Communicating freely

Archive for the ‘drivers’ Category

Binary blobs are a bad idea

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

I don’t think binary blobs are a good thing for Free Software.  Allowing vendors to produce binary graphic drivers and firmware is understandable from a technical point of view; it gets hardware functional.  However, from the long-term perspective it’s not doing Free Software a favour.

Free Software is uniquely useful because it gives users the power to truly make the most of the technology they own.  They can use, adapts and share it.  It’s a simple idea and an incredibly important one.  Binary blobs are a little blot in the middle of this; they are one small avenue where the user suddenly can do less with the technology.  

I’m not greatly concerned with the binary blobs that exist today.  They are relatively few and far between.  My worry is the precedent that these blobs are creating for tomorrow.  If we accept binary blobs in Free Software then it’s entirely possible we’ll see an increasing amount of them, and user freedom will be gradually eroded.

Some people talk about the need for maximum hardware compatibility to gain users.  This is a valid concern but only part of the big picture; ultimately hardware compatibility is a tactical thing.  The overarching strategy is not hardware compatibility but to increase user freedom.

We need to be careful about the tactical decisions we make or our strategy will be undermined.  This is not about being overtly dogmatic nor is it about being confrontational when it comes to interacting with hardware vendors.  It’s simply a matter of trying to ensure that in the long-term Free Software remains free.