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Personal Philosophy Problems

I came across something that is problematic for me. I guess I really knew it all along, but today it hit home, and I put 1 and 1 together.

By default, Ubuntu ships with two repositories that are fully supported: main and restricted. These two software repositories include all the necessary software to get a basic user up and running. Office suites, multimedia, Internet applications, sound, video, wireless, and much more. These two repositories make up the Ubuntu distribution.

But, Ubuntu, by default (yes, it ships with this turned on), includes non-free software. I don't know all the software included at this point, but the fact is, it is there. It's in the restricted repository, and it is fully supported by the Ubuntu team and their developers. So far, the only software though, that I have found, that is non-free, are device drivers for hardware (I'm sure there is more, like PDF support, I just haven't dug it up yet). User-end software (apps that don't drive hardware) is all in the main repository and is free.

So, if you know me, this raises a major flag, and I don't know exactly where to go from here. Looking at my laptop, home desktop and work computer, they all have different video cards. My laptop is ATi, my desktop nVidia and my work PC, Intel. Problem is, I don't know what video drivers are free, and which are non-free. So, for the time being, I'm using the vesa driver until I can find a better free alternative.

But, because I use only free software in my personal life, where does that put me with regards to using and supporting a Linux distribution that uses and distributes non-free software? Here's what I've come up with so far.

  1. Leave Ubuntu for Debian. As outlined in the Debian Free Software Guidelines, only free software is in the repos by default. There is a non-free repo, but as with Ubuntu, you need to open your /etc/apt/sources.list, and add it by hand. By making this change, though, I am basing the decision on principle, which means honesty to myself. That leads to me deleting forever MP3s that I downloaded during the days of Naptster and Kazaa.
  2. Modify my personal philosophy. I would have to be very specific in how I change it. For example, the use of non-free software in my personal life would only be accepted on the hardware level (device drivers, etc.). The problem with this is the level of hypocricy, and the slippery slope it leads down. If it's okay on the hardware level, then certainly, it's okay on the protocol and format level too. I would have to draw a very definite line if I were to go this route. However, I would still be able to use my favorite distro and advocate it's use.
  3. Using proprietary software on any level. Maybe I'm going too extreme, and need to recognize a balance between non-free and free software. Maybe using the Opera browser, for example, is just fine. But, then what is the sole reason that I use GNU/Linux in the first place? Is it to boycott Microsoft? Is it just a hobby or an interesting toy? Or is it because I like the ideals that propel GNU software and the Linux kernel? I tend to lean towards the latter.

Those are the only 3 options that are available and placed at my feet. Option #1 would be the superior choice, I think. But the likelyhood of me switching is slim. I have grown a deep appreciation for the hardware dection on Ubuntu and it's ease of use on the desktop. I love the commercial support, and it's regularly scheduled release cycle. Documentation is un-paralleled with any other distro, and the community is the largest currently. All of these are drawbacks to me when looking at Debian as an alternative, because they either don't exist, or just aren't on par with Ubuntu.

The 2nd choice seems to be the most likely, but the hardest to define. Where do I draw the line, and why am I drawing any line at all? If I am to use only free software that interacts with the user on a non-hardware level, then why not just go all the way? Why make an exception at all? After all, that is why I use GNU/Linux in the first place. It's open and free. I don't necessarily care about price, it's my personal freedoms that are important to me.

The last choice just won't happen. Again, I'm not interested in proprietary software, because it doesn't foster trust and community. It fosters risk to the user and monopolistic control to the vendor. As such, community suffers. I like the concept behind free software, because it fosters community and builds that trust. There also seems to be a level of maturity attained when developing and using free software. So this option is really out of the question for me.

So it sits between option #1 and #2. And the outlook for me choosing a path is 20% for the 1st and 80% for the 2nd. But I worry I might be rationalizing and justifying to use Ubuntu, and I don't want to feel that way. I want to make the decision, because I feel it's the best decision in this time of my life for me to make. Certainly, I use non-free software on my calculator, cell phone, entertainment system, and other things, so why not just define a set of rules, and stick to them?

Well, I've rambled for long enough. I'm interested in your feedback, so please, comment below on what you would do, what decision you think I should make, and why.


{ 1 } Comments

  1. Steve Dibb using Mozilla Compatible 5.0 on GNU/Linux 64 bits | October 5, 2006 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    I'm somewhere between two and three, but I always lean towards practicality when necessary. At work, I use the free Xorg nvidia drivers (nv) which work just great for everything I need to do. I can still watch movies too, but if I do anything other than bzflag I'm screwballed. So, at home I use the proprietary nvidia modules.

    Even when it comes to the proprietary drivers on Linux, I still think it boils down to two distinctions: Those that are releasing them upstream and those that are hacks that are binary wrappers around a windows device. I absolutely *hate* the binary wrappers around windows drivers. They are always buggy, there's nothing you can do generally, and you're really stuck.

    The ones released from upstream though, I'm actually okay with, and they listen to feedback and release stuff on a regular basis, so I'm happy. I wish they would fully open their specs, but I realize from a practical standpoint they can't do that either.

    Anyway, that's it for drivers. For other software, I only run games. Even then, only games that have been ported to Linux again by upstream (Unreal Tournament, Neverwinter Nights, etc). Sure I could run wine, but why bother when its such a hassle? I have a windows box that I use *just* for gaming.

    So, I guess my take is a bit different -- I'm not totally fine with proprietary software on my linux install, but if upstream releases it then it smoothes me over quite a bit.

    Of course one thing I forgot about is the whole win32codecs thing, and flash. I could live definately live without flash, I think. I rarely use the win32codecs much more (though I wouldnt notice anyway, since they play fine in my 64-bit browser). That's just one of those necessary evils. Fortunately WMV9 support is getting added into ffmpeg so that's one less huge binary blob to depend on. And then Real already releases a semi-open source version of RealPlayer (Helix Player) for Linux which is very nice of them, which leaves QuickTime (Apple, natch) which we'll never see because Apple and OSS ... well, don't get me started on their lip service.

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