Features vs. Freedom

This entry is my opinion and may not represent the views of my employer, Canonical.

Recently there has been a lot of discussion bubbling up regarding the possibility that Ubuntu will ship proprietary 3D drivers by default for some video cards. My aim here is not to discuss the specifics of that decision, which is still being fleshed out and ratified, but to instead define my views on the bigger picture behind the discussion – features vs. freedom.

I will warn you now people, my views and opinions on this are not exactly simple. While discussing this view with many friends and colleagues, I have been informed in words of single syllables that my position is complex and multi-faceted. I have had largely the same view on this subject since I got into free software, but I have been working to better define it, and here I want to document it. So, hang in there with me. I may give you a cracker at the end if you are still paying attention…

For some years now I have been expecting a show-down between freedom and features. That is, our community would need to make an important decision between freedom and a closed source technology that is deemed important. In this showdown each of us draw a line in the sand, but our lines vary hugely. In the past, the issue was largely moot – few closed source technologies were deemed important by the wider free software community. Today though we have a bling-tastic desktop just over the horizon, but for many of us the transparent-rounded-wobbly-shadowed masterpiece (!) is inaccessible without some closed-source driver wizardry being poured into your computer. The debate here is not really the specifics of closed-source 3D graphics drivers, but whether we are willing to compromise our freedom for closed source drivers that will ultimately get more people using Linux. Are we?

Compromise is an interesting word, and everyone’s definition of it and the freedom they defend with it differs vastly. It seems that for many people, their definition of freedom is closely interwoven with their ability or willingness to compromise on certain features. Although we have many holier-than-thou bloggers who demand freedom and “no compromise” as cornerstones of their philosophy, far too many of these people don’t themselves practise what they preach. Many of these people place freedom as the single most important aspect of Linux and free software, but crank up the wireless firmware, binary blobs in their kernel, send pithy emails of complaint about incursions to their freedom from their Gmail account and go to work every day in a Microsoft-shop. When queried about such abundant compromises in their own philosophy, the response is often that “you totally need a wireless network card to get stuff done”, “web applications are different”, “firmware is different” or “I have no control over my choice of career”. Each of these indiscretions are compromises, and many of the people who claim them do have control and the ability to change them, but the changes are simply too inconvenient. But hey, the “no compromise” lifestyle is not typically one befitted with ease and luxury – the ethos is to pucker up and suck it up in the name of ethics and free software.

My opinion on this is simple. I believe that people should simply practise what they preach. If your opinion is “no compromise”, then there should be no compromise. You don’t get to choose what is more ethically acceptable here, this is the point of “no compromise”. From the outset I have always stated that I believe in free software, but I do acknowledge that I sometimes use non-free software – as many of you know, my studio is currently non-free until we all feel the big Jokosher love. I have explicitly not taken a “no compromise” position because I know I could not maintain a “no compromise” lifestyle. As I made clear in a previous entry, I think sensationalism is an enemy in the free software world, but unfortunately much of the discussion about features vs. freedom seems to boil down to very vocal outbursts by the holier-than-thou brigade who often step beyond sage fact and fall into headlines and rhetoric to grab Planet readers while they eat their breakfast.

Those who shout the loudest are not always the best barometer of opinion.

Will the features work?

Today we live in a competitive industry. Although dominated by Microsoft, all vendors, including our friends in Seattle, are working hard to create features and innovations to keep them in the game. As the world learns to talk to each other over the Internet, computers become more centrally placed in our lives, and we spend more time caring about computers than we used to. They are no longer the ugly beige boxes shoved under a desk in a cold office, they are must-have items that help us run our lives, define our style and allow us to share and communicate with each other.

As computers have become so central to us, the vendors have ramped up the bling to provide a more aesthetically pleasing experience. These improvements not only make computers more attractive to use, but more usable too. Irrespective of the arguments behind freedom, having a sane bling-enabled desktop does create a better experience for the user. Microsoft and Apple have invested in this, and as such having a bling-enabled desktop is part and parcel of the competitive market. This is what happens when dominant market players define direction – to stay in the game, you need to compete on the same playing field.

Bling is important, not specifically for the features it gives us, but for the competitive advantage it gives us. If we can’t compete, we will lose. Simple. Now, some of you may be happy for Linux to always remain a niche Operating System that only a small subset of people of use, but I see things differently. I want us to win, and I get up every single day with the intention of helping us to win. Many of us talk about World Domination, but achieving World Domination is something that can only happen if we too keep ourselves in the game. When we step too far away from the competitive industry, we risk becoming an historical reflection in the computing timeline, not entirely dissimilar from BeOS or OS/2. Its tempting to get on our collective high-horses and snub the rest of the industry that they don’t follow our ethos and perspective, but while admirable in a puritanical sense, it is destructive in a competitive “lets kick some arse” sense.

So here we face the challenge – we have a clear conflict of interest between moving forward and being relevant and a conflict with the freedoms that underpin our whole community. I don’t see this conflict any easier than anyone else, and I too hold the values of software freedom close to my heart. But while it is tempting to pontificate, I would rather spend my energy trying to help us win. There are basically two options that I see here. We can either sacrifice our freedom a little bit to be competitive, or stick to our guns and stick with freedom, but potentially sacrifice the ability to compete. One way or another, something wins and something loses. Lets look at the possible outcomes, all pushed through my own notch filter of how I suspect it would turn out:

  • We allow 3D proprietary drivers and sacrifice part of our freedom – by including the driver support for some cards, we will allow Linux to compete with Vista and Mac OS X, and stay relevant in the game. As we remain competitive, more people get to know about Linux and more people get to taste the freedom that is secured in 99% of most Linux distributions. As such, by remaining competitive, we get the ability to push out the message to more users and we get a bigger net win of people using free software. Essentially, our sacrifice of freedom in one aspect of the system (3D drivers) would result in a much bigger net win of users enjoying freedom in other aspects of the system (the rest of the distribution). This would result in more users, and importantly more contributors to the free software community, helping us to create more free software.
  • We deny inclusion of the 3D proprietary drivers by default for reasons of freedom – if this happens we would be secure in that freedom is preserved in the 3D aspect of the distribution, but we would lose our ability to compete on the 3D level, which while not exclusively bling-related, would impede our competitive ability. This would give our competitors the ability to steam ahead of us, leaving our comparatively boring and flat looking OS in the dust. As our competitors grow they will increase their assault on other parts where we do win, and this would put more pressure on Linux distributors. This increased pressure could involve layoffs and result in less time being invested in distributions and less time being invested in upstream development. As such, our current standard of living would begin to drop and less time and money would be invested in Linux.

Now, of course, I am not suggesting the world is going to come crashing down if we don’t include the bling, but the world will come crashing down if we don’t keep Linux competitive. Sure, on the server we have things mostly sewn up, but on the desktop it is an entirely different game and a different set of rules.

What I believe is critically important is that we never stop fighting for Open Source 3D graphics drivers. A comprimise in freedom in part of the wider Linux distribution needs to be backed up with a confidence that the freedom will continue to be the priority as market share grows. The key difference here is our approach to getting this freedom – it will only happen with market pressure. The fight for free drivers for reasons of freedom has not proved successful, and the choice to only buy Intel will have some impact, but not a huge impact due to lower market share. We need to become a large and relavent player, a player that can mandate decisions at a market level that will truly affect the market. Sure, there are plenty of challenges to this approach – when we get a large market share, would Linux distributions really want to rock the boat and demand Open Source drivers? Well, this is the proof of the pudding. I expect companies such as Canonical, Red Hat, Linspire and Novell to always place consistant market pressure on the hardware manufacturors to understand and migrate to the ethos of free software.

Although the decision about binary 3D drivers in Ubuntu is not yet concluded, the bigger picture encroaches many other areas. Of all, I would love to see our community get a better, more representated voice when it comes to issues of freedom. We all hold freedom close to our hearts, but sometimes the very loud voices of the few can blur the general opinion of the masses. We each have one voice in the choir.

  • http://jonathancarter.co.za Jonathan Carter

    Jono, I respect your opinions, but I do believe that you put more weight behind the importance of 3D drivers than there really is. For example, I don’t believe that a lack of 3D desktop environment will result in Ubuntu becoming another BeOS or OS/2. I do think, however, that the entire issue of 3D drivers will become less important as drivers do become more open, and as Intel and other cards that support free drivers become more popular. Of course, your argument will remain valid, since there will always be some proprietary code that people will want included real bad to bring in some killer feature. I think it’s good that people put thought into this. It is indeed a complex and interesting problem, however, I will admit that I’m one of those who believe that we should lean toward freedom, not unnecessary bling. I’m not one of those, however, who’ll say that ‘my employer forces me to use software x & y’, I’ve resigned from a previous job before by my employer trying to impose the use of certain software on me, and I’ll do it again if needed. Everyone has that freedom. There’s no such thing as “my employer forces me” or “I have no choice”, at least, not in my dictionary 😉

    Wow, long rant :)

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  • http://raetsel.wordpress.com Simon Stanford

    I do have issues with some of what you say:-

    “What I believe is critically important is that we never stop fighting for Open Source 3D graphics drivers.”

    Everytime a distro makes it the standard to use closed 3D drivers it weakens the case and/or resource for Open Source drivers and weakens the reasons for buying cards that are supported by the open source drivers.

    “The key difference here is our approach to getting this freedom – it will only happen with market pressure.”

    The mythical market pressure. I just don’t see how this pressure can be wielded since Linux is too diffuse and even if the big players say “now open source your drivers” thanks to the freedom of Open Source the way is open for some other distro to make other options, patches, work arounds that still allow the closed source to work.

    If I was a big closed source card manufacturer who Red Hat or whomever was trying to say “you must now Open Source”, my response would be “Or you’ll what? Stop shipping support for my really popular card? and make your product less functional?” Doing that would just make you less competitive again.

    Once you compromise your principle in an area it’s much harder to go back. It could well be death by a thousand cuts as the next bling thing must have comes along as closed source.

    As Stuart Langridge was arguing when you discussed codecs on Lugradio recently, surely a better way forward is to find some big must have feature and get it open source GPLd. Get your retaliation in first as it were then you don’t have to play catch-up by compromising. Now if only we could find what this “next big thing” should be.

  • Alexander Larsson

    I think the main problem with your reasoning when it comes to 3D graphics is this part:

    “by including the driver support for some cards, we will allow Linux to compete with Vista and Mac OS X, and stay relevant in the game.”

    I don’t believe this to be true at all. In order to complete the work on the infrastructure in X for things like 3D graphics its absolutely vital that the people working on it have access to the drivers and can modify and understand them. There is just no way to blindly create a technology like AIGLX or GLX_EXT_texture_from_pixmap without any driver work and then have the hw companies implement it in their drivers. So, in a situation where most users use proprietary 3D drivers (which in itself will likely lead to less incentive for e.g. Intel to release their drivers) there will be essentially no way to do development on the kind of bling we need to compete with Vista and OSX.

  • Alexander Larsson

    And of course, the hw companies themselves will never do any of this work for us. They will always do the minimal amount of work needed to be a “standard driver”.

  • http://www.skippy.net/ skippy

    I disagree with your fundamental assertion that a bling-enabled desktop is a more usable desktop. You might feel that way, but you have not put forth any arguments to support the claim.

    There are many ways that GNU/Linux can remain competitive in the marketplace. There are many deficiencies in current “desktop” metaphors which make things difficult for new users. 3D acceleration, or other eye candy, does little to solve the fundamental problems of user interaction.

    File management is still a laborious, unintuitive chore for many users. How will an accelerated desktop alleviate that? Helping users recover from mistakes (a la undeleting files) is still a laborious, unintuitive chore for many users. How will an accelerated desktop alleviate that?

    I agree that a sexy, bling-enabled desktop will be fun to use; but it doesn’t do much to help the average person use their computers. An intuitive desktop environment would do as much — if not more — to keep GNU/Linux competitive in the larger market.

  • Markus

    Go, Jono! Let’s fight the enemy with their own weapons!

    Skippy: I think that you are way wrong about the usability of 3d enabled desktops. It is VERY usable to see where the window goes when I hit minimize, and rotating cube desktops are helping me understand why multiple desktops are good (gives me more space). Ok, you could turn that off when you are an experienced user, but you have to remember, that not everyone is. I bet you are. And I bet you don’t need this. But for you, there is always the prettyness of a 3d desktop.

  • http://www.fooishbar.org daniels

    My biggest issue with the binary drivers is nothing to do with freedom or competitiveness at all: setting all of that aside, at the end of the day, we cannot have solid, complete, open drivers without vendor co-operation, full stop. Without ATI’s help, we’d probably still be struggling to find out that you need to do two dumy reads of a certain register, a sleep, a write, a sleep, and then a dummy readback, whenever you want to change some clocks, on some revisions of the r3xx-based chips.

    NVIDIA still do some work on the nv driver, but ATI have now totally abandoned X.Org: they didn’t contribute even basic 2D support to the radeon driver for their X1xxx chips, and have refused to allow permission for a reverse-engineered driver to be released (there are legal reasons as to why it can’t be released). So, they are not only not helping, but actively blocking the work, for reasons unknown. By shipping the nvidia driver by default, we are sending a similar message to NVIDIA: let the open driver rot, it’s okay, we’ll deal with your binary driver anyway. And we’re reinforcing ATI’s behaviour.

    So by doing this, Ubuntu is dropping what leverage it previously had to encourage vendors to improve the open drivers (what happened with Intel is a real success story, and arguably wouldn’t have happened if anyone outside of X circles actually knew what the IEG driver was — they too flirted with a closed driver), which harms open drivers in the long run. And that’s bad.

  • http://www.rvburke.com pachi

    IMHO, one weak in that reasoning is what you point as ‘being competitive’. If one of FLOSS software competitive advantages is the freedom it gets you or the ability to modify the software to suit your needs, then loosing that capability is clearly making us less competitive in our core competences. Just making as features is more important than freedom may make us more effective in the short term, but it will undermine the core strengths of the FLOSS model in the end.

  • Robert Devi

    My own thoughts on this are a bit complex too, but it’s important to recognize one thing: novice users are already using Automatrix, EasyUbuntu, and friends and ticking off all the options (often not without knowing what they all mean) because the forums say “this app is for new users”. Because of nonfree drivers will be installed, even if the user doesn’t know he/she needs it. If Ubuntu takes the lead and provides a simple way to install nonfree stuff, there will be no need to place that functionality into Automatrix/EasyUbuntu. This is good since it places the way nonfree stuff gets installed in Ubuntu’s court and allows for it to do things like: 1) Evaluating people’s hardware and determining if the nonfree drivers will help at all, 2) If they can provide some features, an explanation can given of the benefits and the freedom cost and all the user to make the appropriate choice. It would also be good to have a “Do I have unneeded proprietary driver?” utility that does the same checks but allows you to replace nonfree drivers with their free counterparts. After all, people change their minds and their hardware, so it would be great if they could go back.

  • http://www.leihwelt.de atla

    I totally agree in the points mentioned in your post. its pretty important to stay in the game and compete against OSX and Windows Vista. Using proprietary wireless or graphics drivers does not sacrifice my freedom. Having some bling-bling is important to attract even more users than we already have. More users will drive more people to develop software for our loved OS, and in the most cases that will be free software. Free software we all benefit from.

  • yardbird

    “[…]we risk becoming an historical reflection in the computing timeline, not entirely dissimilar from BeOS or OS/2[…]”

    I disagree. If Linux followed the same market rules as BeOS or OS/2 it would have been strangled a long time ago. Can you imagine someone writing an OS from scratch and compete (and survive) in today’s OS market following “industry” rules? Linux is a success precisely because it is developed in a completely different fashion. The very same thing you want to do here (start following industry rules) would mark the death of Linux (and of every other free software project, for that matters). Free software is a different beast, its survival is tied to the development model and the ideals that surround it. Like it or not there, is an amount of ethos in this whole free software thing that you cannot strip away, not even in the name of pragmatism.

  • Stoffe

    So… when “world domination” is achieved, Ubuntu would stop using closed drivers to force vendors to open their drivers? I think not. As soon as you start winning a lot of users because of closed drivers, you can’t back on that “feature”, and vendors will know this.

