Can The Proprietary GPS Daemon Be Removed?

Dave Crossland dave at
Sat Dec 2 01:56:26 CET 2006

On 30/11/06, Sean Moss-Pultz <sean_mosko at> wrote:
> On 11/30/06 1:17 AM, "Dave Crossland" <dave at> wrote:
> > I'm essentially asking if its theoretically possible that this phone
> > might be FSF endorsed - non-free firmware is fine by the FSF as long
> > as it is burned onto a ROM and can never present an ethical problem.
> I really don't know. But I sure hope so. That would be incredibly cool.


> Is there any documentation somebody can point me to that would
> tell me about how to get their endorsement?

No, excuse me while I write something similar :-)

Firstly, I hope you're familiar with the actual FSF philosophy, and
have read at least the first few essays on like say - because I find a lot
of people think they know what the FSF is about, without having read
their essays first hand. Supposing this... :-)

...I'd say the best thing to do is to contact gnu at directly.

I bet they haven't heard what FIC is up to here, and, depending on if
you see OpenMoko as a platform for 'mixed source innovation' or
something, or as a 100% Free Software embedded device, I bet they
could be very interested.

However, straight up, while the proprietary GPS daemon is included by
default, or in fact recommended/mentioned by OpenMoko, its not going
to be endorsed by the FSF:

"We would especially like to know of other GNU/Linux distributions
that have a policy not to include, or recommend, non-free software.
Developers of such distros that wish us to be aware of their
distributions should contact <gnu at>"

And a bit more of the reasoning behind this:

"When major institutions in our community develop non-free software,
they tell the public that non-free software is ok. This weakens our
community's resolve to maintain our freedom, and that weakness hurts
our chances of surmounting each of the various obstacles that we face:
hardware with secret specs, non-free tools and libraries such as Sun's
Java platform, software patents, the DMCA, and the proposed SSSCA.
When they make it tough to obtain free software for a certain job,
will we persevere, or will we give in? Those who are willing to take
the easy way out and use non-free software will not help us prevail."

However, for me, if the proprietary components are non-essential and
easily and cleanly removable, I'll accept and wildly advocate OpenMoko
because there simply isn't any alternative, other than not having a
mobile phone.

And I hope that as Moko starts delivering the industry-change it
smells of, and starts to become a Free Software Movement success story
like Wikipedia, the proprietary components can be replaced with Free
ones in the next version, and then this won't be a problem for the

Generally, I think the trend is that all proprietary components of all
GNU/Linux systems are being replaced with free ones.

When I started using GNU+Linux in 1999-2003, I used many proprietary
components, and didn't appreciate what software freedom was or why it
was important. I used an Apple powerbook 2003-2006 and

For a while, the FSF couldn't recommend a GNU+Linux distribution
because there wasn't one that didn't include or recommend non-free

Debian is often thought of as the 'most free' mainstream distribution,
but this isn't actually true, because it does both, and isn't going to
stop doing either any time soon.

Instead, Fedora has been on a mission to be 100% Open Source - so
unlike Debian it doesn't have any non-free package repositories or
refer to 3rd party ones in any way. But its policy is to accept OSI
approved licenses which are not FSF approved, so it lacks FSF
endorsement for the moment. This is turning towards Free Software
though, with a recent "Free Software Analysis" -

Compare this to say, Ubuntu, which tells a lot of noisy lies about how
it is 100% Free, but is actually increasing the amount of proprietary
software it includes year on year:

"No part of it will ever be proprietary, and we encourage people to
use it, improve it and pass it on."

"A large proportion of people using Ubuntu -- including 70%-80% of
people with new computers -- need a non-Free driver for reasonable
performance from their graphics card, wireless card, or modem, because
there is no Free driver available, they had little choice in the

Ubuntu's contrary nature resulted in gNewSense 1.0, released last
month and announced by the FSF, which is a Ubuntu derivitive that is a
100% Free Software operating system - and its important to know and
remember that this is the *whole point* of Free Software :-)

gNewSense firstly mirrors the 'free' sections of the Ubuntu
repositories, and secondly, packages a custom Linux kernel with all
the non-free firmware taken out.

Here's a couple of quotes to introduce the FSF position on proprietary firmware:

"Firmware is software, and non-free firmware is non-free software ...
Since these programs are binary-only, they are clearly not free
software ... Their inclusion in Linux itself is a violation of the
GPL, but the Linux developers don't seem inclined to enforce the GPL
against that violation. At present, essentially all GNU/Linux distros
include the non-free firmware, because it was too hard to remove.  So
we decided to overlook the issue for the time being."

"The ethical issues of free software arise because users obtain
programs and install them in computers; they don't really apply to
hidden embedded computers, or the BIOS burned in a ROM, or the
microcode inside a processor chip, or the firmware that is wired into
a processor in an I/O device. In aspects that relate to their design,
those things are software; but as regards copying and modification,
they may as well be hardware. The BIOS in ROM was, indeed, not a
problem. Since that time, the situation has changed. Today the BIOS is
no longer burned in ROM; it is stored in nonvolatile writable memory
that users can rewrite. Today the BIOS sits square on the edge of the
line. It comes prewritten in our computers, and normally we never
install another. So far, that is just barely enough to excuse treating
it as hardware. But once in a while the manufacturer suggests
installing another BIOS, which is available only as an executable.
This, clearly, is installing a non-free program--it is just as bad as
installing Microsoft Windows, or Adobe Photoshop. As the unethical
practice of installing another BIOS executable becomes common, the
version delivered inside the computer starts to raise an ethical
problem issue as well. The way to solve the problem is to run a free

Now I don't buy a 'use non-free drivers now to get popularity and then
leverage on vendors to get free drivers' reasoning at all. ATI used to
release Free Software drivers, and then they got more popular than
Nvidia, and dropp the FS drivers. If a vendor makes a GNU+Linux driver
at all, the system is popular enough, and more won't help.

Instead, I try to buy hardware carefully, and having done so,
gNewSense works as perfectly as Ubuntu does. Fedora's policy is to
include firmware -
- and Debian's policy is to tolerate it until Debian 4 is launched
next month, then shift it all to the non-free section - . Hopefully, the gNewSense
project will grow and develop a version of Fedora that also includes
no non-free software presented as 'firmware' too, and this will help
the upstream distributions to change.

But firmware is going to become more and more of a problem, especially
as EFI style BIOSs encourage hardware vendors to make more complex

For embedded device free software users like FIC, this issue is even
more extreme, because its much more feasible to be 100% Free Software
on a device than on a desktop - things like 3D graphics and multimedia
demands are far away (though I hope Gnash will be in OpenMoko by
default! :-) but the firmware side of things is closer by.

So I hope FIC is thinking about the non-free firmware issue now, and
taking a freedom-loving approach, so you won't get caught with your
pants down - like the dozy Linux kernel maintainers who accept binary
firmware will. I think it might well break the terms of the GPL, hoho


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