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29 December 2008, 08:30

Ts'o calls for pragmatic Debian

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In a blog posting, Theodore Ts'o, Linux kernel developer and recently appointed CTO of the Linux Foundation, has called for more pragmatism from the Debian community. His comments were prompted by the recent bitter arguments over non-free firmware that lead to the resignation of Manoj Srivastava as Debian project secretary.

"It is the notion of Free Software as a philosophy, with no compromises, which has been the source of many of the disputes inside Debian" says Ts'o who goes on to look at the philosophical position of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" and the absolutist language of clause one of the Debian social contract, which states "100 per cent free" and "never make the system require the use of a non-free component". Ts'o points out that there is no room for manoeuvre in this clause and that it clashes with the fourth clause of the Debian social contract which starts "Our priorities are our users and free software". While noting that "100 per cent free software is a wonderful aspirational goal", Ts'o suggests that, in the case of standards documents and firmware, there are other considerations to be taken into account.

Ts'o points to another controversy in the Debian community that centred around Josselin Mouette, who was accused of making a sexist post to the Debian lists. Mouette was defended by some on the grounds of free speech and "claiming that any restraint on such a notion was equivalent of censorship". Ts'o praised Mark Shuttleworth's Canonical for the Ubuntu Code Of Conduct, saying "I consider people to be more important that computers, hardware or software". Ts'o suggests that Debian could incorporate something like it to smooth interactions between developers.


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