I ask this question because I'm curious as to whether there is some sort of performance advantage offered from the binary blobs that are in the Linux kernel.

Since many of these blobs have been replaced with code in linux-libre, why has that same code not been incorporated into the Linux kernel at kernel.org?

  • Although I believe your question is legitimate I question whether the answers are legitimately ontopic – xenoterracide Nov 5 '10 at 11:53
  • In a nutshell they are probably not faster and are simply there to replace proprietary code in order to make the kernel more pure in it's open source ness – xenoterracide Nov 5 '10 at 11:54
  • @xeno: I've tried to write an even-handed answer to this. Let me know if you think if it wonders off-topic and I will edit it. – Steven D Nov 5 '10 at 17:51

The Linux-libre project is an extension of efforts by distributions aimed at people who wish to use completely free operating systems, as defined by the Free Software Foundation.

Currently it is maintained by FSFLA, the Latin American Free software Foundation.

According to the about page for the project:

Linux-libre is a project to maintain and publish 100% Free distributions of Linux, suitable for use in Free System Distributions, removing software that is included without source code, with obfuscated or obscured source code, under non-Free Software licenses, that do not permit you to change the software so that it does what you wish, and that induces or requires you to install additional pieces of non-Free Software.

A quick reading of the lastest version of the "deblobbing" script shows that it mostly removes the binary blobs and some documentation. In many of the cases the binary blobs are either hardware drivers are firmware for hardware. Firmware is code that needs to be loaded onto the device itself and is often needed even when a free software driver exists.

As far as I understand, there is no clear performance benefit from these blobs (although, without them, many people would have no performance) and most kernel developers would love to replace them with well-written, Free code.

In your question you claim that "many of these blobs have been replaced with code in linux-libre" and ask why this code hasn't been accepted. In my reading of the scripts I could see very little code that was replaced. Rather the majority of the script is removing code. The code that is added is intended to "replace the requests for non-Free firmware with messages that inform users that the hardware in question is a trap." (Linux Libre Release Accouncement)

If you have specific code in mind, please mention it in your question. Most patches for Linux are discussed either on the Linux Kernel Mailing List or one of the many subsystem specific lists. Often the reasons for non-inclusion can be found by searching through these lists.

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    The most important point is that Linux-libre removes functionality. You get a choice between fully open-source software that supports fewer devices (Linux-libre), and partially closed-source software that supports more devices (the mainline kernel). – Gilles Nov 5 '10 at 18:29
  • I just assumed the blobs would be replaced with equivalently functionl code. Bad assumption. – oadams Nov 5 '10 at 23:13
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    @Gilles the choice is between free software and "partially closed-source software". It's not just "open source". The open source camp is not after user freedom, which is the main reason of Linux-libre's existance. So the point is Linux-libre removes functionality but considers doing this an ethical advance, since freedom is an ethical requirement. More info: gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.html – Fernando Briano Dec 30 '10 at 13:48
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    @Fernando: Since this is not the first time it comes up… In my comment above, I use “open source” as a less wordy and more widely understood synonym for “software that is free as in ‘free speech’” (the shorter wording “free software” being often understood as meaning software with a price tag of 0). The difference between these two expressions is irrelevant to answer the question in this thread, and off-topic on this site. – Gilles Dec 30 '10 at 14:33

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