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Big changes coming in Debian 12: Some parts won't be FOSS

Vote result good news for new users, but might be bad for remixes

The next major release of Debian will ship installation images that are not 100 percent free open source software.

If you decide to try Debian GNU/Linux, even if you ignore the multitude of Debian derivatives and remixes, there remains an important and non-obvious choice to make: which image do you download?

Aside from the many platforms and architectures that Debian supports in what it calls ports, and despite the downloads page pointing you at at a sensible default, the problem is that the default download image is built entirely from FOSS components, meaning that it doesn't include any vendor BLOBs (Binary Large Objects).

If your internet connection is via Wi-Fi, for instance, there is a strong probability that the default Debian ISO will not be able to bring up Wi-Fi – because many Wi-Fi adapters require some vendor firmware to be uploaded to the device before you can connect. This firmware is proprietary, and therefore Debian doesn't include it.

This is one of the things that helped Ubuntu succeed: it included proprietary drivers and firmware in its CD image to help you get started – components Debian omitted. Much the same thing helped Linux Mint to gain an edge over Ubuntu: it included non-essential but useful tools, such as MP3 and DVD codecs, that Ubuntu didn't.

To be fair, Debian does also offer non-free images, but with a warning that they are unofficial, which is off-putting to nervous beginners.

As of Debian 12, codenamed "Bookworm", this is going to change. The community put it to a vote, and the winner was option 5, which read:

Choice 5: Change SC for non-free firmware in installer, one installer

"SC" means Social Contract – and this is one of the foundational documents of the Debian project, so this is quite a big deal.

The Reg FOSS desk feels that this is a good move. It is pragmatic, and will be less intimidating to beginners. Fewer choices to make, less foreknowledge required, and default images that will work better on more hardware are all good things.

We suspect that the main people for whom it's bad news are those who maintain their own Debian remixes, for whom this was a key selling point.

There are even some Debian derivatives which it may benefit, such as the Debian-based PureOS and Ubuntu-based Trisquel, which both remove all the non-free elements from their parent distros.

Debian 12 should appear some time in the middle of 2023 (but beware of the typo in that post). The first alpha test version is already available. There will, of course, be other changes in the new version, among which are switching the audio server to Pipewire – which Ubuntu is also doing, as we covered earlier this year. ®

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