Non-free drivers - good or bad?

Non-free drivers - good or bad?

Fri, 2007-04-27 21:58 -- admin

Does the use of non-free drivers restrict your freedom? Or does saying that you shouldn't use them restrict your freedom? Which restricts your freedom more? Which is better? And why? Everyone has an opinion on this. Tell us yours!

alejandroz's picture
Submitted by alejandroz on

They're a necessary evil right now. I bought my hardware (before switching to GNU/linux) to use it, so I need binary drivers. It's that simple. Otherwise I'd be wasting my money and missing out on valuable functionality. The alternative would be using a proprietary OS with just a few Free apps.... I'd rather take a free OS with a couple blobs.

alex2echo's picture
Submitted by alex2echo (not verified) on

The ideal would be to buy a computer especially built for Linux.
I don't see a lot of people complaining that Mac OS X is not compatible with their computer.
And buying Linux-compatible hardware will eventually encourage hardware makers to open source their drivers.

Non-free drivers are a necessary evil, but should not be included by default in Linux distribution because of a pragmatic reason ... non-free drivers don't have long term support, and in this distro version your hardware may be supported, but in the next distro version the old driver may not work with that new kernel the new Linux distro has.

Not to mention that if bugs are discovered, no one can fix them but the company that made them, not to mention that when you need security how do you know that the driver doesn't activate a back-door or something like that ... I mean can companies be trusted ?
History shows us otherwise.

And most people at this point blame it on the Linux distro, which is unfair.

I see that most people think that non-free drivers are excluded from many distributions because of the idealistic views maintained by the Free Software Foundation.
This is only partly true, and the real reasons are more pragmatic than not.

alejandroz's picture
Submitted by alejandroz on

So I shouldn't use Free Software on my current computer?

And how many people buy Macs? I see more ads for computers with Linux (crappy distros that are replaced by pirated Windows, but they're still being advertised) than for Macs, which are comparable in number to ads for FreeDOS boxes (I'm Argentinian and completely serious about this). A tiny minority of computer users buy Macs, I currently don't know any Mac user (Desktop Linux users? One non techie, and several tech guys).

In any case, I doubt I'll ever buy a desktop with anything preinstalled, as I'm not into brand name computers. I can build my own, tailored to my needs. I would buy a Linux laptop, though.

I understand that it's not the distribution's fault, but I need my computer to work.

Danboy's picture
Submitted by Danboy on

I'm not sure how the whole drivers thing works exactly but...

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

Hardware manufacturers would then be hounded to FOSSify their drivers by a major percentage of their consumers. Who, in turn, as a larger group than we have now, would be better able to improve the drivers further and faster than the manufacturers could on their own. And they would have larger sales figures and a better community reputation as their reward.

I might have missed something big here but it seems to me that the ends justifies the means. We sacrifice a little freedom now so we can have a lot more or total freedom down the track.

Feel free to let me know how I'm wrong.

Ryan Cartwright's picture

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

I agree that allowing them may encourage more people to switch but I'm not so sure this will result in there being no need for proprietary drivers. Also, the fact that there would be no need does not mean the manufacturers would feel compelled to free the source-code. If end-users are "happily" using proprietary drivers on a number of OSs then where's the incentive for the hardware manufacturers?

I think hardware people are quite stubborn/jumpy and will require there to be more demand before they'll supply. We all know that the supply would increase demand but they generally seem quite unwilling to take (even slight) risks on this. The Linux-on-Dell issue has shown me that if we can get enough voices shouting then they will eventually listen and this story...AMD promises open source graphics drivers (links to Slashdot) has definitely warmed the cockles of my heart. :o)

I really hope this is the start of something bigger.


Andrew Min's picture
Submitted by Andrew Min on

We hate them. They're proprietary, and take away freedom. Unfortunately, we got to have them. Like alejandroz, I too bought my computer before installing Kubuntu. I can't help that I'm using an ATI Radeon x300 card.

Andrew Min