial to remove if you do not need them.

To recap: “Only free software, unless absolutely required”. I don't think that I am alone when I say that a 3D desktop is not an absolute requirement, so it looks like Ubuntu is abandoning it's own philosophy for Feisty Fawn. The arguement is that new converts are clamoring en masse for the 3D desktop. Enabling it by default will make many users switch from Windows or OSX to Ubuntu. There are two flaws in this reasoning:

  1. A 3D desktop—while great eye candy—will not solve some of the major problems new Ubuntu recruits have. Things like mp3 support, dvd and wmv playback, etcetera. Thát's what is holding back most Windows converts. The 3D desktop is just a very good looking bonus.
  2. User's rarely switch on their own. Most do because long time Linux users recommend them Ubuntu or even help them install it on their systems. What will happen when these long time users switch away and start recommending something else? Something more free? Ubuntu is drawing in the new crowds but it's partly doing so because the old hands recommend it.

All of a sudden gNewSense doesn't sound so rediculous. When I first read the gNewSense announcement I considered it mainly propaganda. It's just Ubuntu with the essential firmware mentioned in the Ubuntu Philosophy removed. But if Ubuntu starts shipping more than the required binary blobs then I will consider it a very viable alternative. Either that or just plain Debian.

The goals for composite by default and related goals are still in the drafing stage at the moment I write this. I really hope the Ubuntu developers come to their senses and support default composite only on free drivers. The popup from the driver education goal can work both ways. It can spawn a popup when I tick the “3D effects” tickbox on my preferences screen, detect I have an nVidia card and educate me about the free v.s. non-free issue. Only thén should it ask me if I still want to install the non-free drivers or if I prefer my system to remain Free. Thát is the proper way to handle it. Let free be the default and let users easily override it afterwards. Not the other way around.

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#1 J_K9 (

The problem is that many people cannot install Ubuntu without the proprietary drivers. I couldn't install Ubuntu on my laptop (which has an ATi X700XL) with the standard CD - I had to download the alternate CD, install Ubuntu, then grab a live CD, chroot in, download and install the proprietary driver, and then Ubuntu's GUI actually worked without crashing after the bootsplash.

There is another problem with the FOSS drivers: it is often fairly difficult to get the GUI to work at your screen's native resolution if it is not in the ratio 4:3, and some people cannot get it to work at all. Doing this with the proprietary drivers, however, is not an issue.

I don't see a problem with this. As long as it makes Ubuntu more usable and allows those who do not want to install them not to, I'm happy.

#2 jodgi

I'm sorry, but I really don't understand the problem. Why would it be so bad if non-free drivers are installed by default? I've noticed there is a debate these days, but I feel like I'm a kid trying to understand grownups talking politics over my head.

You want people to discover Linux (or no?). But most of us normal users won't understand the political importance in the free software question. In many cases there isn't a free alternative to the proprietry drivers. Why force users to "hack" their system to get things working?

Not trying to be difficult...
... I just don't understand.

#3 Sander Marechal (

K_K9 wrote:
The problem is that many people cannot install Ubuntu without the proprietary drivers. [...] it is often fairly difficult to get the GUI to work at your screen's native resolution if it is not in the ratio 4:3, and some people cannot get it to work at all.

I suppose that the bullet proof goal is aimed at fixing this—even with the free drivers.

As long as it makes Ubuntu more usable and allows those who do not want to install them not to, I'm happy.

As the goals are currently specified it looks like they will install the binary drivers by default if they are required to get AIXGL going. Then afterwards you get a popup or notification explaining that you are running non-free drivers. I'm advocating that it should be the other way around: Install the free drivers and educate a user when he explicitly enables the non-free drivers for 3D desktop effects.

jodgi wrote:
I feel like I'm a kid trying to understand grownups talking politics over my head.

Actually it's one of the longest running discussions in the FOSS world. Aside from the possible problems with the GPL (remember the Kororaa XGL spat) I don't have too much trouble with a distro including proprietry drivers and/or applications. Each to his own.

The problem I have is that Ubuntu claims to be a fully Free (as in freedom) distribution—forever. It's one of the reasons I use Ubuntu a lot and also why I recommend it to other people. Now Ubuntu seems to be backing away from that. A bad move IMHO. If I wanted a non-free distro with lots of binary drivers I would choose Mandriva 2007. But I want a free distro and I hope Ubuntu remains free.

#4 secoder

I understand the concerns about the proprietary drivers, but I also agree with other people about the problems derived from using free drivers. So the conclusion of your article is the right way to handle this subject. I always liked the free software world, just because you're free to choose, so I see that in that particular case, it has to be an option on boot or wherever to choose between the two options from the beginning. This way, people who has the ABSOLUTE necessity of the proprietary drivers will have the and the people more pure about free software will see Ubuntu as a good option still.
Don't you think?

#5 Anonymous Coward (

Read here why this is needed:

#6 Sander Marechal (

@Anonymous: Making something easy to install is completely different then instaling something by default. Please reread the last paragraph of my article for my proposal.

In short: a user that doesn't get AIXGL by default can check a checkbox on their preferences screen labeled "Enable 3D effects". A popup comes up explaining that binary drivers are needed for this function and why binary drivers can be bad. The user then simply hits the "Install binary drivers" button and everything happens automagically.

#7 Ollie


Isn't that a case of potato or pohtahto?

#8 DG

The idea that freedom and software are related is not the most common one. At least to to the majority of computer users. So, why push and force the ideology and the beliefs of particular group to the rest of us. Let the computer be what it is, the device for doing business and having fun.


