Pragmatism in Debian

First time I’m doing ping-pong on a blog … but I need to respond to MJ Ray and I can’t leave comments on his bog.

He’s worried that I’m using the word “pragmatism” to defend my ideas. He also defines himself as pragmatist… and that’s right. Most of us choosed free software because that was the best option for us. We’re all pragmatists in that sense.

Part of this common pragmatism is to be able to fix things when they go wrong. Right. However pragmastism doesn’t mean that we should be able to fix things where nothing can go wrong.

What do you want to fix in the Firefox logo ? in its name ?

Of course, that doesn’t apply to firmwares, they may contain bugs and we might be interested to fix them. However removing them serves no purpose : users don’t have working drivers, and free replacements won’t appear just because we decided to remove them.

Pragmatist means that *we compose at best with what currently exists*. You can’t take into account “uncertain future outcomes”. We take what works now and if something better (in terms of freeness and in terms of quality) comes later then we replace it. We can’t anticipate with what’s going to happen.

That’s my vision of pragmatism applied to Debian. That’s why I believe my proposal makes sense. I do not propose to include arbitrary non-free stuff but only things which are __useful__ to existing free software. I’m happy to discuss further how to define more precisely the scope of “useful” in the above sentence.


  1. says

    The first paragraph was about you. The rest was inspired by or related to you.

    Right now, I want to fix the firefox logo only to avoid the trademark danger, but it should be obvious it’s not something “where nothing can go wrong”. It might be offensive or illegal for someone, or even just suboptimal for a particular display device, so I don’t think debian should give up the freedom to fix these sort of things. We can’t take into account uncertain future outcomes, but this is pretty obvious because we’ve seen similar things before. The freedom to edit artwork is useful.

    A long-term success is better than a short-term one. A pragmatist doesn’t mind working sometimes. Free replacements don’t appear just because the non-free isn’t in debian, but it helps to point out the problem and encourage attention. The debian approach could be described as long-term pragmatism: solving problems forever, not just a quick-fix for now. For the short-term, you have other tools.