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02 January 2009, 14:10

The way is cleared for Debian 5

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The Debian developers have decided to release the upcoming Debian 5 (Lenny) with proprietary firmware files to expedite the completion of the Linux distributions next release. The vote itself had several options for dealing with proprietary firmware, from a complete elimination of it, even if it meant more delays for Lenny, to an explicit waiver of the source code requirement for firmware files. The winning option was "assume blobs comply with the GPL unless proven otherwise", a principle which declares proprietary firmware as undesirable, but allows for the earlier release of Debian 5 to take priority over the removal of questionable firmware.

Several device drivers in the Linux kernel load firmware during device initialisation. There are a number of freely available firmware files in the Linux kernel, but these are mostly in the form of source-less binary files known as blobs. The lack of source code conflicts with the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG) which calls for all source code to be available. However, if the firmware files were removed, it would require changes to the Linux kernel and reduce the amount of hardware supported. The vote was called to resolve the conflict within the community over the presence of these firmware files, but in turn created its own disputes, with the consequence that the Debian secretary of the time resigned his post.


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