    As far as open drivers as a goal is concerned, that way is nigh impossible to win. The logic seems sound at first, that users are needed for pressure, and users are gained by bling. But if that bling is the killer feature bringing the users, they will just leave if you try to pull it later.

    It seems you are advocating giving up any advantage in negotiations Linux may have – or gain. As Linux grows, and Ubuntu grows, a firm stance together against closed drivers will yield results eventually.

    I use those drivers myself. It’s a world of difference what the user and the distribution does.

  • http://www.klomp.org/mark/ Mark Wielaard

    Wouldn’t market pressure work better if people shop around to make sure their hardware is supported by all major distros out of the box (implying that it works with free software). I shop around now making sure the hardware I buy is supportable by the community. “Compromises” by high-profile free software GNU/Linux distros will make a big part of this market power vanish.

    You also brush over the fact that a lot of free software developers (like some of the kernel hackers) don’t like it one bit that you are suggesting to abuse GPLed works. There are a lot of hard working hackers that provide you with all that free software that should have a big voice in how you “compromise away” their ideals and hard work. When I produce Free Software I intent it to be shared by the community to adapt to their own needs. Helping each other. Not for software hoarders to get a platform for pushing their proprietary closed “bling bling” features.

    Sure, people acknowledge that there is also proprietary, closed source, software around. But does that mean we as a community should push and promote it? lets work together to provide those bling! bling! features ourselves.

  • Brian

    Pretty disappointing to see Ubuntu considering this. I agree with Alexander’s comment that this move will really be hurting innovation in Linux.

  • http://www.qdh.org.uk Karl Lattimer

    Another enjoyable monologue of love from jono.

    I think the most important part of the Linux universe is the freedom that we try to bestow on others by giving them free cds and free software, this in itself will never provide a winning desktop.

    You can’t build an empire on good intentions.

    Closed source and bundled non free software isn’t such a big deal if it brings in the users. I know you’ve focused on the binary 3D drivers for linux but what about software like Maya unlimited. There are lots and lots of good pieces of software which some people won’t use because their morals forbid it. Well these people have to wake up to the fact that their belief system is destined to fail. People make money out of software and if we’re all going to continue to enjoy the freedom we have with Linux and assocated GNU technology we must stop the non-free institutional ‘racism’.

    The main reason for this, lots and lots of contributions financial and technical to free software come from software companies who sell products, by the reasoning that non-free stuff is bad for linux you also reason that non-free software developers are bad for linux because along with developing free software they are also hand in hand with satan.

    Keep up the good work jono, you’ve sparked a debate worth having 😉

  • Myriam

    Hi Jono,

    (long rant, beware !)

    thanks for your statement, I always appreciate people who stand to their words.

    My comment is my personal opinion, although I work with the FSFE in my spare time.

    In the last few month we have seen free drivers published (Intel) which is a sign that there is a change in thinking amongst hardware manufacturers. Linux slowly but steadily becomes an interresting desktop application for the masses, and since MS released their Vista with an EULA which is even more restrictive than it used to be for prior versions, the number of people and companies switching to Free Software gets higher every day.

    Compromising on default proprietary drivers is definitely not a good idea, because this does not encourage proprietary drivers to be freed by the manufacturers. Why should they if they will be available “by default” alongside Free Software ? Of course eyecandy is a seller, but it is interresting only on recent hardware with enough accelerating power and “the masses” usually do not all have these features available. Yes I know, other Linux distributions already ship Compiz but do we all have to play on the same grounds ? What comes next, a “patent” deal with Microsoft ? Imagine the next steps …

    It already is possible to use 3D desktops today with free drivers and I encourage everyone to promote hardware with free drivers, the market can and will change with pressure from the customers too, not only the other way round. Multimedia codecs is another problem, but hey, this can be changed too, even if it means hard work and continuous lobbying and a lot of patience. The Free Software Community and also Ubuntu as it’s most successfull distribution has gone as far as that already, why abandon the work halfway ?

    What bothers me personally would be an installation “by default” of proprietary drivers/codecs without a proper warning. I think every Linux distribution who ships proprietary drivers should do this and give people the choice. It is always about freedom, freedom to choose what is best for you, so why not continue to do as before ? Making proprietary drivers available by Canonical is not so much a problem for me, unless I do not find them installed on my system by default even if I don’t want to. This really would restrict my freedom of choice and I definitely would change to another distribution. I switched to Linux seven years ago because of the freedom, If I want to abandon it I can go back to the “market leader” as well, why bother with Free Software ?

    Freedom is the “raison d’être” of Free Software, compromising because of market shares means loosing the battle. Yes I know, it sounds harsh but this is the Real World and the only way to succeed is keeping to it’s principles, not diluting the underlying philosophy. Free Software has come so far because of the free licenses which allow developers to work comfortably, users to own the software they use and not being dependend on market monopolists, its all because of the Freedom behind it, so why abandon it ?

    Solving bug #1 is also done on political grounds, by fighting software patents, DRM, and so on, certainly not by compromise.

  • Mathew

    I respect Jono’s point of view, in my opinion we should not force close driver to open it. It should be their freedom to open it or not and its our freedom to include it or not. We should include it at this juncture of turning point, which may be for a short period of time.

    In my opinion we should not force them, we should melt them. When they will see profit multiplying beyond their control because of Opensource movement, then they will start giving it back to the community. I am sure Mark Shuttleworth will also agree to this point.

    Psalm 39:6 (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm%2039) “Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it.”

  • Jamie McCracken

    Part of me says that propriety drivers are a necessary evil – at least if you want any kind of 3D support with Nvidia. But as others have already said, the community cannot really enhance, fix or extend the closed source stuff so we end up being in a situation where innovation becomes limited at best.

    We also dont need killer 3D performance so slower less optimized open source drivers should be good enough for most desktop effects and it is here were some major investment from the big boys is needed to make it happen (either pay ATI/NVidia or reverse engineer their stuff)

    However, the problem for Ubuntu is it will ultimately trade short term gain for potentially longer term pain for everyone. I do feel the linux kernel should make it clear that its illegal to distribute these drivers with the kernel and so force the respective manufacturers to change track.

  • http://useopensource.blogspot.com/ Tristan Rhodes

    Jono – I agree with what you are saying. Here is why I support the use of non-free software in Linux.

    First, I want to point out that 99.9% of the software available in Ubuntu (including the application repositories) will still be open source. However, the 0.1% of non-free software has a very visible impact on the user experience.

    If the average user can’t listen to music, watch a movie, or play a 3-D game, then they will not get a chance to use the other 99.99% of free software that is included with Ubuntu. That is why Mark Shuttleworth said that shipping proprietary drivers is the best way to allow users to experience the rest of the free software stack. If that user is trying Linux for the first time, they may not spend anymore time trying to get things working, and we will have added another voice to the “Linux is hard” mentality.

    The people that will be attracted by this tactic will be the average computer user. They are looking for software that simply works well for them. If they can get that without having to pay for it, then they will use Ubuntu. These users will appreciate the great open source operating system they get for free, and would be willing to listen to Ubuntu when considering the purchase of a graphics card. The pressure on ATI and Nvidia will not come until Linux has the “weight” to threaten the sales of their products. This is the Chicken and the Egg question, and I believe the Chicken needs to come first.

    Also, I am glad there is work being done on an open-source alternative 3D graphics driver (nouveau). I am always excited about the development of open source replacements of proprietary software. I encourage people to use those drivers, and to help with the development of them. Perhaps this story will end similar to that of of Java. Java was slowly being replaced by ever improving free java clones, so Sun decided to open source the software.

    Every great accomplishment in this world has involved taking some risks. I believe that including some non-free software in the short-term will actually advance free software in the long-term, and it is a risk we should take.

  • Laszlo

    I think you hit the nail on the head regarding the “no compromise” type of people. There are many who are quick to judge Ubuntu for wanting to to make binary drivers easy to install because this is “encouraging” people to use non-free software. Yet there is no one, and not even any discussion on whether Ubuntu (or any other distro) should be shipping Firefox and Konqueror with JavaScript interpreters — because the the first thing the user is going to do is surf to some website and run non-free JavaScript code that is embedded in the web page. How is the inclusion of JavaScript being turned on by default in Firefox not also “encouraging” users to run non-free code?

    In fact I even bet that most of these people that want their distros to be entirely free have no problem in surfing to these websites. You mentioned in the post about people saying that “web applications are different”, and they may have a valid point there because the code is not running on their machine. But with client-side JavaScript it is non-free code on your machine!

    How exactly is that different? Please, someone prove me wrong!

  • http://blog.printf.net/ Chris

    Hi, Jono!

    Your blog post doesn’t talk about the Intel 3D graphics cards, which are entirely free software (and in fact, Intel employs many key Xorg developers, allowing them to work on Xorg on Intel’s dime). XGl and AIGLX work best on Intel hardware, as far as I know, so this is a strange omission when the subject of your post is ostensibly “why we can’t have bling without losing freedom”.

    By creating this false “bling or no-bling” dichotomy, you’re implying that either we get with the program and get decent graphics (and lose our freedom) or we stay running xterm and a web browser. This is not true at all, and that you had to write the post this way reveals a flaw in your argument, I think — no-one is forced to buy ATI or nVidia cards, and there are alternatives that are free. You’re making the choice of whether to include non-free by default sound more difficult than it is, in my (somewhat zealotous) opinion.

    Finally, even if we pretend that only ATI and nVidia exist, there’s one more alternative: while it’s absolutely true that this isn’t Ubuntu’s responsibility, I would be ecstatic if Ubuntu and the other Linux distributions could help to fund the developers of the nouveau project (nouveau.freedesktop.org), which is trying to reimplement the nvidia driver as free software. This would be a great gesture of good will in the face of doing something (including proprietary drivers) that will be making many question your commitment to free software.


    • Chris, happily running Beryl/AIGLX on a laptop that requires no non-free drivers or firmware at all.
  • gardion

    I think the biggest issue I have with proprietary drivers is that you can’t see the source so you can’t fix problems when things go wrong. This makes less stable drivers. Working for a proprietary software company I can say that not having access to third party source code is a real pain.

    However, the way I see things playing in Ubuntu is that many people want to install proprietary drivers so they can get the desktop bling. Why not make it easier for them and then switch to the noveau project when it can support desktop bling? I think people should be given a choice at startup as to whether to use proprietary graphics.

  • Allix

    Now my go 😀

    Not having a 3D desktop is not the end of a desktop and everyone knows that very clearly. Applications will still be flat in a 3d desktop from what ive seen anyway. Does one need 3D just to write a letter, look at a few websites? If you need more space conventional 2d virtual desktops is sufficient, infact the next mac osx has included them and called it revolutionary when its been in linux for over 10 years.

    The current situation where having no binary drivers by default and the user getting them if they want is the best way. Its impossible in a open kernel to stop someone getting to them, any protection against them in the kernel can easily be ripped out with a bit of grep,awk,sed :)

    You are right when you say linux has made a large inroad into servers, an area microsoft can only wish for. I am talking about large servers btw , huge clusters, google style, the top 10 supercomputers in the world run linux, that says something about the scalability of the linux kernel.

    I think you made a invalid point in regard to firmware, don’t mix it up with drivers, they totally differnet, firmware is pretty much a static piece of code that makes the device function. The way it behaves is totally upto the driver not the firmware. After all nvidia drivers are just them, drivers that enhance the video card do things it should do that in the hardware design is buggy. Even rms does not give much hatred towards firmware along with Theo de Raadt. Open Firmware goes along with open hardware which sun have taken the initiative to do with there ultrasparc t1. You might say to me who cares about a box without a screen it has no desktop, well i have one answer, have intel/amd done the same? which they clearly have not. If they were affordable i would buy one , and stick a dumb terminal on it or something.

    At the end of the day linux is a open operating system, not a closed box that nobody can tinker with, if you want closed source drivers so be it, i personally don;t encourage it, but the choice is there.

    if you got this far, thanks for reading :)

  • eelco

    It is simple: Ubuntu will sell better if it makes it easier to use. So this is why i understand the Ubuntu standpoint. And as long there’s no restriction that makes it illegal to distribute the kernel with non-free drivers, sometime some distribution will do just that, and it will gain popularity. So i doubt that Ubuntu really has a choice. (It could start a Freebuntu or an OpenBuntu project though.)

    On the other hand, open source is what made Linux what it is today. How would this help the communities on the projects that are bound to be affected by this decision (the nouveau project for example)? Would this really motivate them? I bet it wouldn’t. And in the end, that can’t be good for Linux.

  • ssam

    propietry drivers only help for linux on x86, what about powerpc, sparc, *bsd, solaris etc.

    there are great open source drivers for intel cards, older radeon cards (i use the os radeon driver), and work is being done on the nouveau driver for nvidia. (sign the funding pledge http://www.pledgebank.com/nouveaudriver )

    ubuntu should make it very easy to install proprietry drivers, but there is a slippery slow when it comes to including them on the cd.

  • Ken

    The problem with saying “practice what you preach, no exceptions” is that nobody practices ideals perfectly. The point of ideals is something you try to live up to.

    Even Jefferson owned slaves. Should he not have been allowed to write the Declaration of Independence?

    I’m fine with people talking up freedom, while compromising their own usage; small steps. If Linux becomes usable only with proprietary drivers, that’s a hard rock to get out from under. That is, if you have a free OS, you can always get marketshare (free is a selling point); if you have a partially-free OS with bling, it’s much harder, because there already is one of those.

    The whole argument is kind of silly, though, because there are several graphics chips/cards that let you run Linux/X11 with bling using only free drivers.

  • http://www.pobox.com/~meta/ mathew

    The way I see it, if you care about freedom, you’ll want free drivers.

    If you don’t care about freedom or are willing to compromise, you might as well switch to OS X and get all the bling you could ever need.

    Also, exactly the same argument could be made for DRM. Linux would be much more competitive if it had DRM and could play DVDs, iTunes Music Store audio, and PlaysForSure content. Therefore we should bend over and let people stick binary-only DRM modules in the kernel, right?

  • http://www.lucas-nussbaum.net/blog/?p=223 Lucas Nussbaum’s Blog » Blog Archive » Features vs. Freedom

    […] Features vs. Freedom Jono Bacon wrote a long blog entry on Planet Ubuntu about his vision of freedom, and how it applies to the proprietary drivers. This is a good opportunity to write sthing I wanted to write for a long time. […]

  • http://jakob.petsovits.at Jakob Petsovits

    A cracker for jpetso – I’ve read it all, plus the whole bunch of comments!

    First of all, I’d like to note that I value the balance of your opinion, even if I don’t fully agree with it. You’re definitely right with the competitive advantage that the bling brings, even if the actual advantage in usability is near zero or even less.

    As far as the importance of market share is concerned, there’s no way on earth that Linux could die like BeOS and OS/2, because even if the commercial Linux vendors step back from development there will still be enough volunteers to at least keep it alive, even if that wouldn’t be the path to world domination.

    The question you should ask yourself is, in which state do you want Linux to get world domination? Where is your line? You have pretty much told where you wouldn’t draw the line yet, but you have not indicated where you’d back down yourself.

    My opinion is that non-inclusion of the drivers is the only way to put “market pressure” on the graphics card vendors. Remember the reason that Sun has open sourced Java? Not because of freedom. Not because of the development model. Only because they wanted the widest possible exposure, because they wanted to be in the default package selection of every distribution.

    I’m still waiting for your (or Canonical’s) plan on how to put pressure on the vendors once they’re enabled by default. Once they’ve come so far, what can you give them so that they want to open their drivers? Please have another blog on that topic.

    Btw, any update on what happened to your German Qt book? I’d still be interested in that one 😎

    And in reply to Laszlo, comment #21: There is no discussion on JavaScript because all the mentioned JavaScript implementations are totally Free. JavaScript has got nothing to do with Java, except that it looks a bit similar.

