Debian 6.0 Squeeze to be released with completely free Kernel(s)

Today we have announced that, starting with the upcoming release of Squeeze, Debian will be even Free-er. Exceptions to the DFSG for non-free Linux firmware blobs, which have been granted in the past, will no longer be granted. Starting from Squeeze, Debian will be Free the bottom up, no matter where your own definition of software ends.

The news has been known for a while within the Debian development community, but we had the pleasure of sharing that with our users only today. According to the reaction on, where the news quickly made into the most popular notices, people are enthusiastic about the news and that in turn is very rewarding.

If you are as happy and proud about this achievement as I am, please direct your kudos to all the teams who made this possible:

  • the Debian kernel team who worked for the past 2 release cycles, together with Linux upstream, to split free-vs-non-free firmware bits and monitor new releases to avoid freedom regressions;
  • the Debian CD team who basically "forked" different media production lines, for different user needs wrt firmware;
  • the d-i team who added, long ago, support for loading user-provided firmware at installation time;
  • whoever else I might have forgotten who contributed to this result (feel free to leave a comment to refresh my memory!).

Having been trolW asked several times in the past about the "real freeness" of Debian at events, talks, and the like, I consider this episode to be a very nice story to tell. While we have granted exceptions for Linux firmware at the time of Etch and Lenny releases, during this time Debian people have worked, together with upstream, to make this final result possible. All this work has improved the situation not only for Debian users, but also for users of those derivatives which rely upon Debian kernels.

Nonetheless, don't expect us to live under a rock. We know that there are users out there who need nasty non-free firmware bits to boot their machines or to access the Internet. That is why separate images with firmware included are being provided, although they are not part of Debian and are properly "discriminated": they should be looked for explicitly by users and can't be supported to the same extent of Free firmware, simply because we (as anybody else other than the hardware manufacturer) do not have access to the corresponding source code.

This separation is a perfect example of the pragmatism embodied by the Debian Social contract: Debian consists of 100% Free software; at the same time, Debian enables its users to make their own choices in terms of Freedom, being explicit about what users risk if they cross the boundaries of DFSG. Awareness is the key here and I find it to be a very honest yet effective way of explaining to the world why Free Software is better.

This is not the end of the story though, as we need to document this change properly to both increase awareness and avoid leaving users in the dark. A couple of bugs filed today might benefit from the help of some kind doc-writers: Debian bug #607191 (documenting the firmware change in the Squeeze release notes) and Debian bug #607193 (documenting the firmware change on the website).