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Non-GPL drivers in the Linux kernel

This OSNews story tracks a conversation on a mailing list about the Linux kernel. Basically, some people who hack on the kernel want to place a warning in the kernel if you try and load a non-free kernel module or driver that it will not work in kernels released as of January 2008. The idea being they will release another patch by then that prevents non-free modules from loading.

I think this is a stupid idea.

First of all, this move would in theory lock out the proprietary Nvidia and ATI graphics drivers. Now I’m running the Nvidia driver for Linux as I type this. If that suddenly stops working in 2008 when I upgrade, then I won’t be able to enjoy beautiful graphics or play amazing open source games.

Also, in theory it would also block a technology called ndiswrapper, which allows you to run Windows network card drivers (usually for wireless cards) under Linux. It’s open source, but since it links with proprietary code (the Windows drivers), it would be restricted presumably.

More importantly, this makes Linux look worse as an OS to people who might consider switching, and might consider the free software/open source ideology. Their 3D graphics will never be able to work out of the box (unless they have an Intel chip) and their wireless cards are never going to work. Is this going to inspire more people to use a free platform?

No. It will alienate potential users and it will make Linux, in the eyes of the average computer user, go from almost a real alternative to being an interesting technical exercise for free software purists, and free software purists only.

To the people considering doing this – would you rather have people use a mostly free platform or use a completely proprietary platform because the 100% free one doesn’t work with their hardware and isn’t therefore useful to them? Make your choice.

I’ve made mine – if this goes through, in a year’s time I’ll be running a patched kernel with this restriction removed. Unless every single device driver goes open source within a year (which isn’t going to happen).

Thankfully, Linus is against this move and I support him on this. There are also other arguments against this – including that it violates Freedom 0, but I’ve said enough and you’ve read enough.

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