your appreciation of Debian Squeeze achievements in getting rid
of non-free firmware blobs. We still disagree on the overall
freeness assessment of Debian, but I'm positive that steps like
this one can further future collaboration, in the interest of both
Long version follows.
Historically, the relationships among Debian and the FSF have
gone through mixed fortune (and that's quite an euphemism). On the
one hand, Debian is committed to 100% Free Software, is
an open project explicitly inspired by "the spirit of GNU", has
been sponsored by FSF in its infancy, and properly calls itself
even "GNU/kFreeBSD"). On the other hand, Debian is the project who
considers the GNU FDL license to be only conditionally free
and which is not considered to be an entirely Free system according to
So much for the history corner.
As a long time member of the Debian Project, as well as an FSF(E) fellow, I've always felt a bit sad about this state of affairs. Not because the two projects should have aligned goals; they clearly focus on different aspects of the quest for a Free (Software) world. Not even because they should agree on how to build a Free distribution: history has shown that FSF technical positions do not always get along with Debian's more "pragmatic" style, as embodied by point 5 of the Social Contract. Rather, my sadness is rooted in the belief that not getting along have encouraged duplication of efforts which could have been easily avoided (e.g. multiple distributions concurrently freeing up kernels).
Furthermore, I'm more and more convinced that Debian nowadays enjoys a rather privileged position among Free Software vendors. Indeed, even though GNU/Linux distributions have reached a popularity we didn't dare to imagine 15 years ago or so, most distributions are under the direct or indirect control of commercial vendors. Those commercial vendors play a very important role in the promotion of Free Software. For instance, they are structured in ways that enable them to seal OEM deals with hardware manufacturers to sell computers with GNU/Linux pre-installed. Commercial vendors, by their own nature, are also in general better at marketing than non-commercial vendors. On the flip side however, commercial vendors are not yet relevant enough to drive proprietary drivers out of the market and, as a consequence, cannot yet afford not to support hardware which need such proprietary bits to work. Among mainstream GNU/Linux distributions Debian is one of the very few vendors—if not the only one—that is both very relevant and, thanks to its independence, can afford taking Free Software's side: no commercial urgency can force Debian to negotiate on that. That is quite an asset to be used in the promotion of Free Software, especially to a public that is interested in and willing to understand what Free Software really is about. Such an "aware" public is on the rise as of lately, together with the general awareness increase of risks entailed by living a digital life, when that life is not under our control (think, as an example, at how often the "Facebook privacy debate" has hit mainstream medias in the last year). The "aware" public is the natural target of both Debian and the FSF. Dividing it would not serve well the cause of Free Software.
With all that in mind, last August I took the chance of being on the "right" side of the Atlantic Ocean for DebConf10, to discuss possible venues of collaboration among Debian and the FSF. I sat down and discussed at length with John Sullivan, who I happen to know for his Debian involvement, in his capacities of FSF representative and operations manager. We discussed various topics, with the intention of bringing them up to the respective communities. Then, inevitably, we ended up talking about the overall freeness of Debian and his exclusion from FSF listing of Free systems. (FSF is of course entitled to such judgements, pretty much as Debian is entitled to its own judgements on FSF licenses. Nevertheless those judgements contribute to dividing our public and might lead to wasteful duplication of efforts, where Free Software could better be served by collaboration.) The main ground for exclusion from that list used to be the compromises Debian has made in the past about non-free firmware blobs. But, as I pointed out back in August, those compromises would have been gone starting with Squeeze, making that argument moot.
Today—6 months later—I'm delighted to cheer at FSF's decision to
publicly recognize the achievements Debian has delivered with
Thanks! It's a nice gesture that I've very much appreciated. I'm confident steps like this one will help future collaboration if, on both sides, we will be able to spot actual venues for collaboration.
Needlessly to say, I still disagree with the overall FSF
assessment of Debian non-freeness.
Apparently, it still stands on the basis that
provides a repository of nonfree software […] [which] is “not part
of the Debian system.” […] but users would be hard-pressed to make
a distinction and that
people can readily learn
about software available through it by browsing Debian's online
package database. I respect the principle of non
advertising non-free software and I even agree that it is a good
principle. But unfortunately it's also a very blurry principle on
which, in my opinion, Debian actually scores very well. No non-free
software is offered to users by Debian; it's just for users that
really want to have non-free software (or need
to, in order to run a Free OS on their computers), that Debian
tries to stay out of their way. For the "aware" public discussed
above, I think it's much better to draw the line where software
freedom ends and use that line to explain what does crossing it
entails, than locking them up pretending non-free software do not
exist. But fair enough: for the time being, I guess, we will need
to agree to disagree on this one.
Getting a little bit closer in the occasion of the Squeeze release is still an important step forward. It's up to each of us now to seek out initiatives which attract the interest of both projects and that can benefit from synergies.
 Sorry, I've no decent definition of "mainstream
distribution" to offer, besides folklore and well-established
distribution review sites. (Heck, I don't even
have a decent definition of "well-established distribution review
site" to offer!).
 which hasn't happened yet, due to the proverbial amount of available spare time.