  • michel

    there are a problems

    linux and gnome/others things creating an operating system was able to exist only because they were Free and force people to let them free if they wanted to build upon it.

    closed 3D drivers put too much restrain upon the kernel (you are dependant of Nvidia good will, as you all could see in the X.org 7.1 area)

    it plays the game of features, but so what ? in the end linux is just an other closed OS. with the major feature to be not compatible with windows games.

    not very appealing

    the main features of linux systems is gained thanks to the opensource/free(dom) qualities :

    • integration (you have ALL in one install)
    • features FOR the users , not to help the business need of the proprietary corporate (linux will not limit Ryhthmbox as Itune to protect the ipod contract with Music Majors, for example)
    • release often (when there bugs or new important features available)
    • no black box (no code NOONE can say what it does !)
    • open and clean against spyware.

    when you put closed Drivers, everything is starting to fall apart.

    I do not say : never use it. heck no ! Use them, but NOT put them by default

    let them in the universe repository, in the fedora-extras stuff, in the mandriva community club, in the suse community repo, I don’t care

    but not by default.

    and in the same time, X.org and all distributions have to tell to nvidia, again and again “you know, if you provided good doc or a decent gpl drivers, it could be in the kernel, easy for users, easy for you”.

    to that, people have to find arguments to convince nvidia (about the need to secrecy or not, industrial spying, need to create open interface between the native nvidia chipset language and opengl , and so on. )

    a linux with dependancy by default on closed drivers is a BIG problems. it removes everything it allows it to be better and more interesting than windows.

    you do not have to play the same rules against windows. with the same rules : YOU LOOSE.

    NO features can helps. no 3D nicety can help nothing

    be os was better than windows NeXTstep was better than windows os/2 was better than windows

    even some of them was cheaper than windows.

    it never helps.

    you says “wifi firmware” and “binary blob” were everywhere and people are just lying or making bad excuses. okay, but let me tell you this : I never be able to use wifi on some computers with linux. because I never read documentation about downloading some black closed firmware. It was just PLAIN bad for me linux was just broken.

    and please, why why I would like to bother with default closed drivers ? it will brings me only closeness. I will not be able to use linux to follow exciting kernel stuff because I should take care of the black box binary

    and so on.

    no no, if linux is just an “open os” with myriads of closed stuff, I will simply buy Os X or Windows.

    windows or os X are a lot of closed stuff, but it works, it nices, I can play my games. so what ?

    if linux follows the same rules than others if it plays in the same field I will simply buy the KINGS OF THE FIELD

    no the little half-working linux.

    — I say, the situation is not so bad I say, linux has a momentum in the industry, we have saw how some enterprise choosed to open their hardware documentation or to put critical code under the gpl to integrate in the kernel.

    maybe it’s possible with nvidia maybe it’s possible to use intel as an incentive

    (about some comments, dvd has no drm, linux cannot use ITMS, simply because apple forbids to create a software compatible with it, to licence their fairplay technology or to create an itunes software upon linux, even if linux was a huge corporate closed os. Apple simply don’t care about a third operating system for the itunes market)

    — my main point : YOU CANNOT PLAY the same game than Windows. TOU cannot. if you do that you will be crushed. you will never be able to follow the windows pace. you will be forced to follow the pace of Nvidia and nvidia’s interest and others proprietary constructors.

    it’s the same with standards controlled by ONE entity. when you make mandatory to use a standard controlled by ONE entity, you are forced to follow the pace of that entity

    never be able to innovate never be able to create new things before yours opponents . just the same thing, when you are allowed to.

    and in that, Microsoft has so much more money, understanding and ease than the mere poor free/opensource industry and enthousiasts people in linux/free community of Gnome, linux, ubuntu and others.

    — conclusion : let the situation AS IT IS ! closed proprietary in optionnal repositories help to defend the need of GPL drivers to Nvidia, try to make good arguments to convince them use them if you want to have a shiny linux but not made them mandatory not let users to play , by default, with closed rules

    and in fact : available by default or not, closed drivers hurt linux and the whole free software ecology. it hurts badly and you can do nothing to change that apart : open them and integrate in the kernel.

    nothing else will help.

  • http://propirate.net/oracle/ Richard


    I just wanted to add a couple of thoughts. First of all, I don’t care much about bling on the desktop, however I DO care about having Hardware-3D, because it enables a whole range of interesting and productive applications.

    As far as non-free 3D drivers, I accept them as a temporary workaround, however I think that it is important in the long term to advocate and support free 3D drivers.


  • michel

    (last post, because I thought about the myth of 99% freedom)

    “As we remain competitive, more people get to know about Linux and more people get to taste the freedom that is secured in 99% of most Linux distributions.”

    you cannot exercice 99% of the liberty when 1% is lost

    have you read the myriads of posts about XGLX and AIGLX non sense , about incompatibilities with beryl/compiz and the aiglx/xglx and ati/intel/nvidia because all people were waiting the so blessed nvidia 9XXX drivers…

    “-so you setup xorg for xglx, you have an nvidia ?” “-no” “-okay, so no, it’s Aiglx you need, and you will try this compiz-patch, or metacity, but metacity is not good with xglx, but if you put an nvidia you will put xglx, no you can’t switch them easily”

    of course, the situation improved , but man.. what A MESS for month !

    How can you think you can compete with os X and windows on the desktop : YOU CANNOT. Me, using and WORKING (to be paid) with linux for more 10 years, I got headache ans simply disgusted feeling about the whole thing.

    and the next “big thing” in graphical accelerations or new proprietary hardware support (maybe flash memory to speed boot ? or exotic energy economy support ? or whatever next) will brings AGAIN totally madness and confusing forums and docs.

    you cannot compete with the windows world.

    it will change nothing.

    with some constructors refusing to integrate in the natural X/kernel infrastructure, with not openness, you cannot simplify. you cannot do better.

    you can not.

    and you are not the first to have try. and no, I do not see anything different in you from the old persons who believed they could win against windows with “features”.

  • http://pecisk.blogspot.com Peteris Krisjanis

    Lot of emotions already laid into posts, lot of same old “fear” talk. Don’t get me wrong, to be doubtful about this question is ok – we all feel the same way. Don’t let just fear guiding you.

    These is my answers to many assumptions posted here.

    Argument nr.1 – it is bad to install it by default, because… Answer: I don’t know Ubuntu devs decisions, as specification is worked out yet, but so far what I have read, it will be a option, not a default thing. In fact, installing it by default without giving user a choice would be quite risky, just because these drivers could cause a freeze, a hang in first seconds of freshly installed computer. I would suggest them even create blacklists/whitelists to be sure which cards are ok with these binary drivers. Anyway, I think it will be sensible, and although it will be avaible as option at install time, it wont be default.

    Argument nr. 2 – It is illegal to use those binary drivers Answer: I am not a lawyer, but lack of any lawsuit in this matter shows that common sense says that using it is legal, and distributing it separately from kernel is also legal. If you are not just some “fanboi”, then you clearly now that bridge module is GPL and binary part is clearly separated in both – ATI and Nvidia – cases.

    Argument nr. 3 – making them default will make alternatives – like new Nvidia back engineered 3D driver – less appealing and will make us dependant on prioritary software. It will also halt any initiatives to open source drivers in companies their selves. Answer: IMHO, making those drivers default or banning them won’t give a hint to these vendors. Because it is very simple economics – their drivers are very complex and holds lot of IP of other hardware vendors, chip makers, etc. Lot of device’s action happens in software part. So if they are required to open source this, first, they should throw out all thirty party code out of it or get it licensed for open source, second, they should throw all tweaks which is necessary for working card, and third, which is most important, they need a full time worker to do this, and this worker definitely must be with knowledge of kernel, drivers, graphics, etc. So what economical initiative you see for vendors to open source their drivers, putting in that effort enormous amount of money just for a sake of 2-3% market share of desktops? Get real, days of clear separation of devices and drivers are gone, at least in very highly competitive markets. Yes, we still can pressure them to do it, but I don’t see how giving such choice at start will give them another point to rethink if they are serious about open source.

    And in the end, I want to agree that it is not that all bad – Intel provides open source drivers quite happily (just not all people knows that and I still don’t see any good, nice, shiny site with hardware recommendations for Linux, just idea), and I wish all luck to Nouveau driver team – looking at feature matrix they have in their web, it is not all bad, they have discovered lot of things.

    And yes, freedom is also a freedom to choose binary modules. Saying otherwise is clearly hypocritical.

  • Dave

    I agree with the post completly. My wife never was able to understand the concept of virtual desktops until she saw the compiz cube and then suddenly it made sense to her. This is true for a lot of people out there, not everyone just gets it and visual aids that are available with a 3d desktop can really make leaps and bounds in usability for the average user. I think the best approach would be to offer an option during the install that will let the end user pick to either A) install the open source driver, list it’s pros and cons or B) install the binary closed driver and list it’s pros and cons as well. Personally i will continue to use the closed nvidia driver until the open source nv driver becomes usable with good 3d support. Thats my 2 cents.

  • http://johnorford.blogspot.com john

    I don’t see any problem here.

    The FOSS community has been made of many different views and interests since the start. E.g. Linus’ interest in making a good OS, RMS’ interest in wanting to save the world etc. etc.

    Canonical has a right to make a call on this and other issues – as long as they stay within the terms of the GPL and other licenses. Just as Novell, Xandros and Linspire etc. have.

    The GPL isn’t dictatorial, Canonical /should/ shape Ubuntu in a way it sees fit, in order to achieve /Canonical’s/ goals and visions. If they are successful, then kudos to them, if not, that’s a pity (e.g. Novell’s debacle) but the FOSS community will go on!

    It’s a free market! One of the great legacy’s of the GPL after all!!

  • nico dietrich

    It’s true – the desktop is important – but 3D-bling is just such a small bit! I’d say that the majority of people I install operating systems (ubuntu / debian) at would hardly notice the difference.

    wireless lan working out of the box (even with binary drivers / firmware) is desktop critical, as a simple gui to configure network including wep/wpa2 at a single place is. 3d graphics is not.

    instead, i wish canonical to massively support developers of free drivers (like nouveau, but also wireless stuff etc).

  • http://mako.cc mako

    You’ve made a few mistakes here:

    First, your history is way off. Proprietary software is much less important today on free system that it was in the past. In 1998, the only web browser that was even remotely usable on GNU/Linux was the proprietary Netscape 4. You can compare the percentage of Debian users who ran software from non-free (and the amount installed) today over the last 10 years and you will see a steady decline. The difference now is proprietary drivers which didn’t really exist for Linux in the past. It’s a different dilemna but it’s not really a totally new class of problem.

    Second, as others have pointed out, you are putting a huge amount of emphasis on the importance of feature parity and the desktop in particular. You may be right but there’s no evidence that 3D accelerated window decorations (as opposed to 2D acceleration, lets remember) will influence any significant number of decisions one way or another.

    Finally, there’s a deep contradiction in your argument. You are making this “we won’t win one for freedom unless we compromise freedom” argument. If the point is to make Mark Shuttleworth win, it doesn’t matter if we do it with free or non-free software. If we are fighting for freedom, it matters a whole lot how its done.

  • http://vhata.rucus.net/ Jonathan Hitchcock

    I’m torn.

    I totally get the “we need market share” thing. I back us all the way on that one. But what if, in getting a shedload more random users, we lose the support of some key developers – people who actually do care about free-as-in-freedom? Where’s the balance? We need the support of the thoughtful few, as well as the backing of the masses.

    If there was a way you could get the bling out there while making sure that those in the know freedom-wise would realise that you really were interested in preserving freedom, you’d get, if not all of the best of both worlds, a lot of it. There have been suggestions about making bling available but not built-in, but I don’t think that these will enable us to grab the market share as you describe.

    I don’t really know where the solution lies, but I do know that you’re leaving out an important factor in your description of the situation above – it’s not about raking in the masses, it’s also about keeping the support of those who have poured their lives and souls into the distribution as it stands. (Think of where the OpenSuSE developers are now!)

  • http://boycottnovell.com/2006/12/18/freedom-vs-features-ubuntus-search-for-bling/ Boycott Novell » Freedom vs. Features – Ubuntu’s Search for Bling

    […] Which, brings me to this: Jono Bacon has a posting in which he is arguing for the community to compromise its commitment to freedom so that distributions (Ubuntu) can ship 3D accelerated desktops that compete, very favorably, with Mac and Windows. Bacon makes the argument that, without bling, Linux will be relegated to a niche OS and never able to achieve world domination. What I believe is critically important is that we never stop fighting for Open Source 3D graphics drivers. A comprimise in freedom in part of the wider Linux distribution needs to be backed up with a confidence that the freedom will continue to be the priority as market share grows. The key difference here is our approach to getting this freedom – it will only happen with market pressure. The fight for free drivers for reasons of freedom has not proved successful, and the choice to only buy Intel will have some impact, but not a huge impact due to lower market share. We need to become a large and relavent player, a player that can mandate decisions at a market level that will truly affect the market. Sure, there are plenty of challenges to this approach – when we get a large market share, would Linux distributions really want to rock the boat and demand Open Source drivers? Well, this is the proof of the pudding. I expect companies such as Canonical, Red Hat, Linspire and Novell to always place consistant market pressure on the hardware manufacturors to understand and migrate to the ethos of free software. […]

  • http://planetalinux.blog.br/ubuntu/2006/12/18/jono-bacon-features-vs-freedom/ Planeta Ubuntu » Jono Bacon: Features vs. Freedom

    […] Original post by Planet GNOME […]

  • Robert Scott

    The idea of Freedom is not abstract, extremist idealistic lunacy, and I hate it being painted as such. It’s completely practical. Really, we all have better things to do than to argue abstract philosophies. If we were interested in that, we’d join a church instead of working on Free software.

    It’s more: “Hey guys use this new operating system it’s totally Free, it translates to ‘humanity’, you don’t have to pay for it, you have the source to everything so you can do anything you like with it – it’s a totally new way of thinking about software oh no sorry you’re not going to be able to debug that – you’ve got a mystery blob in your kernel.”

    Whether you like it or not, including the drivers stamps a great big “Ok by me!” label on them, whatever lip service you pay to Free driver efforts. (It may not be just lip service, but ultimately it has the same end.)

    What’s more, you’re framing your argument to make it sound like it’s non-Free or no 3D. That’s simply not true. I can count 3 machines within 20m of me that work 3D accelerated with DRI with minimal effort.

  • http://www.gnu.org/ Matt Lee

    I personally don’t see how we’ll ‘win’ by giving people free software mixed with proprietary software.

    Let’s start by clarifying what winning means. For me, and for the people who care about free software and freedom, it is for people who use computers to be able to run a computer with freedom. Complete freedom, no non-free software. We have no desire to be popular, but if popular comes from being free, that is a good thing.

    I think you’re putting way too much onto this 3d desktop. The majority of computer users, right now, are using Windows XP, or earlier. Windows XP or earlier doesn’t have a 3d desktop – so who’s missing it? The Mac users? As a reformed Mac user, I can tell you that we never had virtual desktops, and the 3d effects in OS X aren’t something most people would see everyday anyway.

    The idea that we’re somehow going to get people to make things free software because there are some more users is ludicrous.

  • http://pecisk.blogspot.com Peteris Krisjanis

    One point though – claiming that we all need to be used to total freedom is quite fanatical and doesn’t sound nor practical, nor somehow connected to reality.

    It is quite clear that we interpret freedom very differently – for me, Jono and others is to run things, to run hardware, to thinker with, to code and give away software, but not to push people to my worldview, because it is so wrong… I think about the world where software cooexist together, be it commercial or open source/free software.

    If you don’t like it, well, then it is rather hard for me to not to call you fanatic. Because you can’t decide in my place what is freedom and what is not.

    And one more thing – I feel lot of fear in people who shouts “freedom”. I think reasons why you oppose all this are quite different you are claiming. I think fear is something very strong here.


  • Chris Procter

    Theres nothing wrong with sacrificing freedom in some areas to protect and increase it in others, thats what the GPL is all about after all, but I”m not sure that using proprietary graphics drivers will do that.

    Sure we may gain some new users and gain some desktop market share (and this is an entirely irrelevant argument in the area FLOSS is most successful, servers) but if those users just see Linux as another (blingfull!) operating system and don’t get the freedom side of things is that really winning? and what chance is there of them putting pressure on companies to release Free drivers if they don’t understand Freedom, proprietry is normal to them (their nice shiny new linux install uses it just like their old crufty windows one), and what they have works fine.

