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October 3, 2022

Debian to allow non-free firmware in its default installer

Filed under: Linux/Unix Related,My Thoughts,Tech Related — Suramya @ 10:19 AM

One of the problems preventing new users from using Debian is that if your hardware is not supported by an Open (‘free’) driver/firmware then the system doesn’t install any and then it is a painful process to download and install the driver, especially if it is for the Wireless card. In earlier laptops you could always connect via a network cable to install the drivers but the newer systems don’t come with a LAN connection (which I think sucks BTW) so installing Debian on those systems is a pain.

Debian leadership has been debating on how to fix this over the past few months and there was a vote to decide Debian would handle non-free firmware going forward. Now the voting has completed and the verdict is in, Debian has decided that the Debian Official Installer Media can include firmware that is otherwise not part of the Debian system. The non-free firmware would be automatically installed and activated when the installer determines that it is needed for the OS to function. The setup would notify the user in such cases and provide instructions on how to disable the changes if required.

The Debian Project also makes the following statement:

We will include non-free firmware packages from the “non-free-firmware” section of the Debian archive on our official media (installer images and live images). The included firmware binaries will normally be enabled by default where the system determines that they are required, but where possible we will include ways for users to disable this at boot (boot menu option, kernel command line etc.).

When the installer/live system is running we will provide information to the user about what firmware has been loaded (both free and non-free), and we will also store that information on the target system such that users will be able to find it later. Where non-free firmware is found to be necessary, the target system will also be configured to use the non-free-firmware component by default in the apt sources.list file. Our users should receive security updates and important fixes to firmware binaries just like any other installed software.

We will publish these images as official Debian media, replacing the current media sets that do not include non-free firmware packages.

This is a great choice and will allow the installer to work pretty seamlessly for most users. I know there are purists who will be shouting and screaming that this is not the ‘true way for free software‘ but they will be a minority for the most part. Installers need to be simple, while allowing power users more granular control of the process. This change removes a major barrier in the adoption of Debian and makes the lives of millions of system administrators a lot easier.

Source: Slashdot: Debian Considers Changing How It Handles Non-Free Firmware
More details at: Debian Choose A Reasonable, Common Sense Solution To Dealing With Non-Free Firmware

– Suramya

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