Jonathan, I’m afraid you’ve misread the announcement that proprietary video drivers will not be switched on by default in Feisty. This was the result of a long telephone call including the entire TB and CC. During the discussion, we re-affirmed the Ubuntu policy of including proprietary drivers where these are required to enable essential hardware functionality.
We define “essential hardware” as functionality which exists widely and for which there are free software applications that are broadly useful, that we wish to include in Ubuntu’s default install, and which require full use of that hardware. The canonical example has always been wifi drivers, some of which only come in proprietary blobs, but which of course enable huge parts of the free software stack to Just Work. We have always shipped those, and intend to continue to do so.
The big discussion has been about whether or not 3D video functionality would be considered essential for Feisty. I and others do believe that 3D is an essential part of the modern desktop experience. It is difficult to buy a PC or laptop that does not include such hardware, and in terms of transistor count it’s almost as much as your CPU these days. However, when we reviewed the status of the free software applications that depend on that hardware functionality we found that they were not ready for inclusion by default in Feisty. Neither Compiz nor Beryl have the requisite stability and compatibility to be a default option in Feisty.
It was this which blocked the decision to enable proprietary video drivers by default, not an aversion to their inclusion. For better or worse, we already crossed that line right at the beginning of the Ubuntu project, and reaffirmed that policy during this debate. It is highly likely that Feisty+1 will see the inclusion of Compiz or Beryl by default, looking at their maturity and ongoing community involvement, and that will catalyse the decision to enable this hardware functionality by default too, even if that means using these proprietary drivers.
Now, the discussion did highlight a couple of key issues and result in a number of additional decisions:
- We have not been forceful enough about our policy on software patents and other, similar threats to software freedom. As a result, we have joined FFII and other organisations that are fighting software patents (I am personally co-funding an EFF representative in Brussels to focus on this and other work related to software and content freedom). We will also shortly announce participation in another patent-related initiative aimed at preventing a hostile take-over of the free software space by those with entrenched software IP positions.
- We will actively support Nouveau and other efforts to develop free software drivers that enable the requisite functionality. I am happy for folks working on these efforts to contact me directly or to follow the community channels in Ubuntu. Either way, we will provide financial and development support for those groups and will integrate their work as soon as it does the necessary hardware magic. Proprietary drivers are not the preferred solution and will be eliminated once the community delivers a free alternative.
- We will work closely with the hardware vendors concerned, and part of that will be to continue to make the strong case in favour of free drivers.
In addition to all of this, we have restarted the effort to produce a flavour of Ubuntu that includes no proprietary drivers or firmware at all. In fact, this flavour will take an ultra-conservative approach to all forms of content on the .iso, whether that be artistic or code. More on that initiative later.
So, I’m sorry if this is not the resounding rejection of the drivers that you were looking for, but I hope that the discussion has proven open, comprehensive and ultimately reasonable.