    To be honest I think people overestimate the attraction of 3D desktops, most of the effects will get turned off by most users pretty quickly, but even if I’m wrong I dont see that we’re sacrificing that area of freedom for any real, worthwhile gain.

  • Paul McGarry

    I think the two options that you present and the paragraphs beneath them omit the fact that there are decent open source 3D capable drivers out there on which Ubuntu can “compete” without needing to take the non-free route.

    Intel seems to work hard on their open drivers and it seems insane not to reward that effort by treating them better than a proprietary vendor.

    Your post mentions “competative advantage” but doesn’t seem to consider the effect of competative advantage on hardware vendors themselves. While vendors like Intel exist (and, looking forwards, projects like Nouveau) Ubuntu should focus on promoting their hardware as “first class”. That gives Intel a competative advantage which other vendors may seek to combat by opening (or helping with open varients) of drivers for their hardware.

    Once proprietary drivers are in Ubuntu it is difficult to see them being taken out of future versions as it would cause a regression. Once the drivers are in Ubuntu there will be less incentive for the vendors to open or help with open versions for their hardware. As such I think it is too soon to take a proprietary leap which may not be able to be undone and may simply offer a short term gain at a longer term loss.

    I think that at this stage Ubuntu (maybe in consort with other vendors) needs something akin to the Windows Logo program to recognise hardware that is properly supported in an open fashion. My desktop (an old Dell) has a NVidia graphics card in it but when I got a new laptop I checked it had an Intel chipset. That is easy for me to do because I am fairly clued up but Linux vendors really need to create a ‘valuable’ insignia which can be used to help inform consumers in general.

    I agree that speaking entirely from “principal” won’t satisfactorally address the situation. You need to look at the specific details of the situation. I personally come to different conclusions on wireless and 3d video because the situations are different in several ways.

  • http://factor-h.com Dulac


    I believe there’s a 3th way that may not be considered COMPROMISE.

    It relies on the kernel structure, wich at the moment is monolitic. There a compromisse could be implemented to the sake of security.

    Whet I mean is separating the 2 kinds of drivers available. open drivers in the kernel and EXTERNAL drivers with diferent capabilities. These MUST be considered sooner or later so they are basicaly untrusted for several reasons.

    They must have acess to SOME hardware without damaging other. There must be a way and only the kernel developers can work it out.

    In every regards stability and safety are more important that speed. That is for sure.

    Kind regards, DuLac

  • John Nilsson

    You can have a no compromise attitude and still run non-free software. For me its simply a matter of what impact the choice has on the world.

    If I run non-free it won’t affect anything. If I OTOH does a lot of work to enable other people to run non-free it does. So the question is rather, can that work be justified?

    You simply has other obligations towards your own set-up and towards the software you spread to the world.

  • Mike

    Regarding bling: I am a technical highschool teacher, and I can without question tell you that BLING matters to the fifteen yo boy. With bling I have their interest, I have their attention, and they are aggressively installing FC6, Suse and Ubuntu and emailing me with questions.

    Without bling it’s just boring old Mr. Me. Yes I’m evangelizing Linux, and when I can get them interested in it now, they will be community participants when they get out in the world. The only way I can do effective Bling-O-Rama presentations is when I have accelerated 3d.

    Let’s face it, when it comes to the video drivers it is their bat and their ball. The video vendors make the rules, and until we have the influence of numbers it will continue to be that way. Let’s remember that numbers matter, it’s how Microsoft (through Windows users) became dominant. So it will be when we have a large user base, and when a video adapter vendor wishes to have default support we can give them the ol’ “We Recommend YYY Video Cards” and give them props during the installation process. Let us BLING away. Let us enjoy window wobbly goodness, and let us grow. When Linux grows up (and no it hasn’t matured completely yet) it will be strong and in a position to influence manufacturers.

  • Thomas McMahon

    Hi Jono,

    I disagree with your support for including binary drivers for 3d cards by default with Ubuntu. It isn’t that I don’t use non-free software on my desktop, I do. my problem is Ubuntu, who have until now claimed to be a free desktop, including these technologies by default. If the individual wishes to install the software, by all means make it as easy as you like. Don’t include it by default on the cd; this will make Ubuntu a second grade proprietary OS, not a first grade free OS.

    You argue that it “is critically important … that we never stop fighting for Open Source 3D graphics drivers. A comprimise in freedom in part of the wider Linux distribution needs to be backed up with a confidence that the freedom will continue to be the priority as market share grows.” Essentialy this choice is stopping fighting for free drivers, when the most popular distro says “well we support free drivers, but not enough to hack on them and make them better, in fact we include non-free drivers by default”.

    You also seem to believe that it is only zealots and free software maniacs who don’t support non-free drivers by default. “We all hold freedom close to our hearts, but sometimes the very loud voices of the few can blur the general opinion of the masses.” I hope that you see that you are also part of the very loud few, and that what you believe is not what the general opinion of the masses is.

    Don’t include proprietary drivers by default, it cheapens free software, reduces the support for free driver projects, sends ubuntu down a slippery slope towards being a non-free OS, and also I will have to start using Fedora instead of Ubuntu. Which I really don’t want to do because I love Ubuntu, but I love Ubuntu because it is free software, and great free software.

  • http://www.jonobacon.org/?p=844 jonobacon@home » Stuff and nonsense

    […] Wow, seems my last post is stirring up the debate, which is great! Thanks for all the excellent comments you folks have added to the the post. Its late here so I will wait until tomorrow to post some replies in the comments. […]

  • David Miller

    This is false dicotomy. It’s not about Bling versus no-Bling, it’s about, support Bling by default or leave things as they are or make it easy to enable Bling.

    No-one, except the gNewSense people care if Ubuntu supports easy installation of Bling if it requires proprietary drivers. If Ubuntu: 1) shipped with proprietary drivers (but not enabled) 2) enabled the free ones by default 3) Had a “proprietary Bling Switch” which stated a brief blurb about the pros and cons of bling using proprietary drivers. The switch could toggle backwards and forwards, in case the user tests the bling and decided to go back to non-bling.

    Then the entire debate would fizzle. The beauty of this approach is that once the Noveau drivers become good enough, NVidia drivers wouldn’t need the proprietary drivers to get the Bling so few people would press the “proprietary Bling switch”

  • Donny_S

    No. There’s too many smart people involved with software development globally and FOSS has mindshare. If the American firms are going to screw everybody with driver and BIOS chokepoints, let them be exposed for what they really are, for all the world to see, a bunch of feather nesting racketeers. How much 3D support does ATI have for the Radeon Xpress chipsets now showing up in OEM boxes everywhere? What incentive does Intel have to chase 3D support when the only thing that matters to these customers is 2D anyway? Intel makes the premium off the Mpu’s, not the chipsets. I don’t think it’s wrong to sell closed apps on top of open systemware, but the target platform has to offer equal opportunity for everyone and closed drivers and BIOS in the long run likely won’t allow for that. TPM/DRM might prove to be another chokepoint also since American lawmakers can directly or indirectly force it’s implementation with MS/IBM having detailed knowledge in advance which will not be available to competitors.

  • http://planetalinux.blog.br/ubuntu/2006/12/18/jonobaconhome-c2bb-features-vs-freedom/ Planeta Ubuntu » jonobacon@home » Features vs. Freedom

    […] Original post by HotLinks […]

  • http://cesarolea.com/index.php/archives/286 De IT y cosas peores » Bling o no bling, esa es la cuestión

    […] En el blog jonobacon@home hablan del tema, y es lo que me inspiró a escribir sobre esto. Actualmente muchos de nosotros ya sacrificamos un poco de libertad por funcionalidad (unos más que otros). Yo por ejemplo tengo instalados los codecs propietarios para poder escuchar mi colección de mp3 y no los convierto a ogg (codec libre) porque luego no los puedo escuchar en mi iPod. Además mi tarjeta de video Radeon X1400 no es soportada por el driver libre por lo que me veo forzado a utilizar el driver propietario de ati para obtener aceleración 3D. Yo deseo que el driver libre llegue a soportar mi modelo de tarjeta para poder utilizarlo y por eso considero importante seguir luchando para que ati, nvidia y similares por lo menos provean con la información necesaria para escribir dichos drivers. […]

  • Bill Delday

    My two cents worth…

    The discussion around whether including proprietary drivers will boost market share is only really half the argument. Everyone using a linux distribution knows how to manilpulate it to their own needs – if they need 3d apps or want a ‘bling’ desktop they’ll likely be able to implement it on their own.

    The way I see it the two market leaders in the desktop arena are there because pc manufacturers ship them. If you could convince someone like say Dell to ship a linux variant alongside their current lines you might see a significant shift in the user base. People use Vista or OS/X because when they buy their machine it’s already installed and when they first boot up all they need to do is enter their name and follow a tutorial. Convincing manufacturers to ship pcs with a linux distro in a similar arrangement (and passing the software cost savings onto the end users) would introduce many more users to the platform.

    The only issue I see with this is that we may have already missed the boat due to the rapid rise in WiFi as a standard and all the Wifi enabled components that now adorn many homes, coupled with the use of many (most?) home pc’s as gaming machines which without 3d drivers & graphics we’re snookered

    For me, Ubuntu’s decision is a brave one that may just lead the way to partnering with a pc manufacturer and still enable experienced users to manipulate their configuration to remove proprietary software and protect their principles if they so desire.

    MS have relied for years on the fact that they dominate the market and ppl just stick to what they know so we need to make it easier for them to change or the conversion to FOSS will be slow at best.

  • Petrus

    I’ve seen this argument being made on numerous occasions…only one thing really needs to be said in response to it.

    You might think you’re right, and the other members of the microscopic minority who think the same way might also think they’re right, but there are never going to be enough of you that share this opinion for you to have any kind of larger influence.

    Something you don’t seem to be aware of is that fringe dwellers like yourself are not among those who do the really successful work of promoting and popularising Linux…you might like to take credit for it…and the FSF loves taking credit where it doesn’t deserve it…but you’re not. Corporate outreach has been done by the OSI…Ubuntu also become popular by trying to give end users what they want…NOT by pushing the decrees of the FSF on them.

    Learn to adopt the attitude of wanting to find ways to meet people’s existing needs and wants…THAT is what will convert people to Linux. Trying to force them to accept a philosophy which they don’t want is only going to push them away.

    Also, try getting rid of some of your fear. Apart from anything else, it’s moronic anyway. Microsoft have been fighting legal battles because of their status as a monopoly for years…A scenario where they are legally allowed to entirely physically control end users’ machines is simply not going to happen…and I’m guessing that you only think it will because Stallman himself thinks it will, not because you yourself have actually thought about it.

    Use your own brain, and allow other people to use theirs.

  • Ben H

    I’m just curious to know how people are defining ‘free’. For me, ‘free’ has always meant that my wallet stayed firmly shut, and I wasn’t made to pay for software that I felt everyone should be allowed access to. In the case of the nvidia drivers, I always felt they were ‘free’. Why shouldn’t I? Because they were distributed under a license different from that sponsored by the FSF? There are plenty of projects out there developed by groups of friends with no interest on letting others become involved in their work. I look at nVidia as just another such group. But if there drivers work, which from my experience they do, and do well, then why is there an issue? Why must people be so unyielding in the face of something like this? Shouldn’t we be focused on providing the best possible experience to users, and not handicapping them, solely because we’re miffed that we’re not included in the development? I’m all for the integration of the nvidia drivers, it’ll save me time, and when I lend my discs to friends, I know they’ll have an out-of-the-box Just Works setup.

  • StarScream

    First of all Ben H …it’s not at all about money or the fact that we can be “involved” in the development. It’s based on the 4 freedoms.

    Freedom 0: The freedom to run the program for any purpose. Freedom 1: The freedom to study and modify the program. Freedom 2: The freedom to copy the program so you can help your neighbor. Freedom 3: The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits.

    Secondly, Jono you are 100% correct. Many people, including me are concerned about freedom yet we continue to use proprietry drivers for our devices. After reading this i have disconnected my monitor from my brand new (to me) nvidia 6800 and have gone back to the intel on board card which came with my machine.

  • StarScream

    First of all Ben H , this is a common mis-conception. It’s not at all about money. It’s also not so much about the fact that we can be “involved” in the development. The issue is that Free software gives you the 4 freedoms.

    Freedom 0: The freedom to run the program for any purpose. Freedom 1: The freedom to study and modify the program. Freedom 2: The freedom to copy the program so you can help your neighbor. Freedom 3: The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits.

    Now i realise not everyone cares about this but the reason much of this software is available for $0 and is such good quality is because developers who _do_care about the freedoms work on them. I honestly don’t think that the free software community would be at the current stage it is if developers hadn’t been assured that the work they were doing was going to be made freely available to others and them selves at a future date.

    For a second imagine if the one application / piece of free software you value the most, wasn’t distributed under a free license but was only free as in $0 cost. Now imagine that someone or a commercial company decided to purchase the copyright to that code from the developers. This company had a competing product and never actually intended to keep developing the newly aquired application..it just wanted it to stop improving. For a small project this isn’t such an issue as someone can just start again, but for something like Gnome, or KDE or the Linux kernel this is something thats taken 5-10 years to get to the current stage. Can you imagine trying to start from scratch on that ? can you see that for developers it will basically be the same as wasting that time as the project can no longer improve, or gain bug fixes.

    Secondly, Jono you are 100% correct. Many people, including me are concerned about freedom yet we continue to use proprietry drivers for our devices. After reading this i have disconnected my monitor from my brand new (to me) nvidia 6800 and have gone back to the intel on board card which came with my machine.

  • Jerry Haltom

    Hmm. Though I do sort of see where you’re going, I don’t particulaly agree. I think the competitive power of sliding windows is pretty overstated. I mean, seriously, MS hasn’t had sliding windows since 2000 when OS X introduced it, but they haven’t lost market share in any sense of the word.

    People buy the OS because it can get a job done. We can get a lot of those jobs done right now. Enough to get us a sizable chunk of market share: RIGHT NOW. We have a really rocking desktop RIGHT NOW. Nobody is choosing not to use GNOME right now because we lack sliding windows and rotating cubes. I highly doubt that will be the case in the near future.

    We have TIME before we have to make this decision. Lots of it. We are growing really fast RIGHT NOW. Lets just keep that up, and keep making rocking applications.

  • Jaramin

    A short, pragmatic note on the argument concerning market pressure. It has been said by the author that by including closed source 3D drivers, one might achieve a market presence sufficient to force the opening of said drivers. This was countered by saying that hardware producers would still be holding the bigger end of the stick, as it would be the distribution that would be the worse off in such a case.

    To give a proper assessment of these arguments, we have to consider competition in the 3D graphic card industry, mainly, AMD (ATI) and NVIDIA. Let us consider that we have attained a sufficient market weight. If by then there is still serious competition, as there is now, then the author’s argument works. One could bully one, and just one, of the industry players by dropping support for them while retaining closed source support for the other. Since that would put them at a clear disadvantage, it’s likely that they would accept. Once they accept, the remaining hardware producer can be bullied in the same fashion.

    On the other hand, if there is but one manufacturer left, say NVIDIA, then the objector’s argument would be valid, because they would indeed be holding the bigger end of the stick. Note that a purely community driven distro could possibly wrestle harder here, because it might be said that they really don’t have anything to lose, while the company has money, and even worse : shareholders. 😉

  • Misha Koshelev

    Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see why we have to ship proprietary drivers by default. Why not just, during the process of autodetecting the graphics card, access a database that says whether the particular card will require proprietary drivers or not for 3D acceleration. Then, if proprietary drivers are required or are known to give a better experience, present a dialog to the user, explaining the issue and asking whether the user would like the proprietary drivers and a 3D desktop or the open source drivers and a 2D desktop? In this case, Ubuntu is not shipping binary drivers “by default,” but if people want to install them it would avoid all the posts and HOWTOs on the forums about how to install ATI and Nvidia drivers. It seems like having this one little dialog would solve everyone’s issues with this, no? (After all, the drivers are already available in the linux-restricted-modules package, and all one has to do currently is to install that package.)

  • Dust Bin

    Please give users what they want–let them choose to support their hardware using the drivers (video, WiFi, et al) they like. Torvalds is right–having others make decisions for you is just what the DRM folks are doing. Folks who limit choice are no better than those who take it away.

