[Dev] Supporting virtualization with external nonfree software

Michał Masłowski mtjm at mtjm.eu
Tue Sep 11 11:07:56 GMT 2012

I believe the recent VirtualBox [0] changes and removal of free VMware
graphics drivers are not needed for FSDG compatibility, introduce
unneeded technical issues and the only reasoning I see for them implies
other changes that we shouldn't do.

I think there is only one relevant part of the FSDG [1] in these cases:

> In general, something that helps people who already use nonfree software
> to use the free software better with it is acceptable, but something
> that encourages users of the free software to install nonfree software
> is not.
> For example, a free system distribution may have documentation for users
> setting up dual boot systems. It could explain how to access filesystems
> of the proprietary operating system, import settings from it, and so
> on. That would be helping people install a free system distribution on a
> machine which already has proprietary software, which is good.
> What would be unacceptable is for the documentation to give people
> instructions for installing a nonfree program on the system, or mention
> conveniences they might gain by doing so.

As I have commented in [2], I believe the operating system selection in
VirtualBox is used mostly by users already knowing what system to use,
it doesn't promote installing them (nor instruct how to do this).

Just like the VMware graphics drivers supported by QEMU, it does
technical changes that are useful with free software.  For example, some
free GNU/Linux distributions are based on distributions listed there and
could use optimizations specific to these base distributions.  If
someone makes yet another Debian-based free distro, should all
virtualization programs be updated to list it, instead of just listing
Debian which supports the same features?

I think a reason for such changes to be done might be that it's mostly,
officially, useful with nonfree software that is not provided nor
recommended by us.  How is this different from nearly all graphics
drivers that need nonfree video BIOS in the card, or from programs for
configuring UEFI boot firmware that is usually nonfree?  GRUB is usually
used with a nonfree BIOS, should it be removed for the same reason?  If
names are the issue, should we also stop using the GNU/Linux name which
includes a name of a program including nonfree software?

There are also much more clear cases of programs recommending nonfree
software in similar ways.  For example, unarchiver and ununrar are
promoted mostly to use files that cannot be made without using nonfree
software (although they support also e.g. ZIP files, not seen any
recommendation of using these to access ZIP files).  This is not
considered a problem by the FSF.

[0] https://parabolagnulinux.org/news/virtualbox-libre-new-version/

[1] https://www.gnu.org/distros/free-system-distribution-guidelines.en.html

[2] https://labs.parabola.nu/issues/151
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