#9 LivingTarget

I think most people won't care whether something is open or closed source as long as it's free. They will want to install the drivers anyway.

The best would be to include the drivers but not enable them and then make it easy to switch drivers. Of course I'm mainly talking about video drivers here and perhaps audio codecs.

I believe the strongest quality of Ubuntu is it's community and the fact that it's somewhat geared towards new users. I think new users will not care a dime about all these open source conflicts that've been there since the dawn of time.

Yes that's a simple view. It's also the view from a user, you seem more worried about it as a developers standpoint (even though you are a user). People like you seem to more interested in how it was made than how it actually performs.

But to each his own views. We will see by the time Feisty is out, I recommend withholding judgement until it's actually out.

#10 ryan moszynski

If you want to feed off the community without giving anything back, I don't really respect you, but I really don't have a problem with that sort of use. It is free software, both to the socially and morally conscious, as well as to others. I would ask though, to think twice about usage that deliberately undermines that which you have been using in the first place, if only for the reason that it continues to exist so you can use it, as well as the fact that it's just good manners and the right thing to do.

It was cold out the other day and I was standing outside a Starbucks waiting on the bus. A starbucks employee came out with a tray of free hot chocolate and handed them out to all of us who were waiting and freezing(it was the first snow, and it wasn't supposed to be that cold that day.) I accepted the kindness and said thank you, I DID NOT PUNCH THE GUY IN THE FACE. Which is what you are doing to the community when you install proprietary drivers. You are making your system less stable, as well as weakening the position of those who develop the software you are using in their demands for the major graphics card makers to freely document their hardware. This is a BIG DEAL. Your system is either Free or it isn't. All developers of Free software and most Developers of Open Source software Have been working to be able to make sure everyone can run free/open software on free open source operating systems for years. If you enjoy the fuits of their efforts, please don't undermine the process by using non-free drivers.

what novell did to the Free/Open Source software community with this deal, as well as their corporate users, as well as the supporters of open suse, who contribute to Novells Proprietary Linux.

#11 Firdaus Aziz

I think what people seem to be forgeting are the troubles, problems and restrictions they faced on windows / proprietary prior to migraiting to GNU/Linux. Won't the same problems crop up back in GNU/Linux if we let proprietary stuff in?

#12 Anonymous

I like this idea of making the drivers default. One of the first things I do is install the NVidia drivers. Now I won't have to worry about it. The only part of this I absolutely hate is the idea of a popup to "educate" me about it.

I am going to use the free binary drivers provided by NVidia so my card is fully supported. I don't care if it's not open source, it is still a free program.

And I really hope this gNewSense distro fails miserably.

#13 Anonymous Coward

I flat out do not like the free software as a religion movement. I have been using Linux for about three months now, several distributions and am very impressed. But, one oddity that has accompanied my thrill with the better distros is just how good Windows XP and the Win32 platform is.
1. It does not crash any more than PCLinuxOS or ubuntu
2. it will play audio and video streams off of the web that you guys can't play with all of your Linux knowhow.
There is good free security software for Windows that makes it pretty safe.

*** my point here is not to praise Microsoft. I hate them. Nor is it to laude or disrespect open source free software. My point can best be summed up as: any port in a storm will do, even the ones you have to pay for. The free software movement takes the ML King or Mahatma (sp.?) GHandi approach to making change. Not going to work. Avoiding proprietary drivers that vendors put out will just show them that they really don't need to recognize the Linux community afterall... If you want the video card manufacturers to release specs so that completely free open source drivers are better and maintain the virginity of the kernel, that will only happen when Linux users are more than a small minority of geeks. I assure you as someone pretty handy with Windows, making the switch to Linux is a PIA. As much as I like Linux I still catch myself wondering if all of the time to learn Linux and its apps has been worth it -very time consuming and a lot harder than anyone else I know would bother with. Therefore, to get what you want to have to sleep with the enemy. Market share and vendor interest will come when a lot of people are interested in Linux. Not gonna happen until people can get a decent monitor resolution without editing config files of the free drivers. The first thing I did when I installed Ubuntu was install automatix and add Everything. NOw it actually works. No Java, no Real Player, no proprietary codecs and your righteous free sytem sucks and won't do much.

#14 Sander Marechal (

Why do you people make this into a free v.s non-free issue? It's not—at least not for me. I run proprietry applications on top of Ubuntu. I have to. I develop websites and I have to make them IE compatible for my clients so I run Wine with ies4linux. Similarly I have no problems with distro's that pack proprietry drivers and applications. My problem is with Ubuntu.

Ubuntu made us, the community, a promise that it would remain free (as in freedom). They are about to break that promise.

Ubuntu was one of the first free (as in freedom) out-of-the-box functional desktop Linux distributions around. Thát's one of the reasons it has been adopted so fast and is recommended so much even by long time Linux users and FSF advocates. A move like this could mean Ubuntu looses support from these groups. That would be a shame. Ubuntu has skyrocketed over most other newbie desktop oriented Linux distro's because it's promise of being free. Not in spite of it. It should honour it's promise.

#15 kipster

Ubuntu needs to get rid of mono, add gpl'd java, stick with python. Don't include any non-free software by default. Perform usability testing, fix some of the basic problems.