  • evanx

    great article about a fascinating issue. We do tend to get caught up in the here and now. The Opensource Desktop has a healthy future, and we need not worry about that – to believe that there is a limited window of opportunity that’s gonna be shutting, is being slightly paranoid. Having the bling installable after the fact by those that want it (and have intel card or are happy to install nonfree drivers), is fine for current and future competion. As long as it’s a one click install with synaptic, to get nonfree 3D drivers, flash, codecs. But it isn’t. Flash is a tarball. No YouTube for newbies. Ouch.

  • http://ivoks.grad.hr Ante Karamatic

    First of all, 3D desktop won’t get us on the same level OSX and Windows desktops are. There are lots of fundamental pitfalls in Linux desktop that should get higher priority (even copy paste isn’t perfect yet) than 3D desktop.

    Non-free drivers? I think no one should force anyone to use them or not to use them. An option in installer, where user can choose free of non-free driver is so simple solution. Forcing someone to use free of non-free stuff is against freedom. Giving a chance to use you hardware is a good thing. Giving a chance, so much different than forcing.

  • Ago

    The choice is NOT feature vs freedom, but 1 click installation of closed drivers vs 0 click installation. In this optic your argument falls apart.

  • Johnny G

    I use ratpoison as my window manager, so I am not sure I’m qualifieed to comment here. However, I recently got beryl working on my edgy laptop to see what the fuss was about.

    Like others posting here I am not convinced that beryl is a major step forward in usability. However, I actually find the plethora of configuration options and the ability to control everything via the keyboard very attractive. The rotating cube is a great metaphor for virtual desktops — in the past I have not made as much use of these as I should.

    One think that is undeniable is that the bling may well attract a few new users, which is surely a good thing.

    The binary driver issue is a tricky one. It will suck if I show someone beryl on my laptop, give them a feisty live disk and find beryl won’t work on their hardware.

    If Ubuntu must have the binary drivers then I feel it should ensure that users are informed about the issue. It should be pointed out how much harder it is to support the hardware that the user has. Perhaps Ubuntu should also consider keeping a database of hardware which has open source drivers?

    I don’t have a problem with Ubuntu making it easy for people to have the best possible experience on existing hardware, but it should take the opportunity to educate users. Things will only change if users start asking for hardware with open source drivers.

  • http://www.darkliquid.co.uk Andrew Montgomery

    I think the issue is about freedom. Banning non-free drivers is taking away people freedom to choose whether they want to compromise or not. As long as a message or warning is displayed about the use of non-free software upon installation, the user is then free to make their own choice. Isn’t that what freedom is all about?

  • Andrew Yeomans

    I prefer to look at value, which is more than a binary choice on freedom.

    Hardware with no working drivers has no value to me.

    Hardware with partially functioning drivers has some value. If those drivers are open source, the value is greater than comparable closed source drivers, as I can modify them and get long-term support, and don’t have to pay extra for source code escrow. And they are likely to work even if the kernel and other software is upgraded.

    Hardware with fully-functioning open source drivers has the greatest value for me, and I’m prepared to pay more for it. That provides an economic incentive for manufacturers to assist with open source drivers, as they can charge higher prices.

    The harder question is the root of the debate – which has more value, partially-functioning open source drivers or fully-functioning closed source drivers? My answer is that it depends what I’m doing, sometimes I’ll rate one higher, sometimes the other. But – especially in enterprise work – I’ll factor in the long-term cost; and that long lifetime and code escrow of open source is worth a lot. Which makes me look around at other manufacturers. Paying a little more for hardware with open source drivers makes good economic sense if you can keep using them for longer.

  • http://www.theolster.net theOlster

    StarScream – are you saying that because you cannot have freedoms 1,2&3 – that you would deny me the right to freedom 0? In my book there is no freedom there.

    I used to be a linux user. Not the hard coding geek – just a normal user. After a year of using both FC3 and Ubuntu I gave up… Why – the Linux desktop is not ready to be used by normal users.

    I still have MythTV box (try doing this without Non-Free drivers) read the blogs, boot up the occasional live distro, and listen to LugRadio. But I won’t switch back until using the desktop at a reasonable level that doesn’t require following installation guides of about 13 pages long just to get going. I love to use computers, and sometimes program them – but I loath working late into the night just to get them into a usable state.

    Come on Linux geeks – Are you willing to sacrifice your OS for these die hard principles… Actually I suspect that you are! And although I disagree, I totally respect that. So what will become of your OS? I suspect a split. A and a major one at that – there will be two groups of distros, one that strives to keep the OS usable, and one that strives to keep true to the principles of ‘Freedom’. The question is how will you ‘Freedom’ guys compete in that environment?

    The rest of the world (potential OS X and MS converts) will not view your ‘Free’ OS as free – but ‘requires specialist skills’. It will forever remain the OS of the Geek – to remain unusable on principle!

  • nonnano

    I know one thing for sure. After using Beryl daily for a few weeks and testing Vista, I will not use one single distro anymore that does not offer the same. You see, some people want aesthetics over features. Some features over aesthetics. I want them BOTH and see no reason whatsoever to get them both, always.

    Ship the binary drivers and get over with it.

  • Nlogax

    A pop-up at install time for cards where the open drivers lack similar features/performance to the closed ones is the only sensible way to proceed.

    I also agree with others who have said that the case has not been made for ‘bling by default’ versus ‘bling with 2 clicks during install’.

  • http://dreamsillustrated.dyndns.org/ Janne Kaasalainen

    I write my comment since I both agree and disagree with the author and the posted comments. This writing is much from my personal point of view, and I am sure many don’t agree. That is your choice to do. Writing may be a little harsh, but it is that since I do care. None should take that too personally. This is not really a comment about whether to include 3D drivers or not, but an opinion about the whole discussion and future of Linux in general in regards to casual users.

    First we have the ‘bling’ issue that I almost take as an offence. Was it not that the author made comments about its importance, I would. The whole term ‘bling’ gives an impression as if it is not important and to be despised. As if it has no value. It seems that many people in this community do not understand ‘bling’ or ‘eye-candy’ at all.

    If I sit at my desktop 8 hours each day (thankfully not quite), it is darn better be easy for my eyes (in literal and non-literal sense). No offence, but much of the Linux software looks non-classy shit (pardon the language, but I feel it needs to be communicated very clearly) done by l33t folk (there is a great difference between ‘cool’ and ‘stylish’) and has the great merit to fill my screen with unimaginable options that take space from what I really want to do. I can understand that since the GIMP people have done pretty good job to alienate great part of the designer/graphics community.

    On the importance of the ‘bling’ to the ‘normal’ user; as mathew said, ‘if you don’t care about freedom or are willing to compromise, you might as well switch to OS X…’. Funny thing to mention, that is exactly what seems to be happening in increasing numbers. In this corner of the world, Apple raised its markets to 173% just this year (of course it would be silly to generalise this to be happening everywhere).

    The ‘bling’ or ‘eye-candy’ is not just irrelevant wobbly-windows, but it has uses to help users to understand what goes on and make the whole experience much more ‘friendly’ (virtual desktops, hiding windows etc). It gives gives a feeling of trust, it makes the usage much more pleasant when done correctly. It is really important aspect of making computers usable, what might be hard to grasp for those who think xterm is enough. Humans are not measurable actors but beings that are not always/never purely rational.

    The importance of the 3D drivers does not stop on desktop. As Karl Lattimer mentioned the usage of Autodesk Maya on Linux pretty much depends on 3D acceleration and that not the only application to use such (Blender, for one). Adobe Photoshop CS3 takes advantage of the graphics processing power in image editing, even if that is not available for Linux. More esoteric uses can be seen in Folding@Home project.

    It is a pipe-dream to think that new arrivals to Linux will buy specific hardware just so that they can try Linux. Even less so when they would do drastic chances to the system such as Intel video card that is quite laboursome purchase. Sorry, it will not happen in the large scale. No, it won’t. Many don’t even bother to put their comptuers together, and quite frankly, rightfully so. They test it with what they have, and if you manage to sell that, perhaps the next time they pay a little attention to the computer they are after (asking ‘does this work with Ubuntu?’ from the clerk).

    I don’t wish to take a stand if the binary drivers such as these should be included by default or not. There are many options, and as long as their inclusion is easy to do it is fine for me. But the option needs to be there and stay there, make it very obvious and easy to install them when necessary. What I consider this to affect is the first impression and what Ubuntu wishes to offer and what is the purpose of Ubuntu in general.

    This is very much along the lines of (Tristan Rhodes), any effort that the user needs to make later on is bound to affect his (or her) image of the easiness of Linux. As of now, 3D may not be essential, but if he has been given the PROMISE of Compiz, that is a huge deal. If that is the case, you betray your user if he does not get the thing he tried the system for. Things that matter to the targetted user should really Just Work. In most cases, these include images, music and videos (plus the ‘normal’ web and office stuff).

    As of writing this, there are many cases where FSF or ‘free’ (by the definition of this target audience) equals ‘it does not work’. You may pretend it is not the case, but it comes up time and time again. Yes, there are exceptions, some huge ones. Yes, the progress so far has been for better. But to many, to a very large crowd, the Free Software is inessential if it does not let them do what they want. Before they can do that with comfortably enough, FSF does not stand a chance. I personally take some of their evangelism as an insult. As if these people would try to make me feel ill for using software that is not free when they themselves can’t offer anything that works even remotely as well. “Do it yourself”, “use this instead” are common arguments that are sometimes as good as the instruction to amputate your legs from knee down so you don’t need to use Nike sneakers.

    I symphatise with free software and do use Linux (Ubuntu) where it is appropriate. And coincidentally, most of the software I use on top of that is proprietary. Now, take away the 3D acceleration that I need or make it too hard and I switch off; I bet many others will do the same. While I care for the ability to use computers freely, it does not override the things I want to do even more. In the life of many people, software and computers are not the most important things. You have things like your children, your wife, girlfriend and relatives, just to name the most obvious ones. Perhaps you just love golf or sailing.

    Imagine a casual Linux user as a supporter to the free software. He can’t code worth a crap, but uses, say Ubuntu, and by that alone can make a duifference. He is a role model to the n people around him. Make his life harder, and you start to alienate them. What is it that you gain? Your puritism? Good luck for you, currently the world cares about as much as it does for religious cults that have < 5% of the population supporting them.

    All I would ask is the people to step back and look around them. Think on their own in larger perspective. About the ‘normal’ people, what they do and what they want. Ubuntu, “Linux for Humans”, anybody? Or are you as a linux evangelist after what you want?

  • http://tec.fresqui.com/mejoras-de-ubuntu-vs-libertad-i Fresqui.com

    Mejoras de Ubuntu vs. Libertad (I)…

    Interesante debate que éste compañero de los Foros de Ubuntu ha puesto en su blog donde se comenta el cambio que está teniendo Ubuntu que incluirá en “The Feisty Fawn” drivers propietarios como los NVidia y ATI y que atenta a los principios del …

  • http://www.theolster.net theOlster

    I agree with Janne Kaasalainen comments – I don’t believe that “Linux for Humans” is currently the case.

  • bro

    what I miss in the discussion on ‘open source or not’ is any nuance in what software should crucially be open source. For me: Anything that carries my data (from music, pictures, email to text documents). And next ofcourse the programs I use to create this data. This is where we should wake up the masses; don’t let your own creations be limited or dictated by others, stay in charge of what you express and how. Many people working in software may feel that their operating system itself is ‘what they created’. I’d love to see everything open source, but drivers are not the first priority that come to mind when not everything is. And ofcourse, if you want to reach the masses, get sane, you need a flashy 3d desktop. Those who believe in commandline and plain text as a religion are free to do so. But if you want to promote an operating system it might be usefull to talk to some non-programmers some time. You will find that nobody agrees with you. It might be off-topic, but I strongly believe that number 1 priority to promote linux is to abandon the (need for) commandline completely and thoroughly. Thoroughly meaning; I have an ftp Gui but I cannot chmod -R with it. Which makes it close to obsolete.

  • David Marrs

    Jono, Linux desktops already make it easy to install hotly demanded proprietary software such as 3d graphics drivers or the Adobe Flash player. In fact, it’s easier to do this on Linux than it is on Windows because of our automated installers (apt, yum, etc). So how Linux is less competitive than Windows on this front, I don’t know.

    One of the things I know I’m getting when I install an Ubuntu system on my computer is the peace of mind that the base installation is entirely free software, with all the benefits and reassurances that brings. If I then choose to go out and install proprietary apps (which I do), that’s my business and a decision that I make on a case by case basis. It’s not something I’m happy doing, but I make that compromise based on my needs.

    The point is, installing non-free software should be my decision to make, not my provider’s.

    On this point I’m concerned with what I hear about Ubuntu choosing to install closed drivers by default, and I think the concern expressed is entirely justified because it sets a precedent. OK, fine, they explain the implications to you before you hit “install”, the same way MS explain the implications of their licence agreement to you before you click “I agree.” How many people do you think are aware of those implications they just agreed to?

    As far as winning or losing goes, what do you want to win? For myself, I simply want to be able to continue to run free software. And realistically that means being able to install and run an easy-to-use system like Ubuntu. If I find myself installing more and more proprietary software on my free software OS then I’m losing, not winning. If I’m installing a proprietary system by default, then I’ve already lost.

  • http://freshubuntu.com Freshubuntu

    Well said. Typically, that is what goes on in the minds of folks switching over to Linux. Both in terms of application equivalents and usability. When you get the open source fever you want to remain as true to the spirit of the movement but find out that computing and user experience will find you wanting. The dissonance is we love open source but don’t want to be unreasonably bound. Freedom begets liberty.

  • Jayakumar

    I personally feel, 3D drivers are a must in linux. I am from a country where most people use pirated softwares..Whereas they couldn’t try the same on vista ..so this is the right time for us to get those guys to linux. I’ve showed my friends the 3D effects using beryl live CD (sabayon) and they were simply astonished..Now they are using it using a live CD at least for browsing and watching movies (since it comes with kaffine).

    I was able to catch their attention using 3D…So i think 3D drivers are a must for a main stream adoption.

  • http://ww.david-web.co.uk/ DJ

    A guy sits in an open prison, contemplating his freedom. There are places he wants to go, but isn’t allowed to go to. So he thinks “I know, I’ll wear a pair of handcuffs, then they’ll let me out!”. So he puts a pair on and is released. At first it’s great, because he can go wherever he likes, but then he realises that with the handcuffs he can’t make the most of the freedom he has. Unfortunately, the keys for the handcuffs are in his pocket and wearing the handcuffs he can’t get them out and cannot release himself. He now wishes he had simply served his time while trying to convince the powers-that-be that he should be released. While it may have taken a while, he would eventually have achieved true freedom, instead of the limited freedom he now enjoys.

  • http://www.boundbygravity.com/ saskboy

    I noticed you have to scroll quite a bit to read this now, and found this to be a handy plugin to page comments on WordPress http://www.keyvan.net/code/paged-comments/

  • maks

    stupid long bullshit post.

    either you are running an open os or not. once you load a 2mb binary blob of custom made crap you are on your own. distrubuting such crap places you on very low standard.

  • http://ghaint.no-ip.org/~k2/ kds

    in addition to the saskboy’s comment#82 – the rule background-attachment: fixed; makes scrolling your pages a pain. Even a single scroll unit with the mouse-wheel, it makes my processor busy 100%. This is in Firefox/Iceweasel.

  • eelco

    This has become an interesting debate. As far as i can see, one thing has not been addressed yet: the fact that Ubuntu won’t be the first distribution that adds non free driver support. I think Mandriva, among others, does that as well.

    So why the fuss now? The difference seems to be that Ubuntu will provide these for free (as in free beer), whereas other distro’s that include non free drivers and software are sold for a small fee.

    Would anyone care if Ubuntu had a distribution that was non free in both ways?

  • jono

    Bleedin’ nora, there has been a lot of comments. I don’t have time to go and reply to each of them, although I wish I could. It is interesting to see how divided in opinion about this issue so many people are. The discussion has also taken into account many different reasons for opinion – freedom, technical merit, market pressure, desire for bling etc.

