back to article Big changes coming in Debian 12: Some parts won't be FOSS

The next major release of Debian will ship installation images that are not 100 percent free open source software. If you decide to try Debian GNU/Linux, even if you ignore the multitude of Debian derivatives and remixes, there remains an important and non-obvious choice to make: which image do you download? Aside from the …

  1. entfe001

    Debian 12 should appear some time in the middle of 2023 (but beware of the typo in that post).

    You could have pointed to the corrected announcement...

  2. steelpillow Silver badge

    The installer

    This is just including non-free in the temporary installer which runs in RAM and vanishes when its job is done. It makes extreme sense for the installer to "just work" on the widest possible range of hardware.

    It makes no sense to push dishonour onto a hard drive when the user does not wish it to be there. Despite the impression given in the article, such users are still honoured. Last time I installed Debian, the installer offered me the explicit choice; did I want to accept non-free stuff in the main build or not? As far as I am aware, that has not changed.

    1. ChoHag Silver badge

      Re: The installer

      Strictly speaking if you're going the pure free route, once the non-free code has had its chance to hit your CPU the game is over no matter what gets saved on the hard drive for later.

      However firmware never actually hits the CPU as code so the question is moot and this winds up being a move in the right direction.

      Question: How is a user's honour affected when the same firmware is loaded into the co-processor from a ROM baked into the hardware rather than from temporary or removable storage?

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: The installer

        "Question: How is a user's honour affected when the same firmware is loaded into the co-processor from a ROM baked into the hardware rather than from temporary or removable storage?"

        I'm not sure where "honour" comes into it in the first place, but one risk with having blobs loaded at startup instead of loaded from ROM is the distribution rights. If the hardware manufacturer includes a license either restricting or putting conditions on who can distribute the blob, then an OS that includes it could be responsible for following those terms. That could include things like not allowing it to be used in certain industries, which is against the guidelines for free software and which the distro maintainers don't have any logical way to prevent anyway. When the blob is in ROM, then the distro provider doesn't have to follow any license as they're not distributing any code covered by the proprietary license.

        1. RichardBarrell

          Re: The installer

          This is why OpenBSD always asked manufacturers for an explicit license to redistribute the firmware.

  3. VoiceOfTruth Silver badge

    Seems like a pragmatic idea

    -> If your internet connection is via Wi-Fi, for instance, there is a strong probability that the default Debian ISO will not be able to bring up Wi-Fi

    I have been in this position with Debian. While I knew how to solve it, I can easily imagine how utterly arcane this would look to a person new to Debian or to Linux in general.

    I applaud Debian's puritan attitude towards FOSS, but it has cost them dearly over the years. It is a lost argument to talk about FOSS firmware when somebody just wants to get on line.

    1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

      Re: Seems like a pragmatic idea

      Exactly. If there are wizards who know how to get wifi working without a non-free blob, more power to them. I have done the firmware both ways. If I need to download the drivers separately, it's just one more item on a pre-installation checklist. Even then, it only works for me because I have *another*, already connected computer. I pity the one who takes the plunge with Linux on their only PC, to find out afterwards they missed a step ... and in order to get connected to the internet they need to go online and download some firmware. Oh wait.

    2. Nate Amsden Silver badge

      Re: Seems like a pragmatic idea

      Arcane even for a Linux veteran.

      Back in 2016 I replaced/upgraded from my old Toshiba Tecra A11 which ran Linux Mint 17, to a Lenovo P50(using it right now still), which I also put Linux Mint 17 on, everything seemed fine. Wifi didn't work but I didn't know that (yet) because I had no need for wifi at home my laptop stays wired.

      Fast forward 2-3 months..

      I moved out of my home, put my stuff in storage. Was going on a 3 month trip(and moving to another city when I got back). Checked into a hotel near the airport and tried to get my laptop on Wifi. It did not work. I was confused.

      After some research on my phone I determined that the default kernel in Mint 17 was too old, and that the Intel wifi drivers for my chipset only worked on the newer kernel. That just seemed absolutely insane to me, as someone who has run with Linux on their desktop since 1998. I was running a still fully supported distro (at the time), with what was in my opinion, a very conservative hardware configuration (chosen in large part due to Linux support).

      I have no problem compiling or installing a 3rd party driver, but the Intel website that had the code made it clear the driver would not work on any kernel less than version X (I don't recall the version number exactly). After maybe an hour or so I managed to get all the software I needed downloaded to my phone and then transferred to my laptop over USB to get wifi working.

      But even then it had issues, so I made a "wireless-fix" shell script which from what I see just ran "rmmod iwlmvm; rmmod iwlwifi; modprobe iwlwifi", which got wireless working again in a few seconds when it crapped out.

      Since re-installing with Mint 20 a few months after it was released (wanted a fully fresh/clean install, Mint 17 is still configured as another boot item in grub) haven't had to use that script though my wireless usage has been pretty minimal since.

