Once again Debian is close to release. And once again we're trying to find ways to avoid doing so. Using a technique we've employed before; firmware.

Social Contract #4 states that "Our priorities are our users and free software". The hard liners believe that it's in our users' best interests that we ensure Debian is 100% Free, whether that be regarding software, documentation or firmware. In the long run I think they're right. Access to firmware source (assuming that there's also access to
suitable tools for building it and producing an image the hardware will accept, which is a fairly big assumption) enables us to continue supporting and improving hardware support long after a manufacturer has discontinued a device. It enables us to understand the behaviour of a new device better (allowing better support which makes it a more attractive purchase). It potentially lets us appropriate a device for new and exciting purposes the manufacturer never imagined (which may again increase the sales of the device). Access to firmware source is a good thing in the long term, for the consumer, the driver author and the manufacturer.

In the short term we I think we need to be pragmatic. We can say that we won't release until all non-free firmware is purged, but who knows how long that will take, and once we've done so how much hardware will we actually be able to support out of the box? What benefit is it to our users if we ship them a distribution that doesn't support their hardware and is already out of date because we spent so long removing that support? Wouldn't we be better to say "We're aware of some firmware issues. We're going to keep working on spliting such blobs out to their own easily installable packages that live outside main. We promise to continue improving the situation for each release (as we have already done since etch), but in the interests of our users we will not hold up a release at this stage of the process." Obviously plenty of people disagree with that, but I don't believe that pragmatism is against the Social Contract and I'd like to think that even our users who are fervently against firmware blobs would accept that there's a tradeoff to be had against release dates.

Anyway. I doubt I've changed anyones mind with the above, so I'm going to go and destack the dishwasher and reply to the latest mail from my NM.