    One recurring fact that I would like to clarify is that I don’t believe bling is the most important thing in the world. Too many people have interpreted this discussion as me saying “bling is really important! we must have it at all costs!”. I think bling is functionally important, but it is not as important as many other functional aspects. It is just that bling has raised the bigger picture issue behind my post.

    As I said in the post, my main talking point is not the 3D binary drivers issue – it is the conflict of opinion between freedom and features – for many people, freedom is something that cannot be compromised, and for others freedom is something that can be compromised to a limited degree to get Linux out to more people.

    Another significant point in my post is hypocrisy – I am a firm believer that if someone is strong enough in their ideological opinions that they lecture others on how they should lead there lives and make their choices, that that person should indeed practice what they preach and live up to their own standards. Not enough of this is going on – some people do, and I would cite Aq and Matt L as two key examples – they have strong ethical views but are indeed willing to have a “no comprimise” lifestyle to varying degrees.

    I have a huge amount of respect for those people who take a hard line approach to freedom and live their lives by the rules that they mandate. It is easy to demand freedom from others, but can you demand it from yourself?

    So, all in all, some great points are being raised and long may the debate continue.

    One final point that is essential to stress – the decision about 3D binary drivers in Feisty is NOT DECIDED YET. I don’t decide it, the community does and it is still being discussed. Feedback is always important, and the Ubuntu development community would love to hear your thoughts!

    Thanks people. :)


  • Jim Doherty

    I believe it is too big of an issue to let the graphic card vendors off the hook by shipping binary drivers. If Ubuntu wants to leave an program in the system configuration pulldown that will download and install the appropriate closed source binary drivers it would be a much better solution. There are people working on open source drivers for both ATI & NVIDIA cards but it will take time. Intel has released open source drivers for their built in graphics. Personally at this point I plan on buying an Intel based system for my next system to reward them for leading the pack on open source graphics drivers. This will be my first non-AMD system in ages. I believe that at this point AMD has a better processor but I will not compromise on open source drivers.

  • w-ber

    I won’t comment on the issue itself, but there was a detail that caught my eye.

    You claim that there has to be “bling” in order to be aesthetic. That’s quite far from my definition of aesthetic, which, I admit, is more on the spartan and minimalist side. Aesthetic, in machines, means efficient and uncluttered, not simply pleasing to the eye. I find the black depth of the terminal window much more aesthetic than any semi-transparent GUI. But that’s just me.

  • Remium

    None of this is new.

    Linux has always been in competition with other OSs and relevance to the marketplace has always been an issue, whether stated or not. It’s a simple fact that Linux has been born, grown, prospered and flourished in an extremely competitive environment. Nothing has changed.

    Your comment: “I believe that people should simply practise what they preach. If your opinion is “no compromise”, then there should be no compromise.” Is fine from a theoretical standpoint but rarely to extremes survive in reality. So what….it’s not that big of an issue.

    Some distros want to add proprietary drivers, others don’t. Fine. People will embrace, use, extend and preach about the virtues of what ever distro floats their boat. Fine….all this is good for open source and computer users.

    Adding closed source drivers will not destroy Linux nor will it mean the end of a particular distro. Why? Because as downloads dry up and as the boards for those distros become barren wastelands of moderators hoping for a post to moderate, these distros will adapt or not. They will either change or die. Fine….nothing is wrong here…this is the way all companies (open source or closed) operate.

    In the end it really doesn’t matter because the users will use whatever they like most. Trying to convince them to use something else is fruitless…..as I’ve heard it said before:

    A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.

  • Dragonopolis

    Lets make this simpler to understand. We have our nudists (FOSS supporters) and we have are clothed brother and sisters (Close Source/Propriety supporters). Now, the battle has been should we take it all off (FOSS) or put it all on (Windows/Mac). In a perfect world the weather (the hardware/software market) would be sunny skies and 75 degrees but its not and we all can be naked :oops:. Oh, there are some situations (places to live in my analogy) that allows a person to be naked all the time but not everyone likes the heat (or being exposed for that matter). There are those who like the Cold and prefer to put all that restricted clothing on(Propriety Hardware/Windows).

    I guess you can say I’m a t-shirt and shorts kind of guy. I like the idea of open/Foss but I don’t like the idea of somebody telling me I HAVE to always without question be naked. I want choice. I want to wear what I want, when I want too and I suppose so do some distros and the people who support those distros.

    If you remember I said in the perfect world the weather would always be nice. Well, right now, the weather is still a little chilly with scatter showers. What I mean is that 90% of computer use doesn’t require 3D graphic card right now. but the “potential use” is still there. Yes I like the weather to remain nice majority of the time but I also like to ski. I can’t ski unless it snows. I have to wear clothes if I don’t want to catch frostbite. I don’t want someone telling me I can’t ski (use 3D Hardware) because it requires me to wear clothes (Propriety drivers).

    This is the same with allowing propriety drivers. Nothing is stopping the FOSS community to create a FOSS version of Ubuntu that allows them to be naked and free all the time. However, it isn’t right for the FOSS community to tell Ubuntu they can’t ski (enjoy 3D GUI ) because it requires them to put on clothes ( propriety drivers/use close source hardware).

    Freedom is choice. When you remove choice you remove Freedom. Its my opinion that the FOSS community view of freedom is to restrictive to be called freedom. I feel 3D GUI can become just as intuitive and easy to use (even easier in my opinion) than the 2D GUI . Just like the 2D GUI brought innovation and creative ways of working on a computer – 3D effects can help. Remember, 3D GUIs are relatively new and it will be years before we will probably see a real good implementation of a 3D GUI . As a matter of fact, I don’t think we’ve achieved a perfect 2D GUI yet but there are a lot of things that are easier to do compared to using no GUI.

    What we should be doing is providing choice not taking away freedoms. A lot of great Free and Open source software have been created because these people had access to the Graphic Hardware. If we were to strip(pun intended) these people of their freedom to create software that takes advantage of GPUs then I can’t see how we can call it freedom.

    What we need is choices not restrictions. What we need that we don’t have is a Hardware Company willing to make a GPU that competes with Nvidia and ATI that uses open source. This way the FOSS community will still support its cause and not try to push their version of what the define as freedom on to others. It is by education and competition, not Attrition, that we should be teaching and converting our non open source followers.

    So, when the FOSS community offers me a compelling Video/Graphics Card for my computer that is opened sourced and free, then I will definitely switch but until then – bring on the Beryl and Compiz and the games and all that need GPUs of which right now the only two choices I have are Nvidia and ATI which, unfortunately, are closed sourced and pretty much the only choices I have( for 3D of course).

    Until then, its a little chilly in here better go update my Nvidia drivers 😉

  • J.F.

    First of all I appreciate this discussion very much. I think it is the most important step for future direction of SoftwareLibre (OpenSource is not automatically free). Although I use the proprietary nVidia drivers they annoy me for two reasons:

    1) These drivers are not as good as the drivers for the MS OSes – nVidia is kind of playing “catch up” with kernel and X.org developments.

    2) I might not upgrade to newer, safer/faster/better kernels or a newer, safer/faster/better X-Server because of nVidia’s slower development/support cycles. Security fixes appear quite late.

    This of course also applies to other drivers for Wifi or Webcams. Open specs are a benefit for Solaris and BSDs, too. Focusing on Ubuntu or even Linux is too narrow minded! I am very confident that 80% of potential OS switchers would prefer WLAN or even good ACPI support (suspend/hibernate) over Bling within the next two years. The main selling point for 3D accelerators is the “premium huge budget games sector” where Linux has an even lower potential to compete with than in the desktop market.

    The main functional uses for 3D acceleration on Linux in order of importance are:

    3D modelling with Blender and Maya Native SoftwareLibre games Cool screen savers UI transitions and compositing aka “Bling” Proprietary Windows games in Wine/Cedega

    The only functional ergonomic reasons for Bling are “Expose´” like overviews of active tasks and better thumbnails for workspace switchers.The rest is just styling.

    My conclusion is to allow proprietary drivers as long as the kernel developers and the terms of the GPL seem fit, but NOT to include them per default. The has to be a BIG reminder before installing them. When I install equivalent software on Windows I have to read and agree the manufacturers terms, too. The bottomline is to show new GNU/Linux users that they are leaving “free software land” and at least grasp the disadvantages of those proprietary terms like “security fixes” and “vendor lock in”.

    Phew… that’s all folks

  • eelco

    I will deliberately choose a free distribution, because i really think distributions can make a difference. And i will always look for the free solutions. Nonetheless i will install non free software, if i can’t use my computer without. Call me a hypocrite.

    Ubuntu might include non free drivers, but won’t include non free codecs. That’s not very consistent either.

  • Robert Devi

    Jono, you commented “Another significant point in my post is hypocrisy – I am a firm believer that … person should indeed practice what they preach”.

    I think you’re missing something fundamental. There are basically three sides to the debate (none of which are hypocritical) and two wannabies (who are hypocritical):

    Side 1) The means justify the ends. Anything that can get Ubuntu more popular, even loading down default Ubuntu with tonnes of proprietary codecs, drivers, and software is okay. As you correctly point out, these people are best served by Windows or MacOSX. You can disagree with this opinion, but you can’t call this hypocritical.

    Side 1 wannabies) They know side 1 is unsustainable for Ubuntu in the long term, but push it anyway because if Ubuntu collapses, they can just pick another distro or go back to Windows/MacOSX. These are hypocrits.

    Side 2) The ends justify the means. Anything that interferes with Ubuntu’s FSF purity is bad. They will go out of their way to buy freely supported software and do without, rather than use proprietary software. These people are best served by gNewSense. You can disagree with this opinion, but you can’t call this hypocritical.

    Side 2 wannabies) They profess a belief in side 2, but secretly run proprietary software and/or codecs and/or drivers but don’t tell anyone. These are hypocrits.

    Side 3) Just tell us what the means and the ends are, and we’ll chose on a case by case basis. This group believes in choice, and I’ll submit that this group is by far the biggest group of Ubuntu users. This group wants recognizes that each compromise of FSF purity carries consequences, but is willing to live with some compromises. The key thing to note is that because each compromise carries consequences, this group wants to make the choice itself and not delegate it, partially because different people are willing to make different compromises, and partially because by being aware of the compromises, they can make better hardware choices later. I really doubt you can call this practical pro-choice group hypocritical.

    Obviously, I fall into Side 3 and from what you’ve said of your own personal choices, you’re on Side 3 also but being strongly influences by Side 1 and Side 1 wannabies and are looking for a compromise to draw these people in and convert them to Side 3.

    Please realize that Side 3 is more than a compromise, it’s a possible form of a general consensus for dealing with all sides. Let Ubuntu chose Side 2 by default but make it easy for people to chose Side 1 if they like (just mention the consequences and some possible alternatives). This gives Side 2 what they want (a free system), Side 1 what they want with a minimum of fuss (a few “Yes/No” choices that give them a fully loaded system, dam the compromises), and Side 3 what it wants (the ability to chose what compromises to make).

  • http://www.primenewsblog.com/2006/12/19/justice-league-wonder-woman-nude-ubuntu-features-vs-freedom/ Prime News Blog » Blog Archive » justice league wonder woman nude Ubuntu: Features vs. Freedom

    […] justice league wonder woman nude Jono Bacon, official Ubuntu Community Manager, speaks out about the debate about the inclusion of binary graphics drivers by default for desktop bling. Spoken by a truly honest and respectable guy, he brings some sanity back to the discussion. fallon wonder womanread more | digg story […]

  • http://www.cartoonsfans.com/blog/2006/12/19/comparing-x-men-to-the-chrysalids-ubuntu-features-vs-freedom/ Cartoons Fans Lounge

    […] story No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI Leave a comment Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTMLallowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong> […]

  • http://johnorford.blogspot.com john

    “I don’t decide it, the community does and it is still being discussed.”

    obviously it’s important to not piss off large parts of the community. but what’s so great about Ubuntu (in contrast to Debian) and the kernel in fact, is that difficult decisions are made by a handful of people. they’re explained and things /move/ /on/.

    if ppl are pissed off by a decision they are more than welcome to go go somewhere else, or fork!

    i hope Ubuntu doesn’t fudge, and has the guts to follow its own philosophy:

    “[…] that people should have the freedom to customise and alter their software in whatever way they see fit”

    (actually that answers the “freedom vs features” question right there. there’s no mention of market share, but there is freedom “to alter”)

  • http://bodmas.org/ keith b

    Day to day I have to be a pragmatist, I work as a teacher and things just have to work. Desktop clients at College are windows, but there is some open source being used at the server level (Moodle, very popular in the West Midlands now and some other bits and pieces). Open Source/free software at client level may find itself in drop-in centres and the like, but again it will just need to work.

    Long term, I’d suggest that the computer will begin to disappear (a la Donald Norman) as we become task centred.

    OK, so a task I do will be writing handouts and doing e-mail/conferencing on the Web. Is the current desktop metaphor the best we can do for that? Will people perhaps be using tablet like devices with handwriting recognition and a Jef Raskin style humane interface (ie no bother with file names, just a live search)?

    Will GNU/Linux be able to support other tasks transparently, ie media centres, TV, music generation, graphics and so on?

  • Steve Kayner

    Gotta keep the proprietary stuff out of the core distro. Eventually they’ll come for their pound of flesh and you’ll either have to pay or remove the features. Keep the freedom. Lose the closed binaries.

  • http://www.oramao.com/biblog/2006/12/19/liberta-vs-funzionalita.html biblog » Blog Archive » Libertà vs funzionalità

    […] Torno a distanza di tempo sul discorso libertà contro funzionalità. Mi porge l’occasione questo intervento di Jono Bacon, uno sviluppatore di Ubuntu impiegato presso la Canonical. Nel suo intervento Jono solleva una questione vecchia quanto il computer. Vale la pena rinunciare a qualche forma di libertà per garantirsi un successo di pubblico ed una migliore funzionalità del software? Richard, aspetta, so come la pensi. Ma qui la domanda non è rivolta a te, che hai risposto una volta e per sempre venti e più anni or sono. Qui il problema è un altro e Jono lo solleva con grande perspicacia. Parliamo dei driver 3D delle schede grafiche. Ora come ora sono proprietari. Le distro provano a fare pressioni sui produttori per il rilascio di driver liberi ma i produttori rispondono semplicemente – se non vuoi usare quei driver smetti di supportare il mio hardware – sapendo che nessun sistema operativo moderno può permettersi di non supportare l’hardware in commercio. Allora? Jono propone l’inclusione in Ubuntu dei driver proprietari. In questo modo si avrà un miglioramento attuale di funzionalità in cambio di un sacrificio in termini di libertà che, ed è questo il punto fondamentale della tesi di Jono, potrà essere recuperato quando Linux avrà una diffusione maggiore sul mercato. […]

  • Scott

    I was going to say something about how silly it is think that adding proprietary drivers to Ubuntu will ever have any impact on ATI or Nvidia, but I think the plethora of posters before me have pretty much made that point plain and clear.

    I will add that I think the only way GNU/Linux is ever going to have the hardware support it needs will be to create Free Hardware to go with it’s Free Software. I cannot for the life of me understand why Canonical wouldn’t jump on this opportunity to start a hardware company supplying it’s growing user base. Most of the Ubuntu users are still the tech-savy kind, and I suspect 80-90% would jump at the opportunity to buy a graphics card/network card/mobo whose design from has been Free from the ground up.

    STOP including proprietary drivers, and START competing with them!

  • netmaven

    Wrong… It’s the LACK of really great BIG COMMERCIAL APPS AND GAMES on the LINUX DESKTOP that is going to kill it… oh – and an EASY way to install those COMMERCIAL APPS AND GAMES for the average user… oh – and a DISTRO UNIVERSAL PROGRAMMING API that those COMMERCIAL APPS AND GAMES could be written with so they could target EVERY DISTRO… it’s a mess… I really like Ubuntu… but I could go on and on and on…

  • http://wgz.org/chromatic/ chromatic

    Good luck making kernel patches and supporting non-x86 architectures.

  • stolennomenclature

    People are missing a very important point about drivers – they are fundamentally different from other types of software. They are part of the hardware. Hardware cannot be made to accord to the four principles of freedom as defined by the FSF. You cannot give copies of hardware to your mates. You cannot modify hardware. And the drivers are support software intimately tied to the hardware.

