Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Stallman: 'OpenBSD Ports Suggests Non-Free Software'

“East is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet.” OSNews reports about an exchange between the ever cuddly Richard Stallman and the always cordial Theo de Raadt of OpenBSD. What is the issue?

According to Richard Stallman the OpenBSD ports collection isn’t as free as he wants it to be. To quote from his post on the OpenBSD-misc mailing list:

Since I consider non-free software to be unethical and antisocial, I think it would be wrong for me to recommend it to others. Therefore, if a collection of software contains (or suggests installation of) some non-free program, I do not recommend it. The systems I recommend are therefore those that do not contain (or suggest installation of) non-free software.

From what I have heard, OpenBSD does not contain non-free software (though I am not sure whether it contains any non-free firmware blobs). However, its ports system does suggest non-free programs, or at least so I was told when I looked for some BSD variant that I could
recommend. I therefore exercise my freedom of speech by not including OpenBSD in the list of systems that I recommend to the public.

I could recommend OpenBSD privately with a clear conscience to someone I know will not install those non-free programs, but it is rare that I am asked for such recommendations, and I know of no practical reason to prefer OpenBSD to gNewSense.

Well, you can imagine this didn’t fall well in the OpenBSD community and frankly, I have to agree with them. I appreciate Stallman’s view on free software and actually support the GPL v3, but his argument here seems a bit silly. He doesn’t know whether non-free software is in the ports collection, but since the ports collection could contain non-free software it is wrong to use OpenBSD. Unless you are a good friend of Richard and he knows you wouldn’t touch non-free stuff with a 10 foot pole.

Not surprisingly Theo de Raadt had his say about it:

There is nothing to discuss with me.
Richard claimed that there is non-free software in OpenBSD. That is not true.
It is no more true than Linux being able to run commercial binaries.
The ports tree is just a scaffold.
Richard, you are wrong. You said very clearly in your interview that the ports tree contains non-free software. It does not. It is just a scaffold of Makefiles containing URLs, and an occasional patch here or there.
You are just plain wrong. And you are not enough of a man to admit that you are wrong.
I may be unfriendly at times, but you are a power-misusing hypocritical liar who attacks projects that try harder than any others to only make free software available.
Shame on you.

No doubt this will turn into a GNU/Linux versus BSD debate again. Interesting as a pass time, but utterly useless in the end.

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