Optionally Free Is Not Enough

There are distros we decline to recommend that offer the user the option of installing only free software. Given that option, a user who values freedom strongly enough, and thinks about the issue, can make those distros respect per freedom.

A distro that offers that option is clearly better than one that fails to offer that option. But that option does not make the distro ok to recommend in general. After all, most people in our community are not conscious of this issue. We cannot expect most of them to choose to reject nonfree software just because the distro offers a way to do so. And we don't want to lead people to install nonfree software. We've chosen our practices to make that unlikely.

Thus, our decision about recommending a distro depends on who we would recommend it to. For instance, it could be:

  1. Specific committed free software supporters that we know will make an effort to avoid nonfree software.
  2. A large and diverse group, such as, perhaps, the public in general.

We could recommend the distro privately to people in that first group if the distro provides a clear and reliable way to reject nonfree software.

However, when it comes to recommending a distro to the general public, we should insist (and we do insist) on an explicit commitment not to offer or suggest any nonfree programs. That way, we know our recommendation of that distro won't lead the public to install any of those.

What distros should an install fest recommend or install for the public? On moral grounds, an install fest should not recommend or install nonfree programs. However, people will bring computers that need nonfree drivers or firmware blobs in order to run at all—without those, they will go away disappointed and consider GNU/Linux a failure.

We thought of an idea for how to reconcile these two needs: the install fest installs a free distro, then “the devil” (a person wearing a devil mask) offers to install the nonfree drivers or blobs that machine needs.