    One of the main freedoms that people appreciate about free software, being able to copy it and give copies to their friends, still applies to the closed source drivers. Nvidia and ATI are’nt charging for them – they charge for the hardware. The drivers are useless without the hardware. So you can get a copy of the propretary driver for free for your nvidia card – fine. But only if you have the card, otherwise its no use. And you arent ever going to be able to get the card for free – it requires labor and materials to make each card.

    If you realise and accept the obvious fact that the proprietary softare goes with the proprietary hardware, then this whole debate is a non issue. Making the drivers open source doesnt make the hardware open or free. There is nothing unethical about paying for the labor and materials of the people who manufacture the cards.

    Why the hell does the free software community want to shoulder the burden of writing free software to support proprietary hardware – to help the hardwre manufacturers make a bigger profit by relieving them of the burden of writing the drivers? In my opinion that is more unethical than letting them write the software.

    Its really simple:

    1. The hardware is proprietary and non-free.
    2. The drivers go with the hardware.
    3. You can open the drivers but not the hardware.


    I think the GPL should be amended to make an exception for drivers that allow binary drivers to be shipped with GPL’s software. If not, and you want to take a no compromise position, then you should also refuse to use prorpietary hardware too.

  • http://wolphination.com/linux/2006/12/20/jonobaconhome-features-vs-freedom/ J_K9 @ Linux » jonobacon@home: Features vs. Freedom

    […] This is an extremely interesting post by a member of the Ubuntu team – I highly recommend that anyone interested in the BBD (binary blog dilemma) read it! […]

  • http://universejdj.wordpress.com/2006/12/20/ubuntu-features-vs-freedom/ Ubuntu: Features vs. Freedom « Universe_JDJ’s News Blog

    […] read more | digg story […]

  • stolennomenclature

    in reply to SCOTT –

    If Canonical designs and builds hardware, in what way will the hardware be “free”? They will have to charge for it, and without the large marketplace enjoyed by the big players the price will be very high. Also, from an ethical point of view, what difference between buying a mobo from Gigabyte or buying one from Canonical? They are both companies, and they will both have to make a profit (in order to fund development, etc).

    And just how many Ubuntu users will want to modify the Canonical hardware drivers?

    What would be much better is for the open community to design the hardware, and then contract an existing company or better still companies to build it. But not Canonical – which is just basically one man, and an entrepreneur at that. Id go with the idea of a FSF graphics card. But it would probably have to be made by IBM or NVidia anyhow.

  • Jon Smirl

    Let hope that AMD opens their ATI hardware. If that happens everything should sort itself out. It will be very difficult for Nvidia to stay closed if everyone else is open.

    A key point was made in the comments that without some open hardware there is no way to do the necessary R&D to build the next generation. That problem is significantly impacting desktop R&D today.

    Don’t get stuck looking at today’s desktop and saying we don’t need better graphics hardware. I doubt if anyone has even dreamed up what the desktop will look like 20 years from now.

  • http://www.wikiprotest.com Jeffrey Henderson

    I have a crazy idea to greatly increase the popularity of linux, which involves customizing it to a specific device, and making it easy to synchronize with a counterpart on the desktop. I’d like to talk the the author of this blog about my idea pretty soon, and would appreciate it if they would shoot me an e-mail.



  • Sean

    Just don’t put the binary drivers in by default. Put them into a non-free repository which must be explicitly enabled by the user. Might that be an acceptable compromise for both sides in this debate?

  • http://www.linspire.com Kevin Carmony

    Well said Jono.

    Welcome down the slippery slope that I and Linspire have been running down for years. Using what works for ME is what I call “freedom.” Limiting my choices is what I call slavery, be it from Microsoft OR anyone else. It’s a computer. Not my religion. Not my family. Not my life. It’s just a computer, and I want it to work.

    In the end it’s about individual choice. I’ll never take the choice away from others to use any mix of software THEY wish. That’s their choice, not mine.

    Kevin Carmony CEO, Linspire, Inc.

  • http://wgz.org/chromatic/ chromatic

    I think your strawman fell into the well and poisoned it, Kevin. Care to address the actual issue of distributing and enabling binary drivers by default?

  • http://planetalinux.blog.br/ubuntu/2006/12/20/lucas-nussbaum-lucas-features-vs-freedom/ Planeta Ubuntu » Lucas Nussbaum (lucas): Features vs. Freedom

    […] Jono Bacon wrote a long blog entry on Planet Ubuntu about his vision of freedom, and how it applies to the proprietary drivers. This is a good opportunity to write sthing I wanted to write for a long time. […]

  • Casey

    Its really simple:

    1. The hardware is proprietary and non-free.
    2. The drivers go with the hardware.
    3. You can open the drivers but not the hardware.


    I think the GPL should be amended to make an exception for drivers that allow binary drivers to be shipped with GPL’s software. If not, and you want to take a no compromise position, then you should also refuse to use prorpietary hardware too.

    This is the most down to earth SENSIBLE post out of the lot. #103 needs to be read, and then read agan. 111. should read it as well.

    This binary blob crying over HARDWARE is not only stupid, but….no…stupid covers it perfectly.

    If this were proprietary SOFTWARE such as oh, quickbooks, yep, I guess I could see the point. We BUY the damn video cards, and for those who would say “ooh look at intel”, I say, also-ran looking for any edge to increase their sales.

    Nvidia and ATI support Linux by providing drivers, and they are improving their releases as well as feature sets on a monthly basis.

    I say BRAVO Ubuntu and full speed ahead.

  • Praveen

    I agree – stay relevant in the game while pushing for openness. Nicely put. Your opinion not only applies to Linux and open source community but also to our lives and goals we trying to achieve. Great article. Keep coming. :)

  • http://www.jastiv.com jastiv

    The hardware problem with 3D drivers and other issues will be solved with a new free software friendly hardware company.


  • http://wgz.org/chromatic/ chromatic

    Casey, you’re overlooking a fundamental distinction. To wit: how much more difficult is it to copy a piece of hardware versus a piece of software? How much more difficult is it to modify a piece of hardware versus a piece of software?

    If Canonical gets permission to distribute binary blobs on Ubuntu 7.xx CDs, will that permission extend to everyone who receives those CDs as well?

    There are no technical reasons preventing that, as there are with hardware.

  • jakiv

    (sorry for my English) I have Nvidia card and use nvidia closed source drivers (it’s my choice) but I don’t think they should be by default. When new XOrg 7.1 was ready I had to wait until Nvidia will release driver for it. I couldn’t upgrade to new (beta of Edgy then or sth like that) Ubuntu because of it. Next time I’ll buy card with open source drivers (is it any available? Intel cards are only for laptops?) but if nvidia drivers will be by default some people wouldn’t know where the problem lies – why they can’t test new XOrg for example.

  • Stephen P

    IMO, you’re view is biased toward having the drivers included, so most people will probably post the opposite (since people that agree tend to say nothing). Instead of commenting on your post directly, I’ll just give you my take, which is the same as it was before reading your post. I do not think the drivers should be included on the CD. I do think it is ok to make them available for download, or install from a separate media. If people really want the drivers, they will find a way to get them, whether you make them available or not. So you might as well make them available and save everyone a headache.

  • http://forum.computergames.ro/8-software/225543-linux-versus-windows-open-source-versus-world-si-bruzli-impotriva-lui-cichicean/page-25.html#post36589997 Linux versus Windows, Open Source versus The World si Bruzli impotriva lui Cichicean – Page 25 – Computer Games Forum

    […] Mare dilema mare in lumea Open Source: sa faca Ubuntu un OS decent si competitiv sau nu? Si se mai intreba de ce se uita oamenii normali la cap la ei ca la extraterestrii. Sa moara barba lu’ Stallman daca nu. __________________ Now is the winter of our discount tent. […]

  • chepprey

    So if “bling” is the means to be competitive, then why didn’t Mac OS X trounce Windows in the market after it came out? The Mac doesn’t just have “bling” advantage over Windows – even if you replaced its fancy Aqua looking UI with something that looked like Gnome 1.0, the Mac would STILL be technically superior to Windows because of the design & usability of its UI. But where has this gotten the Mac?

    I just don’t see eye-candy helping Linux any more than it’s helped Mac. I contend that the WHOLE REASON Linux is even in the game is EXACTLY because of the nature of Free Software – both libre and gratis.

    If Ubuntu or any other Linux distros do eventually decide to include non-free video drivers, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do it in a way such that we at least slightly inconvenience the user at the time he/she installs these drivers, and use it as an opportunity to educate about the technical AND social consequences of using them. Make them click an EULA-like agreement button (you gotta click HOW many EULAs when you install Windows & Office? maybe that’s why they’re winning…). Throw up a short splash screen every time X starts up to remind them.

  • http://www.linspire.com Kevin Carmony

    Linspire has put tremendous pressure on hardware companies to support Linux and open source solutions. We have had a fair amount of success, but that success almost always comes from the OEM (HP, etc.) putting pressure on the device manufacturer. If I call up a modem manufacturer and say, “I want you to work on supporting Linux and OSS,” I get a pretty cool response. However, if I can get HP to call them, I get a much better response. OEM’s however, are all driven by one thing….sales.

    If Linux is to gain support from hardware vendors, it needs to make ECONOMIC sense for these vendors to support it. That means they need hundreds of thousands of their users asking for Linux and OSS support. If Linux remains a very small market (on the desktop), they’ll never bother. Why should they? They are in business to make money, period.

    95% of all desktop and laptop computers are running the OS that came pre-installed when purchased. If you can’t get OEM’s to pre-install Linux, it stalls at current early adopter, hobbiest, tech-user levels. To get to the next level, you need OEM’s. Those reading this may be fine with buying a PC that already included a price for an OS, then downloading a Linux iso file, burning a CD, and installing an OS. 95% of the rest of the world will never do that.

    These are realities. Linux needs hardware vendors and OEM’s. OEM’s need sales to stay in business. Users won’t want Linux if it doesn’t work.

    It’s a necessary compromise to support hardware, multimedia, file types, etc. to get more people using Linux on the desktop. Dell, HP, etc. aren’t interested in selling a desktop or laptop computer that won’t work with iPods, graphic cards, wifi devices, etc. These are just the realities.

    Get more people using Linux, and you have a market that hardware vendors will need to care about.

    Kevin Carmony CEO, Linspire, Inc.

  • Aodhagan

    I really don’t know if Jono is even bothering to read all these comments, but I think it is great to get this topic out into the wild in an informed and thoughtful way. I respect Jono’s position, and greatly appreciate his contributions to the Free Software community, but I think what he has posted is beard. The solution is difficult and expensive, but if Mark S. and Canonical want to deal with the real issue at hand it will take a fair amount of resources. What issue is that you say? People want to use the hardware they have invested money into acquiring, and they want to use Free Software. The only meeting of those two roads is the production of Free Software drivers for hardware. Creating graphics drivers is not a simple, actually its a fucking insanely difficult, task. It takes very specialized knowledge, and enormous amount of patience, and will of iron. Canonical needs to find these people, put them to work, and get the free drivers in X.Org to a competitive level with NVidia’s and ATI’s drivers. Paying those people is expensive, and there will be a fair amount of time required to perform the task. Mark S. has shown amazing generosity in funding Free Software and the Ubuntu distribution, but if he really wants to solve this issue to the satisfaction of the community and new users alike, he needs to invest in this endeavor.


  • jono

    I am indeed reading them when I get some time – keep them coming. :)

  • http://www.newstance.com/2006/12/20/features-vs-freedom/ NewStance » Features vs. Freedom

    […] Continue reading at jonobacon.org […]

  • http://blog.virgule.info/ Mathieu Pillard

    More than 100 comments and nobody said it, so I guess I’ll have to: the issue is not only about 3D. The proprietary drivers add quite a lot of other nice stuff: The NVIDIA proprietary driver supports XRandR, TV-Out, Twinview, ACPI/APM support (ACPI is still not perfect though) has XvMC support and better 2D performance, provides configuration tools (nvidia-settings, nvidia-xconfig) that are quite complete, etc… The free drivers lacks most, if not all of these features, which, to me, are way more important than 3D support.

  • http://ralhn.wordpress.com/2006/12/20/polemica-en-ubuntu/ Polemica en Ubuntu « Rálhn Blog

    […] Polemica en Ubuntu Published 20/12/06 ubuntu , linux Hace un buen rato que tenia ganas de escribir algo referente a la posible inclusión de drivers propietarios de algunas tarjetas de vídeo en feisty fawn con el objetivo de tener aceleración y efectos 3D en el escritorio. En realidad estaba leyendo por todos lados a cerca de todo esto, pero hoy leí en blog de Jono Bacon uno de los desarrolladores de ubuntu donde expresa su opinión alrededor de toda esta controversia, les aseguro que es imperdible tanto que ya esta causando muchos comentarios. Desde mi punto de vista yo creo que ubuntu no debería de incluir por defecto estos drivers propietarios ya que no es absolutamente necesario, si quieres activar la aceleración lo haces, sino pues no, pero que tengamos nosotros como usuarios la libertad como hasta ahora de decidirlo. Como adelanto al post de Jono saque estos dos aspectos que son como el punto central de todo: We allow 3D proprietary drivers and sacrifice part of our freedom – by including the driver support for some cards, we will allow Linux to compete with Vista and Mac OS X We deny inclusion of the 3D proprietary drivers by default for reasons of freedom – if this happens we would be secure in that freedom is preserved in the 3D aspect of the distribution […]

  • RmsMit

    People should be free to use Linux as they see fit. That’s what the freedom of open source is. Most people in the passed didn’t want closed source drivers, codecs etc . . . for the few that did they could install these them selves. These days most people will install them as the first thing they do after Linux is installed. The default install should accommodate the majority with easy tools to adapt the installation to suit people who want different from the default.

    As for convincing Hardware manufactures to make open source drivers. That will only happened with purchase power (market share). Linux now has enough market share that hardware manufactures have started releasing drivers. In the passed most drivers were created by dedicated Linux enthusiast (thanks guys:wink:). Not including binary drivers just means that users have to install the drivers them selves. It does not mean that the hardware manufactures don’t get the sale and it the sale that they want (this is why market share is important).

    We should include the binary drivers because it makes life easy for the users and makes no difference to the hardware manufacture. They still get the sale even if the user has to install the drivers them selves. What we should do is recommend hardware that has open source drivers (and make it obvious what these are). If Linux users favour hardware with open source drivers when buying new hardware and have enough market share that this will lead to significant sales, then manufactures will release open source drivers.

  • Aodhagan

    I think there are some significant questions to answer when approaching the issue of support for hardware when used in collusion with binary drivers. First, what do you do if in the future the company providing the binary drivers decides to stop doing so because they feel it no longer makes sense in the market?, esp. after you have built your system around the expectation that those drivers are available. Don’t think in the world of mergers, buyouts, changing market dynamics, that this can’t happen to your pet piece of hardware, no matter how popular the vendor currently has become. Anybody remember 3DFX, or Plan9. Hell, even ATI was bought by AMD. Second, how does Cannonical, or anybody else for that matter, plan to offer support within a kernel tainted and populated by binary blobs. Or do such organizations expect to tell users, “Sorry, we can’t support you because you chose the default install, and we don’t have access to the code to answer your questions.” Yeah, that’ll work in the business world. Third, once you compromise on one competitive necessity, where do you stop? One person’s requirement is another person’s waste of hard disk space. Fourth, when did Free Software become a project to pressue others into opening their code instead of producing our own? If you can argue that people have the “right” to run whatever software they want, then you can hardly argue that organizations aren’t entitled to release code under whatever license they damn well please. Its not a good long term situation to rely on code from those who don’t embrace your goals. Fifth, once we start talking about “market share” we are talking about economics. What’s the plan, as a bunch of free distributions, packages, etc. to generate revenue streams directly for hardware vendors to promote the opening of code, or better yet, how do we expect to convince them to open the code once we’ve admitted that when push comes to shove we’ll compromise on the access to code for access to their hardware. To use an adage, the ball stays in their side of the court. Instead of everyone bantering on about how they are going to use the closed driver whether its the default or not, or how their mom wants the convenience of the closed driver, or bling is swell, or whatever, lets see some answers to the real questions at hand. Thanks.


