[Dev] summary of the chromium/electtron/webengine controversy

bill-auger bill-auger at peers.community
Thu Mar 24 10:47:34 GMT 2022

several people have asked about this since 'jami-gnome' was
removed from arch - this post is for the sake of a shared "TLDR"

the chromium web browser is on the "List of software that does
not respect the Free System Distribution Guidelines" wiki
page[1] - the presence of any software on that list, prevents
any distro from being endorsed by the FSF, if it distributes any
of the software on that list, without applying an accepted
liberation procedure; and puts the ongoing endorsement in
jeopardy for any distro which later accepts any of them
un-treated - currently, the only accepted liberation procedure
for chromuim is: "use icecat"

as far as i have been able to determine, this issue affects all
web browsers derived from chromium, simply because no one from
any of the popular forks i have looked at (such as
ungoogled-chromium and iridium) has claimed to address any
licensing issues (those projects address only privacy issues) -
also, this issue most likely affects all software which
includes, or is derived from chromium, qt-webengine, or electron

the suspicions surrounding the chromium browser began (AFAICT),
within the first week of the release of the *nix port, back in
2009 - the original discussion on the gnu-linux-libre list
spanned over two months[2] and was discussed again on several
occasions over the years[3][4][5][6][7][8][9]; and a stack of
issues has accumulated on the parabola bug tracker[10]

from 2009 through to 2012 there was much activity by the
chromium team to address these concerns[11]; and then activity
petered out - the issue was never officially closed, however

the most important factor, which will determine the likelihood of
this controversy ever being resolved, is whether the focus is
placed on chromium, qt5-webengine, or electron - chromium is an
absurdly enormous code-base; and there are not enough people who
are willing to do that work - some have tried[12]; but it is
probably never going to be completed satisfactorily - electron
seems to a hopeless cause for distros[8]; so the only reasonable
project to consider, is qt5-webengine - that is fortunate,
because qt5-webengine is used by hundreds of programs, making it
the one of the three with the greatest impact on distros, by far
- to focus on chromium would require orders of magnitude more
work, only for that one extra program

finally though, even after a satisfying licensing audit of
webengine is completed, the code-base would still need to be
reconciled with the "ungoogled" treatments, to address any
remaining privacy concerns

the most recent discussion is a post to the FSDG mailing list[13]
from Andreas Grapentin (a parabola team member), who has
volunteered to coordinate the effort, once there are some

[1]: https://www.libreplanet.org/wiki/List_of_software_that_does_not_respect_the_Free_System_Distribution_Guidelines#chromium-browser

[2] "Status of google chrome and chromium"

[3]: "chromium not free?"

[4]: "Time to recheck Chromium?"

[5]: "QTWebengine is nonfree"

[6]: "QTWebengine is nonfree"
[7]: "FSF opinion on chromium, QtWebEngine, electron"
[8]: "FSF opinion on chromium, QtWebEngine, electron"  

[9]: "DSFG in perpetuity"

[10]: "QTWebgine embeds "entire Chromium platform""

[11]: https://bugs.chromium.org/p/chromium/issues/detail?id=28291

[12]: the FSD review of chromium
[13]: "I am starting a review into whether QtWebEngine is free software"

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