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Will Ubuntu Edge commit to using only free software?

by John Sullivan Contributions Published on Jul 25, 2013 12:26 PM
With $32 million to spend, will Canonical and Ubuntu commit to software freedom as the foundational design principle?

Ubuntu is aiming to raise $32 million in crowdfunding to fund Ubuntu Edge, a mobile computer that can dual-boot between Android and Ubuntu GNU/Linux.

Will Ubuntu Edge commit to using only free software? If the project succeeds and has $32 million available to spend, this is surely possible, but there is no indication in any of the promotional materials that this is part of the plan.

Isn't Android already free software? In theory, yes, but in practice, no. To work on actual hardware, Android ends up relying on device drivers that are either outright proprietary or use proprietary firmware blobs. All commonly available Android devices also come with proprietary software applications installed.

This is why today we announced a fundraising partnership with the Replicant project, which produces a version of Android that runs on existing devices without proprietary system software.

Isn't Ubuntu already always committed to free software? No. Ubuntu's default GNU/Linux distribution includes nonfree drivers, and its software marketplace promotes proprietary programs.

But, we don't want to make assumptions about what Ubuntu Edge will or won't be. We and many other free software supporters excited about the possibility of a GNU/Linux mobile device would like to hear official confirmation:

  1. Will the Ubuntu Edge versions of both Android and Ubuntu contain or rely on any proprietary software or proprietary firmware?

  2. Will the Ubuntu Edge include any Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) software?

  3. Will the device's bootloader be free software?

  4. Will the device have Restricted Boot, or will users be able to replace the operating system with a free one of their choice?

  5. Will Ubuntu Edge include F-Droid, the free software Android application repository, as part of a commitment to promote and recommend only free software?

Ubuntu in the past has said they are forced to make temporary compromises in software freedom in order to have their operating system work on the computers people own and speed adoption of free software. But in this case, Ubuntu would have the chance to dictate the design of the hardware themselves. Software freedom should be the foundation of that design. There is no reason for compromise.

Conveniently, Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth is doing an AMA on Reddit starting at 12:30 EDT, so maybe we will get some answers.

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