The sad reality

Story: Fedora 18 - Can we ever be totally free?Total Replies: 5
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May 15, 2013
11:27 AM EDT
Fedora, as he reviewed it, isn't fully free. They include firmware and don't strip binary blobs out of the kernel. The sad reality is that, for most people, basic functionality and quite possibly hardware support is lost if you go fully free. My compromise is to use FOSS software where it can do an adequate job for me and to only use proprietary software where I have no other choice.

Also, I'll echo his comments on GNOME 3. I hated it when it first came out but there have been huge improvements since then. While it's still not my desktop of choice it really isn't bad now.

May 15, 2013
12:04 PM EDT
Unless you want to go the Lemote Yeeloong route (or something similar), then you're not going to completely escape closed firmware and hardware. Most of the time people that use Linux without firmware on their hard disks are just using hardware that includes the closed firmware in a ROM chip on the device. The fact that you can't see it doesn't really make it better than closed firmware loaded from your hard disk. As far as I'm concerned, firmware blobs are not an open source software issue but an open source hardware issue.

May 15, 2013
12:35 PM EDT
Fedora does extensive work to make sure that all that is included is compliant with free and open source licenses. FSF views firmware as an issue but they prefer firmware in a ROM chip to something that can potentially be replaced with free software in the future. I am not convinced this is a better choice.

In any case, if this bothers you, you are free to follow the instructions from

May 15, 2013
3:23 PM EDT
This is not the fault of the Free Software community. I cannot praise enough the truly Herculean efforts of the kernel developers to reverse-engineer hardware drivers.

The fault rests squarely on the shoulders of the hardware vendors who can't be bothered to release their drivers, or at least their specs sufficient to build free drivers.

A symptom of all this is that most people buy their hardware first, then try to get Linux running on it. So they end up needing non-free simply because they've already sunk their resources into hardware that doesn't work, or doesn't work well, without it.

I am reminded of the Gig-E port on my desktop motherboard. It works perfectly well at 100Mbps, but will not sync at Gig without the non-free firmware.

May 17, 2013
7:46 PM EDT
I was recently given a very nice laptop that had a hardware issue and was out of warranty. The issues (there were two, causing a single symptom) were something that even someone as hardware challenged as I am could fix and it now works perfectly other than needing a new battery. I'm sure not going to discard it because it uses a binary blob in a driver.

For those of us who do Linux for a living we often have zero choice in the hardware we have to support. Once again, I'm not going to walk away from a chance to make an honest dollar because of having to use some less than free software.

I agree with Bob_Robertson wholeheartedly that the lion's share of the blame belongs to hardware manufacturers who see keeping their design secret as somehow necessary to their sales and bottom line. Nonetheless, the net result is that if you want something truly "free" by the FSF definition it likely won't work on the majority of hardware out there.

@CFWhitman: the Lemote systems have been intriguing. However, they are not commercially imported into the U.S. and consequently are very expensive to bring into the country. In addition, they are way behind other vendors in performance, particularly when you consider performance vs. price.

May 20, 2013
12:48 PM EDT
@caitlyn: Yes, I realize the state of affairs. It's just about as close as you can come to totally Free right now. To me, it's currently a completely unacceptable solution for the moment. Terrible performance, poor battery life, relatively poor compatibility (though open source software is pretty good about providing a version for just about any architecture, so compatibility is not as bad as all that).

I'd love to be able to use completely Free Hardware as well as Software, but it's just not practical for me with what's available. I don't see free of charge closed firmware blobs on the hard disk as a Free Software issue, though. They're not more closed source just because you load them from a disk instead of a ROM chip. They're the same kind of issue either way. I see it as a hardware one. If someone sees it as a software one that's fine too, but they should realize it still exists when the closed firmware blob is stored on a ROM chip on the device.

I don't even find it practical to ban closed software from my machines at this point. Banning closed hardware is out of the question.

I do regret not grabbing a Ben Nanonote when I could have, though. I would have liked to do that just to show my support for Free Hardware. They don't seem to be available anymore though. I probably would have picked one up if a good Wi-Fi solution had been available for them. I was kind of waiting for the next iteration. It doesn't look like that's going to happen now.

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