This post is my take on GNU Doesn't Care About Your Agency - Xe

Update from 2023-04-11 see also: The Free Software Foundation is dying - Drew Devault’s blog

The Free Software Foundation, who developed the GNU system, is surprisingly critical of most GNU/Linux distributions, even Debian which is fully free. This is because Debian does not meet the Free System Distribution Guidelines (GNU FSDG). Specifically, Debian has tutorials on how to install some proprietary software on their wiki, it also has a "contrib" repository, which contains free software that could potentially be used to load proprietary software.

This is troubling because the Free Software Foundation is implying we should only use operating systems not only just contain free software, but also that actively make it difficult for users to install proprietary software. This is eerily reminiscent of Digital Rights Management, which the FSF opposes and calls Digital Restrictions Management.

The FSF's strained relationship with user agency can also be seen in the situation with Linux-libre. The "vanilla" Linux kernel contains proprietary blobs that allow users to use proprietary hardware including wifi cards and graphics cards. It is worth noting that this is pretty much only an issue on desktop, and is not the case on web servers, where Linux is the most popular operating system. Both Debian's kernel and Linux-libre are made fully free through the use of a "deblobbing" which removes the proprietary blobs from the kernel. The difference between the two is that while Debian's kernel is fully free, it allows users to re-blob it if they need to for instance to make a piece of hardware work. This is a completely opt-in process that no one could do on accident, only a user who definitely wants a proprietary blob will get one.

Installing proprietary blobs on Linux-libre on the other hand, involves recompiling the kernel. This is because it only allows kernel modules from a whitelist. Ironically, this is an arguably more difficult process than jailbreaking an iOS device to install non-Apple-approved software on it, these FSF-approved Linux distros are really locked-down environments.

To be clear, no one is forced to use any of the ten FSF-endorsed distros, it's not even comparable to the way students are forced to use Windows and spyware like Proctorio. But what I'm criticizing is the attitude over at the FSF. They call their list of endorsed distros a list of Free GNU/Linux distributions, implying that any distro they don't endorse is non-free. It's a very paternalistic attitude, the user is apparently too stupid to be trusted with a wiki or contrib repository because they might accidently install proprietary software. If a distribution contains only free software, then it is free software. It doesn't matter if it's hosted on a website that also has a wiki that has a tutorial on how to install proprietary software.