Developing Free software with non-free tools?

It’s awesome to see Mark’s announcement of Gobuntu (or should that be Ubuntu Freedomware Remix?). I personally haven’t been that interested in a totally Free distro as there are often non-Free apps, drivers, or firmware that I like to use, but Gobuntu might actually get me more into a purist mood. I probably won’t try it on my laptop (Atheros wireless) but I’d love to see companies selling “Gobuntu Compatible” machines and might try it on my desktop machine.

Anyway, back to my main question. It must be the incredible aroma of software freedom in the air, but Gobuntu brought up thoughts of BitKeeper and Linux for some reason [1]. By that I mean, if Gobuntu developers will be using Launchpad and tools like Merge-o-Matic (closed source applications built by Canonical that are used for Ubuntu) to build Gobuntu, isn’t that sort of defeating the purpose? I’d love to hear Mark’s thoughts on this as I think it might come up a lot (it does already with Ubuntu) and I’m not sure what to think about it. On one hand I want to say “Who cares? As long as the end result is what you want why bother.” However, the “ends justify the means” pragmatic attitude has somewhat of a philosophical hollowness when the whole point of Gobuntu is that we can build a whole operating system built on free and open source software.

[1] You can get a brief overview of the story on the BitKeeper Wikipedia page

P.S. I’m also a little confused about the relationship between gNewSense and Gobuntu. I thought they were the same project but it seems not. Do we need both?

14 thoughts on “Developing Free software with non-free tools?

  1. “By that I mean, if Gobuntu developers will be using Launchpad and tools like Merge-o-Matic (closed source applications built by Canonical that are used for Ubuntu) to build Gobuntu, isn’t that sort of defeating the purpose?”

    You’re right. But I’m still confused with something: you’ve rightly said the other day that it was stupid to have two merges systems, but why then why did you suggest to remove DaD ( and not MoM ? Dad is free and open-source, MoM isn’t. Moreover, why didn’t you explain us your point of view during the MOTU meeting ? You must have had very good reasons to do that, no doubts about this, but you didn’t explain why. And last but not least, wasn’t the decision to stop DaD an other “defeat” ?

    Have a nice day.

  2. @Arthur
    I didn’t necessarily suggest removing DaD. In fact, I said that I was quite happy to see MoM replaced with DaD, I just didn’t think it was going to happen. What I want is 1 merge tool and I want it at an official location. I don’t like having to hunt around for things (same with the iso testing site). The freeness of the tool is somewhat secondary, in my opinion, in a practical sense. We rarely need changes made to MoM and they are pretty superficial, UI things. The most important thing to me is that we use what is on and that we show a consistent face to potential contributors, because one of the most confusing things to new people is when there are multiple tools to do the same thing.

    In the end this has to be a top-down decision. I would rather see an open tool at so we can fix it/modify it/ and adapt it as the community needs. But I’m not in control of so I use what I’m given.

    My only real issues with DaD, other than location, are that it doesn’t really address the real, and in my opinion, it it was just started because MoM wasn’t being updated for a few weeks (due to a hardware problem). I have 2 issues there:

    1. It doesn’t seem wise to me to duplicate/fork something just because it has temporary problems. These things are bound to be an issue.
    2. It’s not a good sign when a MOTU or even a MOTU Hopeful are unable to merge a package without MoM or similar program. MoM is a convenience, not an *essential* tool.

    I haven’t been to a MOTU Meeting for some time (they are usually at like 3am my time) and actually I wanted to stay out of the discussion because I want MOTU as a whole discuss the issue and I had already said quite enough.

    I don’t particularly think the decision to stop DaD was a defeat. Perhaps the DaD authors feel that way, I can understand that. But to me having community people involved with MoM is better long-term and more effective towards the “goal”.

  3. Yeah, you’ve got a fair point. I too see similarities with the BitKeeper situation. It’s not quite the same though: Linus was forced to find an alternative to the non-free BitKeeper. Unfortunately, Ubuntu’s never going to be forced to find an alternative for Launchpad, because Canonical controls both.

    I hope you’ll find this relevant comic strip amusing:

  4. Comparing Bazaar to BitKeeper would be more reasonable than comparing Launchpad to BitKeeper. Note that Bazaar is available under the GPL, and if you happen to host a Bazaar branch on Launchpad, it doesn’t lock up any of your data, it’s all there for anyone to download.

    I’m excited to try gobuntu too! I have a system76 laptop, I hope it is gobuntu compatible.

  5. Pingback: Gobuntu, go freedom! « the minds of a tuxian

  6. I wonder why people (even Mark S.) say Launchpad is proprietary software. Does Canonical distribute it under restrictive terms, and/or without the source code? (I’m actually ignorant on the issue, but I was under the impression Launchpad is not software that Canonical distributes).

    Anyway, regarding Gobuntu/gNewSense. Even if you need proprietary software you should consider using it. You’ll know exactly what proprietary software you need right now, which is the basic first step in order to replace it. For instance, a few years ago Java was on my list, until I finally managed to replace it with GNU Classpath. Until a few months ago, Flash was as well (go swfdec!). I’ll choose a free system over one with proprietary bits on it, even if it means installing one or two pieces of proprietary software later on.

  7. @thebluesgnr
    Launchpad is not distributed, so my understanding it’s license is a mute point (I think you have to distribute something for a license to really do anything) but it is closed source in the sense that the source code that runs Launchpad is unavailable. So I guess it could be GPL’d or something (so free licensing) and still closed source/proprietary, but that’s just my rough understanding.

  8. thebluesgnr: almost none of the launchpad source code is freely available – see They claim that it will eventually be open-sourced, but for now Canonical’s business model depends on keeping launchpad closed-source.

    Yes, launchpad+gobuntu seems like a strange combination: I don’t imagine there are many people who feel strongly enough about free software to shun non-free drivers, but are also willing to use a non-free bugtracker &C.

    Seems there’s much talk about making launchpad work with Debian and other bugtrackers. Gobuntu looks like a great chance to do a dry run of all that: set up a Gobuntu bugzilla somewhere, and make it share data as closely as possible with launchpad. Gobuntu get to stay free, and Canonical get to work out the kinks in data-sharing without pissing off Debian.

  9. About Launchpad being closed:

    I haven’t found all the pages where that had me arrive at this conclusion; still, my take is that

    1. (as the end of the interview at the link above states)
    It defeats LaunchPad’s purpose to have more than 1 LaunchPad service, since its collaborative power rests in the fact that it is the point of collaboration.

    2. I believe that Mark would like to eventually see a standardized way, a shared protocol, of different bug repository systems/websites to collaborate with one another. Whenever this becomes enabled, then the need for a single-point-of collaboration service like LaunchPad (in terms of up/downstream collaborative bug tracking) will cease to exist.

    While Mark dreams of this federation of bug tracking systems’ collaboration, he’s being practical and supporting LaunchPad in the meantime.

    Moreover, Mark is using the objections to lack of LauchPad source availability to redirect the objection to emphasize the need for such a bug tracking federation.

  10. Pingback: Shuttleworth lancia finalmente Gobuntu at linuxinitalia

  11. Pingback: FreeSoftNews » Blog Archive » Totally “free” Ubuntu? That’s the plan for Gobuntu

  12. Pingback: » Blog Archive » Totally “free” Ubuntu? That’s the plan for Gobuntu

  13. Pingback: Non-Free Tools in a Free Software Community « LaserJock

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