      I've never advised anyone to use Debian as their laptop/desktop if they are a newbie, unless they are prepared for some extra work to get stuff going. As per the article myself I stopped using original Debian on my desktops/laptops probably around the time Ubuntu 7 or 8 came out I don't remember, switched to Mint(for MATE) after Ubuntu 10.04LTS went EOL. I continued to use Debian on all of my personal servers up until Devuan came out and switched to it. At work my servers have been Ubuntu for the past 12 years now (originally didn't like it as before I was always RHEL/CentOS on work servers, even though I was Debian/Ubuntu at home).

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Seems like a pragmatic idea

        "Wifi didn't work but I didn't know that (yet) because I had no need for wifi at someone who has run with Linux on their desktop since 1998."

        Rookie mistake! :-)

        Anyone running Linux since that far back ought to know to check out all the hardware and drivers to see what works directly after the install finishes and long before the sudden and urgent need to use it. Back in 1998 it was rare for *any* laptop to be fully hardware compatible out of the box with any version of Linux/

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @VoiceOfTruth - Re: Seems like a pragmatic idea

      This was never about purism or ideology. This was about the threat of lawsuits. As doublelayer is saying, if the provider of the blob changes his mind and decides to impose conditions for the distribution of his work then any distribution is toast. They can pack their things and go home. This means the distro will have to track each download via serial number, genuine software activation etc. as well as prevent/control copying and redistribution and so on. All distros will become encumbered like Microsoft software but without generating any revenue.

      1. FeRDNYC

        Re: @VoiceOfTruth - Seems like a pragmatic idea

        Nice FUD, but a license is a no-backsies agreement. Something obtained under a valid license doesn't magically become "un-licensed" just because someone "changed their mind".

        When firmware providers supply their blobs for inclusion in Linux distros, they do so under a license that allows redistribution. A hardware vendor can certainly decide to discontinue that practice and stop contributing any newer firmware, but it doesn't make the firmware they already contributed suddenly non-redistributable. Nor does it obligate Debian or anyone else to hunt down any previously-downloaded copies and terminate them with extreme prejudice.1

        The Linux Vendor Firmware Service has already made the appropriate sacrifices to the requisite slavering horde of IP lawyers, to have covered everyone's collective asses on this stuff.


        1. (Even with illegally-distributed content — which a "change-of-heart" firmware would not be, anyway — a distributor's obligations typically don't extend past halting further distribution of the illegal content. When a company, say, releases a movie they haven't secured complete rights to, they may be required to recall and destroy all of the unsold copies, but they aren't required to hunt down the purchased copies. They may run a buy-back/replacement program for buyers who want a refund or a corrected copy, but it's still up to purchasers of the "bad" version whether they choose to avail themselves.)

  4. cornetman Silver badge

    Excited to see what Pipewire can offer us.

    Long had a lot of problems with Pulse Audio and the fact that we have to go to a separate system, Jack, for audio production makes audio unnecessarily convoluted in Linux.

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

      Be careful what you wish for.

      Pipewire is a long way from competing with Jack. Apparently it doesn't like rt kernels, and in a pure audio creation setup it's difficult to direct audio from exactly where you want, to exactly where you want without anything else coming along for the ride. Oh, and you won't get anywhere near the low latencies possible with Jack.

      1. cornetman Silver badge

        Things are changing:

        I'm sure that things will improve over time.

        1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

          Late addition

          Dunno if anyone reads this far back but in his next vid, he explains why he's reverted to using Jack.

  5. captain veg Silver badge

    I don't know if it's a good idea, but...

    ... it might make life a little easier.

    On hardware that I'm confident will work out of the box, I prefer to install Debian. So that's most laptops ruled out. Or anything else that I want to connect over WiFi. (Give me an RJ45 any day, unless the device regrettably hasn't got one of those, obviously, or I need to use it nowhere near a wall, such as right now perched on the dining room table.)

    If not, then something more pragmatic. Mint, in fact.

    I've nothing personal against the Ubuntu guys, nor those that turned it into Mint. In fact I'm very grateful to all of them. But I'd rather eliminate as many layers as possible, so this could be a turning point for me. On my next machine... perhaps.


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @captain veg - Re: I don't know if it's a good idea, but...

      Linux Mint Debian Edition. This will cut out one middleman.

  6. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    good move imho

    good move imho. just provide a "no BLOBs" checkbox if someone really doesn't want them? Really, though, for me there's a distinction between closed source software (not portable to other cpu architectures, could have dependency problems down the road if they don't update it, etc.) and binary blobs (they have some stuff that would have been in a rom on the device 25 years ago load into ram instead, it's running on the wifi card or whatever, not on the main cpu.)

