This is the email I sent this morning to Linus, RMS and their legal dpts:
Dear Mr Torvalds,
Novell today announced that they removed from its distro all non-free kernel modules (they are now available only through a manual download process). As a plain user of GNU/Linux, I take an issue with this because it has an impact in the usability and “out of the box” experience that I expect from any desktop operating system in year 2006.
The reason I email yourself about this and not Novell, is because the problem lies with your personal stance on the issue. In the kernel mailing list you have mentioned many times in the past that you would prefer modules to be GPL and that the kernel’s license does not allow the creation of closed source drivers that link back to it. However, you always left the
issue lingering, kinda like saying “oh, whatever, the legality of the GPL reality might not allow proprietary drivers, but I won’t do anything against it either…”.
And this, is a terrible non-position to take. Because it creates problems with everyone involved: the companies continue writing non-GPL modules because they know that they won’t be sued, the distros are adding them or removing them without being able to make up their minds, and the users are getting pissed off for not having out of the box usability.
This is a mess.
Either OSDL and FSF must legally chase these companies from publishing their binary modules (or force them to open up their drivers), or you have to come out clean and say “screw it, the copyright of the kernel is mine and its core will be dual-licensed between the GPL and the LGPL and everyone can create whatever modules they damned want”.
But leaving the situation lingering without a clear cut solution, is a strategic mistake. Please come out with a YES or NO regarding binary modules, I don’t care which one it is, it’s just that I — the consumer– need a solution, because I need to know what to expect from the software I am about to use. And if it’s a NO, I also expect OSDL and FSF to take the
appropriate action immediately, with first “victims” the ATI and nVidia nonetheless.
Note: This email will be published on my blog. Your replies will be kept private, except if otherwise specified.
*Update:* Many people replied, Linus did too, the consesus is that they won’t do anything about it (obviously because they don’t want to piss off both the companies involved and the kernel contributors of many years). Linus refuses to clarify the product and so no potential law firm can build a case against current violators of the GPL. The result: nothing will ever change for the end user and the distros.