Non-free repositories: should they be allowed?

Non-free repositories: should they be allowed?

Fri, 2007-04-27 22:10 -- admin

Should GNU/Linux distros allow commercial software repositories? Should they let users have access to non-free software? Is limiting the users choice to just free software limiting their freedom or preserving it? This is a tricky one... how do you see it?

PC Strip's picture
Submitted by PC Strip on

Hi, I have to ask: what is a repository, actually?
I think you need to explain things better if you want people to write in forums, you really do.

committed's picture
Submitted by committed on


A repository is a huge container of software. See here:

Have a look here:

Basically, your distribution will make several pieces of software available through their repository (or repositories!). Normally, there is ONE official repository, and other "not-quite-official" ones.

This makes installation _amazingly_ simple, especially because the repositories normally know about dependencies. So, if you install software A, but software A needs softwares B and C to work, the installer will deal with this without any trouble!


Terry Hancock's picture

This is really just a matter of differentiation. Some distributions have their reputation staked on very high levels of guaranteed user freedoms, others on ease of use. Clearly the first category (e.g. Debian) is going to prefer limiting distribution of non-free materials, while the second (e.g. Linspire) is going to prefer to facillitate them.

I use Debian myself. But I'd probably recommend a distribution that isn't afraid of non-free drivers to someone who's just trying out a GNU/Linux distribution. I'm willing to put up with the hassles associated with using 100% free software -- things like having to be choosy about hardware purchases and/or occasionally having to deal with buggy or incomplete support. But that makes sense, because these are hassles I'm prepared for -- I have sufficient training and experience to get around these problems, and because I value the reward for it, I'm willing to.

OTOH, most people aren't in my position. They just want things to work, and I think that's fair.

Danboy's picture
Submitted by Danboy on

If we allow them, aren't we are more likely to get converts to FOSS. Then, once there is critical mass, won't we be at the point where proprietary options will no longer be needed, where they are superceded by FOSS alternatives or where they'll cease to exist?

We sacrifice a little freedom now so we can have a lot more or total freedom down the track.

alejandroz's picture
Submitted by alejandroz on

I personally dislike repositories of non-free applications, but I understand the need for non-free drivers, firmware, codecs and similar software. In my view: Repo with Flash player and mp3 codecs → Good; Repo with the Opera Browser → Bad. After all, there's not much need for proprietary applications, FLOSS alternatives are just as good, most of the time.

Ryan Cartwright's picture

Choice should be the key here. Non-free repositories should be available but (IMO) not by default.
In that way you are giving people the choice to run non-free stuff but you are making them very aware that this extra stuff may have different distribution and usage restrictions etc.
Assuming we are talking about drivers etc. putting them in a non-free repository may (and I mean *may*) prompt the hardware manufacturers to set the code free.
Example: two 3d graphics cards are available to a user, one has drivers in the free (default) repository and one in the non-free. A user buying the first one will likely recommend it as "works out of the box with Linux" to their friends. With the non-free one a user may well recommend it with the caveat "but you'll have to install the driver from the non-free repository". Whilst this is not a huge problem the second user may well go down the path of least resistance. (Well we can hope can't we).

Sabyasachi Bhattacharyya's picture
Submitted by Sabyasachi Bhat... (not verified) on

The choice should be left to the user to use commercial software too. For one, limiting one to ONLY freeware is also a step against freedom of choice, which is a cardinal principle of the Linux community.
Secondly, it would be rather impractical to think that all Windows and Mac users will overnight shift to the Linux distributions. It would be better if the option to use commercial software over Linux distributions is there, to win over more and more people from other platforms. Giving them the option to use freeware parallel to their commercial softwares is a good way to win them over.