#16 Anonymous Coward

Whoever wants an ubuntu that is 100% should install debian.
case closed.

on the other hand, binaries would make people use linux en masse.

amd announced his utility to translate direct x into open gl.
that's a lot more significant.

u want 100% distro ? great. just use slack, debian, knoppix, gentoo, u name it.

#17 Anonymous Coward

Thanks Sander. As you say, the key point is Ubuntu breaking its promise. Your solution makes sense both from a software licensing perspective, and a technical perspective- Ubuntu hasn't been particularly impressive so far with their quality control and making things work right anyway. I can already hear all the cries of pain from default Composite installs that don't work.

I wouldn't give up on Ubuntu yet, thought- it's still early and they're still hashing these issues out.

For anyone who is serious about understanding Free Software, and understands that there is a lot more at stake than just getting gigabytes of great software free of cost, Google is full of references. This is a good starting point:


#18 Jim March (

I think it's a bit extreme to say that loading a video driver binary blob equals "punching somebody in the face". UNLESS of course somebody hid something in Ubuntu that reports back to ATI or NVidea whenever some newbie loads up a system with a binary video driver?

Right, didn't think so.


There is a major, high-profile and high-security application out there that just screams out for a totally free software stack, from BIOS all the way up through application. Voting machines. Right now they're utter crapware running on top of Windows...the Diebold central tabulator of vote data for every county is running on MS-Access for God's sake. Long term, if computers are to be used in elections at all, they damn well better not have a spec of binary blob anything in 'em.

#19 Arron Lorenz (

I guess i don't see what the huge problem is... Ubuntu is also the ONLY DISTRO trying to get new users, they are actually trying to give people a reason to leave m$. The desktop user who wants to try a switch from m$ wants to be able to use their big bad video card... wouldn't it be easier if on the install it had a check box that said "Do not install any non-FOSS software." Or "I don't want good graphics"

#20 Anonymous Coward (

Y'know, I'm all in favour of making K/Ubuntu the most USER-friendly distro out there. (Currently I run Kubuntu Dapper) For those who are so entirely wrapped up in the politics of it that a non-free bit or byte is a life and death issue, Ubunut isn't your distro anyway. Try the gNewSense distro. All Ubuntu, none of the non-freedom.

PERHAPS this is why gNewSense was developed? With the intention of having a FREE (politically speaking) Ubuntu distro after Ubuntu goes non-free?

I think this is a good move. The new Windows convert doesn't give one rat's butt about the 'libre' aspect of things. They want a "FREE (beer)" replacement for Windows that JUST WORKS and if it looks super-cool, that's gravy.

It's like the old fight over proprietary software for linux ... WHY do people think that you CAN NOT run a proprietary app on linux? That kind of thinking would mean you can't run an open source app on Windows or OSX ... and we all know that's BS. But this is the kind of FUD that keeps apps from being ported. That and the remaining religious zealots.

#21 Anonymous Coward

Most of the people that don't care about the proprietary vs open debate only really care about free (as in beer) software. These are not the same people that made the community what it is today, so I say their vote doesn't count. You don't like it - go back to Windows. All your type does is come to Linux and say 'that's too hard, i don't get it, make it easier for me'. WHY? So I can have another stupid OS that stupid people use? That's not why I started using and contributing to Linux over 7 years ago. I already stopped purchasing my favorite distro (SuSE) as soon as Novell bought them out and with the MS/Novell deal I've started replacing all my SuSE machines. Lesson being - you go propietary, you stab those in the back that have made it what it is today. All of us will then leave to BSD or elseware and you will be stuck in the same boat you are now with Windows. Either stay with windows or respect Linux for what it is and what we have made it.

#22 The Vek

I dont see a problem with letting users decide whether to install free or non free software.

Its way better than having them trawl the forums and spend ages hacking in proprietary drivers, which they WILL DO anyways, probably messing up their system.

#23 Fr. Allen Bair

I have to agree with a lot of you. Like it or not, in order to draw in people to use it, you have to make it as easy as possible. This really isn't possible without proprietary software. In order to get things done, sometimes you have to be a pragmatist, and if the goal is to get Linux, the superior OS, into as many computers as possible, then you have to back off on the FREE software only soapbox. Besides, it's not like these companies actually make you pay for the software, they just won't let you have to source code. Boo-hoo. Get over it, and get with the program. Do you want to end MS dominance or not? Do you want the OEMs to adopt a distro of Linux or not? And like it or not, it is ok if someone wants to be paid for the code he has written. We can choose to not use his/her code if we don't want to pay for it. It is also ok if someone wants to be stingy and keep his code to himself. that's his prerogative. And if the rest of us want to ignore them, that's ok too.

#24 Anonymous

Guys calm down they are just drivers. You need them to let hardware run well on your desktop. Also, you aren't paying for them! I thought this argument was very stupid cause Canonical is doing the right thing by letting users have more flexibility. And with the arrival of Windows Vista, Linux, which compared to XP was ice cream to a trash can, is no longer "cool". Plus Ubuntu said their philosophy will not change, unlike Novell. I'm looking forward to the usual Ubuntu hardware detection with the power of desktop effects. (Imagine how great they will be in 6 months! I mean, in about 3 months so much was developed, and now we have more information to create much more high tech products.

#25 Elitegamer (

Its still not stable enough for a release

#26 Anonymous freakshow

One day all the hardcore foss zealots will be dead and this wont even be an issue :P

#27 Casey

Personaly I am a liberty first and formost kinda guy, that is why I began using GNU/linux in the first place. Not only am I able to do what I need to make my home computing experiance work the way I feel it should (even editing the scource if need be) but what is already programed is so much more flexable then any main stream os can provide out of box.

