It seems that the only proprietary file I have to install on Debian to get my laptop working for day to day use is the firmware-iwlwifi package. Why is it that after all these years, the LAN card works seamlessly with free software but we still need to download proprietary firmware to use the WLAN card?

Is there any free software that works in place of firmware-iwlwifi? Or are we just stuck with it for now?

  • 6
    Ask Intel why they don't free them. Or reverse engineer them. Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 14:48
  • 1
    Because you have proprietary hardware. Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 22:29

1 Answer 1


Take a peek at how WiFi works. The job of a "simple hardware" WiFi card is surprisingly complex. Many of the operations are one-shot jobs (negotiating the connection's parameters on startup, figuring out what channels are legal to use in your particular location, ...). Doing this in silicon is nonsense, the card has it's own CPU and software (i.e., the firmware loaded on startup. Placing this in ROM would make it is impossible to fix bugs/update when some specifications change).

While at it, you might also want to complain about the firmware loaded into your CPU on powerup, and ask for the source of the operating system of your hard disks...

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