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: good move imho

      Yes. Asking a "noob" if they want to install "non-free" drivers and/or software is something they may or may not understand, not tick the box and lead to a non-working system and a bad experience.

      On the other hand, turning it on default and asking the user if they want to turn it of, the "noob" will most likely leave it and those who really don't want non-free stuff will know enough to make an informed choice to turn it off. It may be one of the rare occasions where on by default is the best option.

  7. karlkarl Silver badge

    I'm not entirely sure the whole premise is correct. What firmware is needed during the installer?

    GPU firmware? Really a text installer should be used until you have enough of the environment installed and set up to tackle X11 / Wayland config properly. Just loading up a GUI installer and "hoping" everything is working is a little bit flippant. I think even Windows keeps to the basic VGA drivers until installed.

    Network firmware? I don't even recommend installing an OS whilst online. Again a completed install along with correct firewall and verification of listening ports should be done before you put the machine anywhere near a network.

    Bluetooth firmware? Bluetooth isn't supported by the GUI or cli installer anyway.

    Audio firmware? I don't believe there is a text to speech reader (Knoppix Adriane is pretty good for those interested)

    The only firmware I can see as useful is for specific SATA / NAS / disks but much of this stuff is needing to use the CLI installer / manual setup that the guys with this kind of hardware probably know how to add the firmware files for their hardware.

    So personally I don't think firmware is a problem (and platform agnostic firmware blobs don't particularly annoy me compared to unportable driver blobs) but I think people are possibly installing the OS in a sloppy error prone way.

    1. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

      "Network firmware? I don't even recommend installing an OS whilst online. Again a completed install along with correct firewall and verification of listening ports should be done before you put the machine anywhere near a network."

      except with no binary blobs, you have no wifi (and possibly no ethernet if you have the relatively few ethernet devices that require firmware to operate), so you have no choice about getting your machine anywhere near a network; i know how to download extra .deb packages (for the missing firmware) on another system, copy them over and install them but many don't, and it"s a PITA either way.

      And as for why you'd want it during install, there are those who prefer the updated packages to be downloaded and installed at install time, rather than installing from media then (if the media isn't pretty recent) having the first update be this massive update with months of updates in it.

    2. Steve McIntyre

      >Audio firmware? I don't believe there is a text to speech reader (Knoppix Adriane is pretty good for those >interested)

      The Debian installer has included text-to-speech for a number of years already. Newer machines are starting to need audio firmware to be able to use that at all, and we care about supporting blind / partially sighted users.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Debian Psychology

    It is always interesting to me to look at the though process of Debian users and the broader community. Points that were handled non-controversially a decade ago in the majority of other distros send people into fits and spasms. Like in this case, the Distro has relaxed its stance on allowing non-free software into the default install bundle so most users can complete an install successfully on common hardware. Literally just aligning the default download with the most common use case. Still optional to use or not use it. Anyone who really, really, needs that "pure" free image can grab it, and if that is a real usage requirement for them they probably have vetted their hardware build list too.

    Some people seem to be pretty wound up over this(more other places then here), and others can't grasp that having to boot a different OS to deal with firmware updates might not be ideal.

    But the idea that once "non-pure" software hits the CPU "the game is over"... that statement is pure uncut Debian logic. Won't get that kind of thinking anywhere else. Barring one or two of Stallman's laptops with open firmware, not many systems are going to ship in a state were they are even based on open or free code, let alone "untouched". I assure you that the clowns ahead of you in the supply chain are barely able to keep virus tainted floppy disks out the production lines.

  9. 3arn0wl Bronze badge

    A radical thought, perhaps, but...

    In 2022, isn't it time that political pressure was brought to bear on the custodians of these increasingly necessary BLOBS, to open them up?

    Or if that can't be done, are there not initiatives to provide alternatives, or to "back-port" solutions?

    1. Marcelo Rodrigues

      Re: A radical thought, perhaps, but...

      "In 2022, isn't it time that political pressure was brought to bear on the custodians of these increasingly necessary BLOBS, to open them up?"

      These BLOBs are just to pass the cost on the consumer. It would be perfectly possible to put some storage on the device, keep the BLOB there and load it on boot. One could even create an API to upgrade said BLOB.

      Like, I don't know, almost every piece of hardware that doesn't cheap out? We use to call it a firmware, really. Just like mainboards, hard disks, SSDs, and so many other things do.

      1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

        Re: A radical thought, perhaps, but...

        I wrote about this before, then forgot I'd written about it, TBH, or I'd have linked to the story:

        TL;DR? It's cheaper to softload it, and in a commodity market, cheaper = better.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    SC changes matters

    I started using Debian 22 years ago (circa), I was a noob, as every one of us has been at the beginning. I switched to Debian from another distro for 1 significant and fundamental reason. The Social Contract. Now I am confused, upset, and disappointed. This is not the best choice IMHO, I respect the result but I'll find different solutions.

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