I know that the Ubuntu distro is a buisness and they have to not only make a profit, but also grow to survive, It would have been nice to see them do so while meeting my (too) high expectations.

p.s. isn't the release cycle of most video drivers much quicker then that of most distros? could it be better to install say the NV driver (i am an XF86 user) and let the user install the non free driver at there desire? Not only would they be given the right to choose, but they would also be able to get the latest available driver.

by the way I am not involved with the tech industry in any way, I am a framer/drywall hanger (construction worker) that uses a working desktop built off of LFS/BLFS(ish) with all free software.

#28 Paul (

Edgy Eft actually installs Composite by default as well. I installed (by choice) the ATI proprietary driver fglrx, and it wouldn't load until I specifically disabled Composite in xorg.conf It was using Composite with the radeon driver, which blows goats because it lacks hardware acceleration.

ATI's known for their horrible open source drivers (although I have not personally experienced them). However, it appears as though AMD's acquisition will now allow for better integration. See the DirectX to OpenGL converter. However, fglrx doesn't currently support Composite (which rains on my E17 parade...)

#29 Jim

This is getting ugly really quick. My two cents: The developers are TOO worried. Mandriva failed? Yes. Because of a few drivers? I think not. Mandriva failed because they wanted to basically sell a free OS (which failed miserably of course) and include much more than just non-free drivers as well as opened up a severely over-priced 'club' for people to download and run commercial software. Ubuntu will most likely not take that path. I think a fight over a few drivers that some people can not even startup without is taking a worry to the tenth power. "Microsoft signed a deal with Novell so Microsoft is going open-source..." Catch my drift? Start worrying when Ubuntu starts trying to resell commercial software (very unlikely).

#30 Cozmo

They allow closed source drivers and now the whole os is non free? That's what it sounds like by the title. This kinda stuff is why Linux may never have a decent share of the desktop market. LET IT GO!!!! At least they're not dealing with the devil like others we know ;).

#31 Anonymous Coward

Wrong answer, Ubuntu. I went with the distro because it is Free, as in Freedom. If it starts installing proprietary, unmaintainable shitware blob from nVidious and ATWhy, I will indeed choose another distro. For those MCSE-types that are saying, "oh, you just don't wanna pay, get over it," the issue here isn't about money and never was. It's about keeping your promise to be Free--as in Freedom. Ubuntu appears willing to break that promise.

Freedom--exemplified by the Free Software that we use today--is the most *pragmatic* thing that we could be using. Your "pr0n" doesn't come in anything other than .WMV? Well, maybe you should be doing something more productive with your life. If you want to be a MCSE sheep or a "1337 g4m0rz pr0n downloader" type, hey, MS Windows waits for you; have fun. I will stick with Free--as in Freedom--software. If that means I leave Ubuntu, then so be it.

#32 Anonymous Coward

"One day all the hardcore foss zealots will be dead and this wont even be an issue :P"

How do you think gnu/linux got where it is today?

#33 Chris

I love Linux and have made a lot of sacrifices to use it instead of of Windows.

But I can't understand why people almost turn it into a religion. And so many people are stuck with ideology.

This, in my opinion, is one of the things that will always hold Linux back.

First and foremost, I want an OS that is secure and easy to use. I really don't care much if a particular driver or application is free or non-free.

Can't people understand that there are not enough programmers out there to reverse engineer every driver for every new device that comes out? And even if there were, reverse engineer will cause a lag of several months to several years.

So it makes sense to encourage hardware makers to release a Linux driver for their products. But we can't expect all of them to release their source code for the drivers. Treo 650 has been out for a while but mine is still not working well in Ubuntu. So in a way, if we want devices to work immediately with Linux, we should expect non-free or non-open source drivers to be part of Linux.

#34 Andrew

This isn't about money.
This isn't about philosophy, at least not entirely.
This isn't about who is dealing with the devil.
This isn't about who is the devil.
This is about making software work properly.

You can't do that with an unmaintainable, uneditable, unstable, unknown, non-portable blob of binary-ness. You need to be able to edit the source to fix, optimize, improve, and port things.

And nobody's going to release the source of drivers if everyone is "happily" using the binaries, without even knowing it. I'll happily go back to Fedora if Ubuntu pulls crap like this, and I'll probably start actively working on open driver projects, just out of spite.

#35 Anonymous Coward

"Those who would give up any freedom for eye candy deserve neither freedom nor eye candy", as a wise man once said (one of the NTK guys I think?).

#36 A fellow who cam by digg (

You are very right. The issues preventing people to convert to Linux (or Ubuntu) are not a 3D desktop, but substantial stuff. To erode the "libre" part for non-essential features is a statement that freedom is not as important as it used to be.

#37 Anonymous Coward

The lack of critical thinking in this debate is astounding.

How does using a close source video driver inhibit your ability to communicate and share with others?

Freedom is about open file formats and open programming API's. Do you write code that directly interacts with closed source drivers? What do you lose if they pull that code from the market?

Think about the parts of the system you interact with. Your word processor, scripting language, database. These are things where open source matters.

#38 Anonymous Coward

I'm all for the free hardware movement. That is where it is really at. It all basically comes from our beautiful mother who gave birth to us all. How can we charge for the raw materials that are hers and not ours. And how can we charge for the time and energy it takes to fashion those raw materials into computer components.