  • http://flukkost.nu/blog/2006/12/21/frikod/ ozamosi – Frikod

    […] Efter att ha läst en post av Jono Bacon om fri mjukvara och funktioner, och förhÃ¥llandet däremellan kände jag för att behandla samma sak. […]

  • Sean

    There seems to be a lot of confusion over the meaning of “freedom”. Closed source software takes away your freedom to see how the software works, to modify it, and then redistribute it. If there’s a problem with your NVidia video drivers, for instance, you have to wait for Nvidia to fix it. So by using their video drivers, you have less freedom in the sense that you, or the community, can’t improve the drivers.

    No one is trying to take away your “freedom” to run whatever software you want on your own computer. No one is trying to force you to use only free software. That’s the big strawman argument we see over and over in these types of discussions.

    Free Software advocates are pointing out that proprietary software takes away your freedom to study and modify the software you depend on– and that’s the important freedom here.

  • Wiktor Wandachowicz

    Most posters here forget about one more aspect of open drivers: portability. Closed graphics drivers for Linux from NVIDIA and AMD/ATI come only for a handful of architectures. It mostly means x86 and x86_64 – perfectly understandable from the business point of view. But there are obviously other hardware vendors that produce a variety of parts: ethernet, ADSL, wi-fi chipsets, USB gadgets and so on – they typically target x86 and maybe x86_64.

    And what about other architectures people care about? PowerPC? SPARC? What about other OS-es: BSD, Solaris/OpenSolaris, etc? The same piece of hardware can perfectly run under Linux, no matter the architecture, *IF there is the source code for the driver. Said source code can be adapted, ported and improved. It’s a win for everyone. It’s not insane to demand access to the source code of the driver. This way the hardware can be supported by knowledgeable members of community on multiple platforms the vendors never could care (or heard) about.

    The quest for openness is also a quest for honesty. Hardware must always be produced and bought. It’s physical. Drivers complement the hardware, but this is only software, a smart bunch of bytes. Multiplying software is not costly. And the software should be free for everyone, in all senses of the word.

    Aodhagan in #122 nailed it right – if there is no free driver, write one. No matter if this is a graphics card, wi-fi chipset or a printer. That’s exactly what upset Richard M. Stallman a long time ago with closed drivers. Just think where did this lead to.

  • maks

    response to #125 features from binary crap

    windows words has also many features that openoffice or gnome office lacks. neverthelesss we are willing to put the effort to build a solid kernel. you seem to forget that a kernel module can do anything on your box. anyway you can’t do a 3d binary module these days that is not a derivate art. so ubuntu would directly violate the gpl and the great linux driver ecosystem.

  • http://blog.content.no-ip.org Sebastian

    Very well spoken. I’m still not sure on what to make of the whole issue, but you have made some good points about it.

  • http://timelady.com/blog/2006/12/21/links-for-2006-12-20/ its about time» Blog Archive » links for 2006-12-20

    […] jonobacon@home » Features vs. Freedom An interesting discussion on the controversy in the Linux community about suing non GPL drovers. As someone who uses the naughty ATI drivers (because i reqire certain functionality), I have accepted the somewhat bad taste it gives me – but I wish for aler (tags: linux freedom ubuntu floss blog drivers opensource philosophy foss gnu desktop article) […]

  • http://jonhoman.wordpress.com/2006/12/25/world-domination-201/ World Domination 201 « JonHoman.com

    […] Point one and five stick out in my mind as quite important. As I have been following the Planet Ubuntu articles in my spare time, binary video card drivers and multimedia codecs have been a point of major discussion. Basically, Ubuntu might be enabling binary (non-free) video card drivers in its next release. This will allow users to enjoy the eye candy of transparency, rotating cubes, etc. Multimedia codecs allow users to listen to MP3’s and watch DVD’s, both are not free. […]

  • http://planetalinux.blog.br/fedora/2006/12/30/to-binary-or-not-to-binary-that-is-the-question/ Planeta Fedora » To binary or not to binary, that is the question

    […] The Ubuntu developers are in the process of deciding whether to enable binary-only drivers by default in their installation process, under certain limited circumstances. This decision process has prompted the latest wave in a conversation that’s nearly as old as Linux itself. Some see this step as a compromise on the principles of freedom, and point out the numerous practical problems with binary drivers: lack of portability, dependence on the vendor to fix security flaws, dependence on the vendor to continue supporting your hardware, etc. Others take a pragmatic perspective, draw the line that Ubuntu will not cross, or point out that Ubuntu developers also care about the principles of freedom and intend to educate their users on the reasons for choosing open source drivers and hardware vendors that offer open source drivers. […]

  • http://planetalinux.blog.br/ubuntu/2006/12/30/to-binary-or-not-to-binary-that-is-the-question/ Planeta Ubuntu » To binary or not to binary, that is the question

    […] The Ubuntu developers are in the process of deciding whether to enable binary-only drivers by default in their installation process, under certain limited circumstances. This decision process has prompted the latest wave in a conversation that’s nearly as old as Linux itself. Some see this step as a compromise on the principles of freedom, and point out the numerous practical problems with binary drivers: lack of portability, dependence on the vendor to fix security flaws, dependence on the vendor to continue supporting your hardware, etc. Others take a pragmatic perspective, draw the line that Ubuntu will not cross, or point out that Ubuntu developers also care about the principles of freedom and intend to educate their users on the reasons for choosing open source drivers and hardware vendors that offer open source drivers. […]

  • http://mako.cc mako

    Jono, in you reply you say, “I don’t decide it, the community does and it is still being discussed. Feedback is always important, and the Ubuntu development community would love to hear your thoughts!”

    This is not totally true. There is no vote on this issue and the community does not decide. At the moment, it’s not clear who does. Ultimately, the decision will probably be made by Mark Shuttleworth personally and people on the TB and CC may then choose to oppose it for technical or community related reasons. If it then goes to a vote, it could probably be blocked. If there are technical issues, it shouldn’t go in but there’s a path to resolution. If the CC members oppose it, they’d need to do so on behalf of the community.

    Do the conflicted nature of things in the community. I suspect several members would have a hard time brining it up to oppose it on behalf of the community. In that case, Mark basically gets to make the decision.

    Of course, he and the CC and TB will listen to the community, but its not democracy and its dangerously to build up expectations that it might be (although in comment 1XX on your blog, it’s probably OK).

  • http://wagthis.com/story/3139/ wagthis.com

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  • tracyanne

    I can’t help but wonder, who’s freedom is being taken away by the inclusion of ‘features” – proprietary CODECs and the like? In what way am I personally more free, if I can’t legally play MP3s or WMVs etc?

    In what way does the ability to access and install these proprietary CODECs reduce my freedom if I am not free to choose to use them? or not. In what way am I more free if half the Internet is unavailable to me because I am unable to use Flash or Windows media.? In what way does not having access to these proprietary CODECs make Linux more desirable to potential new users?

  • http://core.eti.br/2007/02/01/e-o-ubuntu-me-perde-como-usuario-e-entusiasta/ the brain is a machine » E o Ubuntu me perde como usuário e entusiasta.

    […] Mas agora a lua de mel acabou. A decisão da distribuição com relação aos binary-only drivers me deixou irremediavelmente frustrado. […]

  • http://blog.siltala.net/post/2007/02/08/Free-OS-for-Human-Beings-made-more-feasible the new topyli standard

    Free OS for Human Beings made more feasible?…

    For Ubuntu, the integration of CNR could solve one of the most pressing problems: the Evil Proprietary Driver and Codec problem….

  • sss

    :twisted:fuck you

  • Olaf

    Linux won’t die anytime soon if binary graphics drivers are not included – but it’s growth into the “market” for regular users will be very limited without them.

    Meanwhile ATI and NVIDIA don’t seem to be in any rush to open source their drivers. They have their reasons (good or bad doesn’t matter) to prefer them closed. With Linux only being a nice OS there is hardly any reason for them to feel pressured at all atm.

    That they even offer binary drivers is probably a combination of them not being too much work for them (they know their own stuff and have running code they only have to adapt/port) and to keep their options open (some government agencies that are potential big customers going with Linux these days).

    For business machines all this is a non-issue. They don’t nee 3D accel and often will just use the onboard graphic chipsets of their mainboards.

    Where the 3D drivers are used (games, graphics workstations) the binary drivers are a must-have. People install them all the time. The fora are full of people asking questions about how to get Nvidia/Ati installed and configured for their distribution.

    So, currently, for that part of the “market” (games, etc…) Linux/Ubuntu needs the ati/nvidia drivers much more than the other way around. If Ati and Nvidia stopped producing Linux drivers tomorrow their balance sheets would hardly be affected – but almost every Linux gamer (yes – I know aboput all those fine games that do run without – but the majority of gamers want the up-to-date-stuff from the shelf – and that’s still problem enough even with the binary drivers) would be forced to switch back to Windows.

    To summarize: Any real pressure to open source the nvidia/ati only comes from Linux being important enough – and that means market share. Forcing non-techies into a must-have installation of those drivers is just an annoyance to them and keeps many potential users from Linux.

    Yes, there is no guarantee that ati/nvidia will ever open source their drivers – but that then won’t be worse than the current situation.

    Include them in the repo – ask the user on setup if s/he needs a 3D accelerated desktop – if yes – install closed driver where necessary – otherwise the open alternatives.

  • Olaf

    One more thing: To claim that closed source software is “unethical” is plain silly.

    Inconvenient, less secure, a liability, annoying – yes.

    But there is no ethical/moral obligation whatsoever for a company to open source their product. I’m happy if they do so. It will influence my buying decisions, it might even eventually be in their own best interest – but it’s not a matter of ethics.

  • Olaf

    Yet another comment :-)

    Features vs Freedom is a false dichotomy.

    Having features is a freedom. The freedom to have that extra functionality – especialy if it is an option.

  • http://www.kryogenix.org/days/2007/04/12/ubuntu-710-to-be-properly-free-if-you-want as days pass by » Blog Archive » Ubuntu 7.10 to be properly Free (if you want)

    […] Those of you who are thinking “who the fuck cares?”, read my previous request for this to happen and particularly Freedom vs Features to find out why I care. You should also read Jono Bacon’s Features vs Freedom; if you fall on his side of the fence rather than mine, that’s fine, because in October we’ll both be able to be Ubuntu users without a problem. We can both be part of the conversation. […]

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  • http://www.portraitkingdom.com family portrait artist

    I understand how you feel. But Ubuntu deserves some chance. Let’s give it a benefit of the doubt. I’m sure they won’t release something that will not benefit the whole computer-entwined community.

  • http://afreshcup.com/?p=720 A Fresh Cup » Blog Archive » The Examined Software Life

    […] across a blog entry today from one of the Ubuntu maintainers, Features vs. Freedom . The particular issue he’s wrestling with (whether to include binary 3D video drivers with a […]

  • PiddlyD

    Listen, I’m a big fan of Redmond and their products. I’ve built a very lucrative career off of supporting technologies based on Microsoft technologies, and I am effectively an 8th grade drop out. I’m also fiscally conservative and generally pro-business. In a nut shell, I don’t fit the typical stereotype profile of the idealist, anti-corporate *nix user.

    But I’ve been playing with nix here and there since the days of the Sparcstation 5/10. I never got very far into SUN OS/Solaris, but I got pretty deep into Debian around Potato and Sarge. Compiling kernels for notebooks with wireless drivers, running KDE. I also ran a Citadel-UX Internet BBS off of FreeBSD around this time. My point is, I’m not anti-nix as a Win32 advocate. But I am very critical about the *nix community and their promises and their claims and their traditional hostility and elitist attitude toward the Win32 community, as a GROUP. I could go through my bullet list of exaggerated claims and attacks on Microsoft technology and how the *nix community likes to compare itself to Win32 as Apples to Apples until the argument doesn’t suit them, then they claim it is Apples and Oranges – but I won’t.

    Instead, I’ll point out that overall, I dig Debian, and better, I think that Ubuntu really achieves bridging the gap that I always said Debian needed to cross in order to be a viable competitor to Microsoft technology on the desktop. The thing about Debian is, “it just works”. In particular, the dselect/apt-get package management impressed me far more than other *nix alternatives available at that time. What good is an OS if every time you try to install a package the .rpm has a dozen different dependencies that you have to work out, some of which inevitably require a compile? Debian took care of that hassle. But it was lacking in driver support and ease of setup. Ubuntu has done a fantastic job of addressing this – at first glance.

    But then it quickly became clear that the idealistic philosophy (that is so often a *nix achillies heel) behind Ubuntu made them come up short. How ironic that if I had a high end, Intel/Nvidia system Ubuntu would have worked out fine for me (I prefer this combo, by the way. And no VIA chipset for me. Intel chipsets all the way, I’m a corporate whore through and through.) But I had picked up a POS old AMD with an ATI Rage 128 Pro chipset in it that I deemed worthy of *nix – almost MADE for each other. How ironic that this would highlight a major shortcoming of Ubuntu.

    One that to me, for the average Ubuntu demographic, is a huge deal breaker. An AMD, ATI, DIY box is where nix *lives. This is core market for a *nix distro. How many people drop bleeding edge technology into a modded ultimate gaming box and then pop a *nix on it? Not many. If you’re paying more than $600+ for your system, you’re probably not going to quibble about an additional $180 for the OS. Nope. There might be a few oddballs here and there, but the AVERAGE *nix user, for one reason or another, is budget conscious and oriented across the board. And budget conscious machines often end up with ATI video cards. Now, I, perturbed, went out and bought a cheap Nvidia 5500 GeForce3 for $20 after rebate and called it a day. But even THAT is a painful purchase for a lot of the *nix people I’ve known in my life – and, really, when it SHOULD have worked better with my ATI card, it kind of offsets the value of Ubuntu. I could have gotten a graymarket OEM WinXP for about $60 more and the ATI card would have worked fine.

    And so I saw this conflict for Ubuntu right away – based on what I see as silly Ubuntu core-values and philosophy. It doesn’t “just work”. It actually has some frustrating issues that don’t have to exist, but do because of idealism. And I represent a certain target market that the *nix community claims to want to convert. With my experience and background and skills, if something like this turns ME off to a *nix distro, then it is going to really have an impact on the LARGER target market you want to convert from Win32 platforms.

    So this blog actually resonates with me. I think the *nix community is torn, amost bipolar. On the one hand it WANTS more market share, more penetration among these key demographics. On the other, it has a disdain for the very market it covets, for the people that market represents. I think there is a certain segment that enjoys the *nix Punk Rock/Thrash Metal effect… that is, “Linux has an aura of hipness because it is uncommon and not accepted by the average”. If you ever achieve mass acceptance, you lose that anti-chic allure. May sound like an outrageous claim, but I think it is part of this equation. Being part of the “Windows Community” just means you’re an average person in society. Being part of the *nix community means you BELONG to something. And Lord knows, a lot of *nix users need somewhere to belong. (Not that Win32 doesn’t have its fair share of anti-social, badly adjusted propeller-heads – I may very well be one of them).

    My point is that Ubuntu, because of philosophy and idealism, falls short of its claimed goal – and trying to fix that shortcoming presents a huge and challenging decision to the Ubuntu community. I am shocked to read this blog, because MY feeling was that idealism would trump practical marketing decision in a *nix community (which in my mind, ultimately means that this would be another dead end *nix project and ideal).

    If that isn’t the case, if the practical marketing decision trumps the idealism, that gives me hope. Ubuntu, by having flexible moralities, may have a chance at making a difference. They might get labeled a “sell out” by the TRUE hardcore element of the *nix Community… but such is the price of success.

    Gentlemen, get your Flamethrowers ready. I probably won’t be returning here to follow up – just stumbled upon this thread by chance.

  • http://surber.us/2006/12/26/free-as-in-speech/ Free as in speech… | SURBER • US

    […] reading Features vs Freedom, I realized that I use mostly non-free software. I had thought myself big on free software, but had […]

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  • http://surber.us/blog/2006/12/26/free-as-in-speech/ Free as in speech… | SURBER•US

    […] been “Free as in speech, not as in beer.” Of course, I go for both as I am poor After reading Features vs Freedom, I realized that I use mostly non-free software. I had thought myself big on free software, but had […]