That is the logical extension of the free software movement. Why should people get paid for making a stupid new case or a different hard drive cable but God forbid they want to make a profit on their time, education and knowledge that it takes to write software. I am going to continue to use Linux and Windows whichever is better for whatever I am doing and Linux will have all of the proprietary software that I can get installed.

#39 Anonymous Coward

I've been using linux for a very long time. I do want to see it widely adopted to desktop users too, but not at the price of what got us here.

#40 Ganesha Bhaskara

Usability is king. Getting things to work out of the box is what is sorely lacking in linux. (by the way, I exclusively use linux on my desktop and laptop and I have reasonable experience with things not working out of the box). Ubuntu is a step in the right direction. In a practical world, there will ALWAYS be non-opensource/FOSS software and the distro which will keep this distinction transparent to the user will win. How many people understand the difference or bother to try to understand or care. We as techies do care and sometimes passionately about closed Vs open source, but if we force everybody to understand this distinction, only the techies will be using Linux.


#41 Anonymous Coward

In the end, the market will decide. I'll bet on the distro that provides ease of use.

Come on people. I'll bet 99% of linux users download closed source software after they install their favorite 100% pure distro of choice. Java, multimedia codecs, network drivers, etc.

The reality, is that we live in a mixed software world. I'm all for FOSS. But until there is FOSS that can replace all proprietary software we will have to learn how to get along. Change will happen when the FOSS is recognized as superior software and software/hardware vendors come to realize that there is a benefit to them to open up the proprietary software. Change isn't going to happen because the religion of FOSS is forced on us. That will only push people away.

#42 Anonymous Coward

I may be the only linux user to not have tried Ubuntu yet.. but I downloaded the latest ISO and was going to install it when I had some free time to replace my outdated fedora distro. However, after reading how they have included the Mono project and some Mono applications and now this.. well I went ahead and deleted the file.

No Ubuntu for me.

#43 Clay (

Can't we simply draw a line at the driver level? Our idealism stays inside, the cruel corporate world (without which we wouldn't have the video card anyway) stays outside.

No one's suggesting anything proprietary beyond driver bins be a requisite install. From the APIs on down, everything anyone is likely to actually want to modify stays FOSS, right?

I could refuse to leave my home because I'm not allowed to rearrange the furniture anywhere else. And yet, I agree to temporarily enter environments where I do not have full access and control because they offer unique advantages to me, and allow me more full use of that over which I do have control.

#44 Debian (

Sander, Debian is waiting for you. Leave Ubuntu to it's target users.

#45 Sander Marechal (

I'm already getting my feet wet in Debian's pkg-gnome team, though I'm not an official Debian Developer yet.

#46 Anonymous Coward

I'm sorry to say, that users dont get a say in this, why.. you contribute nothing, yes, nothing.


*** Developers have all the power ***

If dealing with closed source annoys developers,they will go to a distribution that does not involve closed source hacks (Debian, Fedora, etc)

If anyone has a witty and sharp reply to this, I don't care, you are willing to give up your freedom for cheap thrills.

Ubuntu will break its promise.
Shuttleworth is using this as a profit vehicle.
Freedom will have the last laugh.

#47 Rafael

I do not understand the problem either. What is wrong with having closed source drivers in the distro? If a user wants to remove those non-free components and the OS lets her do so, what is wrong with having those components installed by default?

In my opinion Ubuntu takes the right direction. Usability and eye candy hopefully will draw more people to use linux. More users means more needs, more features to implement, which results in a better operating system.

I wish I see no difference in usability (and capabilities) between linux desktop (Ubuntu) and other commercial operating systems in my days. I wish to see companies developing software like Photoshop, Office, Visual Studio for Linux.

P.S. With or without those problematic binary blobs, I will use linux (Ubuntu) anyway.

#48 Andrea says

Problems with proprietary closed drivers? Forgetting that they can't be debugged/fixed, what about the recent exploit of the nVidia drivers?

Proprietary drivers are bad, no discussion. Said that, you are free to use whatever suits you better, it's (or should be) a free world...

#49 Anonymous Coward

> #33 Chris
>Posted on 2006-11-13@19:25
>I love Linux and have made a lot of sacrifices to use it instead of of Windows.
>But I can't understand why people almost turn it into a religion. And so many people >are stuck with ideology.

Religion isn't such a bad thing. Most of them outlive any company or project, commercial or not!

#50 Anonymous Coward

^^^^ Andrea (#48) got the point.
Proprietary drivers can't be :

which is the whole point of free software.

You're basically willing to sacrifice your freedom for convenience. We'll talk about convenience when you want to switch to freebsd or another linux kernel (such as a amd64 one) for which the binary driver is not available. Or when NVidia decides to pull the plug on the linux driver because it doesn't suit them anymore, and you already invested (as in money / research investment) a lot in your linux setup. (yes some people will invest in a linux setup, because they get the freedom and their project not being a slave to some other software company, think the OLPC project)

Some quotes to think about:

This isn't about money.
This isn't about philosophy, at least not entirely.
This isn't about who is dealing with the devil.
This isn't about who is the devil.
This is about making software work properly.

"GNU/Linux is a free software printer driver gone horribly wrong"

Linux isn't about being popular software, it's about being good software.

Please fight for the right to read.

#51 Anonymous Coward

^^^ #51

I forgot : proprietary drivers can't be SHARED either. but that's not a strong point with drivers because they are tied to the hardware, as it is with other software..

#52 Anonymous Coward

It's not politics, it's purely pragmatic.

Binary blobs are unmaintanable and do not promote knowledge. Therefore they are not only unusable but they also defeat the reason the GNU and Linux came to life. Instead of wasting keystrokes telling people how "it shoud all work out of the box" drop an email to your video card manufacturer and ask him to release the specs for your chip. Then you will see whether the open source drivers will be any good

#53 Adrian

I think if there should be two different versions of Feisty Fawn one for people who agree and one version for people who dont, therefore everyone is happy.


#54 Brian McKenna (

Debian isn't even fully free software any more. It was getting harder to find a quality distribution with only free software - which I think is very disappointing.

Now that gNewSense has come along, it has patched the hole. gNewSense takes an already good distribution and makes it 100% free. That's exactly I wanted.

#55 Jari

You seem to have covered the most here. One more point though. Linux drivers run in kernel space, which means no memory protection and direct access to all of the kernel if there is a bug/exploit out there. Like with the nvidia driver.

#56 pambuk (

Well, I don't like this move, even now I sometimes consider moving from Gnome to simpler window managers due to limited resources of my machine. I like fancy graphics, but...

Basically, I'm with Sander.

#57 tyme (

Get off it. The drivers are there, and just because they aren't OSS doesn't mean they can't be made available. This sort of attitude only hurts the OSS community by blocking out companies that are doing what they can to support the OSS community. Unfortunately in a capitalistic society there are people who aren't going to be OK with driver information being out in the open - that's fine, it's the choice of the person/company who makes the driver. And the OSS community always touts choice as one of it's banner ideals. Yet, we refuse to let companies choose between providing binary drivers and providing open source drivers. We want to force them to go OSS, and that my friends is hypocrisy - to claim choice as a leading ideal and turn around and attempt to force others to follow only our way of thinking.

I'm a Linux user. I'm a Linux fan boy even - but this is just crap, IMHO. So let them choose, and get off this ridiculous high horse.

#58 Luiz Guilherme brazil

Once I found a pretty good thing called Automatix, which is a simple downloader where you can tune up Ubuntu with a single click (really mac OS style). And it did a good job. So I'm wondering if it could do the same with Feisty Fawn instead of looking for proprietary drivers. I believe all repositories have similar drivers to replace those copyrighted ones. All sort of problems, such as mp3 and DVD capabilities were solved while I was having dinner with my girl.

Also, I do not believe that free software is a big tide fading away after so many years of struggle. This is simply a matter of keeping the Linux Philosophy alive. Nothing more, nothing less than it.

#59 Anonymous Coward

There is _*NO*_ point in running GNU/Linux with proprietary stuff. What's the difference between GNU/Linux and Mac OS, Windows, HP-UX, Solaris, OS/2?

I don't want my operating system to become yet another proprietary environment.

Guess I'll have to switch to BSD...

#60 merlot

I can't underscore how important and how correct Sander Marechal's arguments are on this topic. Read his points carefully. He's not advocating people not use proprietary drivers or applications that adds particular features they want, he's simply saying proprietary software should not be part of the default install - that is that part of the install over which you have no choice. Further he's saying that Ubuntu should allow users to choose for themselves if they install software having licenses that can restrict their ability to modify, copy or distribute that system. In essence he's arguing for informed choice. You can still install all the apps you want.

The vast majority of K/Ubuntu developers I estimate migrated to K/Ubuntu not because of technology but because of Ubuntu's commitment to the opensource legal framework ( ie; GPL licensing ) that made Linux and its family of applications possible. Its this same legal framework that will encourage development of new features and applications, that will also be free to use, copy & distribute.

Those who argue that 1). "All I want is my free software, and I want everything I get with M$ to work out of the box", and 2). "Its just a bunch of zealots arguing about some arcane technicality", both fail to understand the argument and what's at stake.

Those in the industry know that opensource initiatives are constantly under attack by proprietary interests hell bent to take away your ability to use, modify and distribute software. Those same interests know if they can taint the OS with restrictive licenses they can legally erode some of the most important of those freedoms, along with the developer contribution that made it possible.

If you enjoy the Linux software you are using and you want to continue to have new free software please consider Sander's points. His solution gives everyone what they need while preserving the environment for the future.

If Ubuntu ever breaches its commitment to the spirit of opensource - we'd definitely drop them for a distro that truly lives up to the meaning of "Ubuntu".

#61 Rohan Dhruva

*sigh* I don't understand the issue here - why cringe about free / non free when the first thing that 99% users do after installing (k,x)ubuntu is open

#62 Cliff Landin

Why would anyone want to install Ubuntu? It is just a bloated Debian distro. I have tried Breezy Badger and Hoary Hedgehog (stupid names) and always go back to Debian Sarge or more recently Debian Etch.

They are both more stable than Ubuntu and way more slimmed down. The sudo function is rediculous. Why not just su and then do what you want rather than constantly having to type sudo?

Lose the bloat and go straight! Straight to Debian and never look back!

#63 Anonymous Coffee Drinker

There are some comments on that nicely summarize my feelings on binary blobs. (No, I am not posting this to bring BSD into the discussion.)

Feel free to ignore the (well-intentioned but somewhat silly) lyrics, and get right to the point:

"... Blobs are vendor-compiled binary drivers without any source code. Hardware makers like them because they obscure the details of how to make their hardware work. They hide bugs and workarounds for bugs. Newer versions of blobs can weaken support for older hardware and motivate people to buy new hardware."

"Blobs are expedient. Many other open source operating systems cheerfully incorporate them; in fact their users demand them."

"But when you need to trust the system, how do you check the blob for quality? For adherence to standards? How do you know the blob contains no malicious code? No incompetent code? Inspection is impossible; you can only test the black box. And when it breaks, you have no idea why."

This is not about zealotry. This is about high-quality, maintainable, secure software.

#64 Michael Biddulph

I don't have a problem with doing things this way.

I want my nvidia card to work with as little bullshit as possible. I don't want a relationship with my OS, just to use it.

So I'll pass on the religious aspect and let them "Make it so, Number One"

#65 Kevin Dean

Linux was built on the goals, beliefs, skills, talents and mind bending bug squashing sessions of the developers. These developers licensed under the GPL, the LGPL, BSD or one of several other "free" licenses. These programs, from the simple (ls, anyone) to the complex, are the brain children of those developers. They chose those licenses because they were the best, and other coders agreed. For anyone who says it should just be "easy to install" just take a second to reflect how "easy" it would be to install anything without the contributions of those people.

If you want an operating system that is easy to use and supports lots and lots of hardware, I can point you to Google. In a decade, with lots of Googling, you might write an operating system that does that. Until then, you're stuck with Windows, which barely works or Linux, which takes a lot to make it work. Nothing's perfect, not your operating system, and certainly not you. Until you make a contribution to improve the state of things, do you earn the right to complain.

You don't want a relationship with your computer, fine. Use WIndows. You can grab one of several versions from any decent BitTorrent site and have it up and running in about an hour, for FREE! If you're not doing that, then price ISN'T what drives you to Linux, stop using strawmen to distract from the issue, and accept the lay of the land.

There's an arguement that Linux should be "this" way because "99%" of people want it a certain way... I kind of like the idea of a perfect democracy, where everyone's voice is totally equal. But... You're not there. You're in Linux land. Here, if you don't contribute, or at least have the good sense to shut up, you're not wanted. THAT is where people get lost in the "Why does it matter". It matters because Linux is Free (speech). We're not a commercial entitiy making profit, we're users, programmers and artists who want the best OS we can make. The simple truth is "WE DON'T CARE IF YOU USE LINUX". If you're not CONTRIBUTING to Linux, you're MORE useless than a non-user, because you go and talk and spread mis-information about Linux.

#66 vandix (

Wow I think it's good.

#67 Anonymous Coward

I am using composition on my system right now with AIGLX and open source r300 drivers for my r400 x800 pcie card.

Work fine.

3d composition doesn't require propriatory drivers unless you only have propriatory drivers for certain cards.

#68 Shadow (

This is a comment I posted on Digg under an another article, but sice it's inspired by Ubuntu becoming more non-free by default, I'll post it here as well.

As I see it, there are now two groups of people. One wants Linux to be a free OS, the other wants a replacement for Windows, ignoring the freedom. More and more proprietary components are included by default in many distributions to attract more users of the latter group. This tells third parties to stick to their proprietary way of "supporting" Linux, tainting Linux and killing the advantages of the freedom (at least in case of proprietary kernel modules, proprietary apps are relatively OK).

But in case of Linux, freedom is not just an optional extra, it's a vital source for advantages. Proprietary components in the kernel tend to cause problems that Linux developers cannot solve. Things like stability or security can be compromised. Problems that cause some people to run away from Windows can now be introduced to Linux as well. As a result, people might even lose reasons to make the switch. And those currently using Linux might begin to consider switching to another OS.

Well... to be honest, I strongly hope that this is just my wild speculation with extra portion of fear.

#69 Anonymous Retard

If you consider having a dual-boot for your computer, you can get pretty much everything you want (linux for the internet, windows for eye-candy and cutting-edge gaming).

#70 Ganesha Bhaskara

Including binary blobs to support proprietary hardware does not take away anybody's freedom. User and developers alike have the freedom not to use proprietary hardware. If protecting information in the drivers for financial or IP reasons is a part of the business model of a HW vendor, forcing such vendors to open source such drivers will only drive them away from Linux. If Linux has to be a viable on the desktop, Linux distros MUST support the devices in the market with drivers open or otherwise.

#71 David Russell (

With so many zealots like you out there it's no wonder that all the Linux distros combined still have less desktop market share than Mac OS.

#72 Xorbit

"First and foremost, I want an OS that is secure and easy to use. I really don't care much if a particular driver or application is free or non-free."

These two statements contradict each other. Linux has reached its current quality (secure and pretty easy to use) only BECAUSE it is free and open source. If it hadn't been free (libre), it would just be another Windows (pretty easy to use but insecure). In fact, if it hadn't been free, it would probably be non-existent today because it wouldn't have offered any advantages over Windows. So you do care, you just don't realize it. You care about the effect without acknowledging the cause.

How much proprietary software does it take to break this advantage? For something as invasive as a driver running in kernel mode, one vulnerable or malicious driver may be enough to make the system insecure or unstable. That is why I care. Anything non-free can't go through the quality control/peer review that is inherent to open-source software and that makes it great. I think that makes it worth fighting for to keep as much as possible free and open source. If you don't care about that, then please keep using Windows and don't try to turn my Linux into just another Windows.

I personally do have the binary nVidia drivers, win32codecs and flash plugin loaded on my home PC, but that was my choice. I want to be able to choose for myself if I accept that risk, and that is all that Sander is saying here. If I was running a business for instance, I would NOT want them on any computer, just like I wouldn't want to run Windows on any computers with sensitive data either.

#73 Anonymous Coward

Could somebody please explain to me how binary drivers are non-free? I have a number of computers at home and go to whatever graphics card manufacturers site and get updates to drivers for my hardware and nobody has ever asked me to pay for these updates nor questioned whether I even had the hardware in the first place.

Perhaps it would be better for people opposed to this move to say closed source instead of non free?

just my two cents

#74 Anonymous Coward

--62 Cliff--
"The sudo function is rediculous. Why not just su and then do what you want rather than constantly having to type sudo?"

In Ubuntu, you can enter the command: sudo passwd
This will enable the root account, allowing you to use su.

#75 Anonymous Coward

Wot is this about free drivers. I couldn't get the non-free drivers to work so I went back to the free ones they work fine with my twin screens of different sizes and aspect ratios. One digital and one analogue. Non free drivers should be a last resort.

#76 Anonymous Coward

73 - free is about freedom not about money.

#77 Anonymous Coward

As an "ordinary" user I'll toss in my 2cents . I do not belive it should be necessary to enable propietary drivers by default , but that simple and clear instructions for doing so should be provided (ie ones that a fresh from windows newbie can follow). I also believe that the "purists" should not flame those of us who choose to use propietary drivers. I bought an nvidia card , that purchase conveys to me the "liscense" to use their drivers. My primary concern as an "ordinary" user is the functionality of my system , by preference where there is an equilivent open souce ( or even nearly equivalent ) solution , I choose that .Where there is a significant advantage to a proprietary driver or package I will choose that.It is MY system and I am damn well "free" to use it in any way I please .
As a specific example I watch space launches on NASATV and don't feel the least bit "impure" by firing up RealVideo to do so.(the only other choice would be WMP). If you think less of me for using non opensource software tough.
BTW the last version of windows I used was 98 ( it came with the box) and that was dual boot (using LiLo ) with caldera openlinux 1.0. Instead of preaching about how "pure" people should be , mabye you would advance the cause of Linux ( any distro) more by making sure that the things that people want ( yes I said want not need) are available and easy to access and use.If you think that the way to seduce windows drones to linux is to tell them that "eyecandy" isn't good for them ,here do it the right way use the cli, then linux will remain an also ran.

#78 Petrus

There's a simple answer. Use Debian or some other distro that doesn't do this. That way you get what you want, and the majority get what they want.

#79 pvdg

The answer is simple: no proprietary drivers by default. Ubuntu users can already install non-free (restricted and multiverse repos) if they want to. But they can choose not to. I think this is the right balance and that is the way it should be.

#80 Categorical Emperator. (

Installing binary drivers over the kernel taints the GPL2 license, in my opinion . Canonnical LTD, can do watherer it pleases, likes, but as consequence do not expect to get support from ad-honorem volunteers from any other Gnu development projects..
As pvgd says
Ubuntu users can already install non-free (restricted and multiverse repos) if they want to. But they can choose not to.
Ubuntu users,(maybe developorers) have enough knowledge, or else too much about licenses. They are already making there own icons of every single project derivated from GPL (mozGPL....etc....etc...etc....)
because they can distribute the source but not the trademark.....
Lately everyone naming LInux/GNU switched that "pharse/name" for Ubuntu..
And that's very annoying for someone who never liked ubuntu/debian based systems. It's almost like obligating any Gnu user that do not use a debian based OS, to at least know something how to sudo apt-get Ubuntu's, and any other ubuntu's ways, here there and everywhere that's statement is againts freedom

I ll open a bottle of wine and celebrate any of the upcoming releases of Gnewsense


#81 Anonymous Coward The Third

It's not about free or non-free.

It's about default.

Anyone arguing about anything else is just muddying the waters.

#82 Anonymous Coward

It is an interesting debate. I like the FOSS movement, and have enjoyed the challenge of getting Linux to wrk. However, I have also spent DAYS! getting my OSs to work properly, when I know that M$ would have workede quite well (for a while) to start with. If the OpenSource drivers were available and good(like the sis ones I use are, I use them. If not, I need my coputer working, and look forward for when those who can develop really good drivers do. I have learnt a massive amount of propgramming (which I am now using in my workplace) simply from studying the sources on my computer, and using online references. However, I cannot yet develop drivers/decent software, so I cannot really help the OpenSource community as much as i'd like. when I can, I will, but M$ ain't going to help me much is it!
I hope Ubuntu choose to use free drivers by default, as per their policy, and give the options where available. That way, I can learn what I want to learn, ready to give back to the FOSS community, but I still get a computer system that makes the people I show it to go 'Wow!!'

#83 Sander Marechal (

I know that M$ would have workede quite well (for a while) to start with.

That's actually one of the oldest myths still around. It's next to impossible to install vanilla Windows XP retail on any machine built in the last three years. At a minimum you need access to someone else's PC and the internet to get yourself a whole slew of drivers. OEM versions kinda work yes, but not vanilla retail versions of XP.

If you buy a PC with Linux preinstalled all hardware works out of the box too.

#84 Anonymous Coward

Benjamin Franklin said:
Those who are willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.

Freedom is not something granted. One must fight for it all the time. Those people who don't understand the issue are just parasites. They want to have everything for free. They not only use pirated proprietary software, but also live off crackers and then switch their hosts to OSS developers. Here you have the answer why the proprietary software is infested with spyware and other parasites - birds of feather flock together. So, users, don't ever whine about being used.

Long live OSS developers!

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