Re: When will KDE and Debian get together?

Subject: Re: When will KDE and Debian get together?
From: J.H.M. Dassen (Ray) (
Date: Thu May 25 2000 - 19:15:33 CEST

On Thu, May 25, 2000 at 08:53:06 -0700, Alan W. Irwin wrote:
> However, if you search the packages list on the official Debian web site,
> Qt1 is there large as life in the non-free section

True. The license terms on Qt1 allow for us to distribute binaries; they do
not meet the Debian Free Software Guidelines, so such binaries are
distributed in the non-free section.

> while KDE is not to be seen at all.

As its license does not allow for us to distribute KDE binaries. It would be
possible for us to distribute KDE in source form, but I suspect this would
not change things for many users.

> I still think this is an ironic situation.

I won't deny there's an irony to it.

> > Because there have been no fundamental changes in the situation. After
> > analysis of KDE's and Qt's licensing terms (both the non-free Qt1
> > licensing terms and the free QPL), the Debian project has concluded it
> > cannot legally distribute KDE binaries.
> Every other distribution has concluded that they can.

I'm not so sure. I think a more truthful interpretation of their inclusion
of KDE interpretation is that they concluded that their chances of suffering
legal action as a result of their inclusion were negligable.

Other distributions are more "lenient" in adhering by / interpreting license
terms and patents; see for example the number of distributions including
pine, Netscape, GIF producing software, gated, qmail and presumably in the
not too distant future, Motif. That is their right, as their motivation(s)
for producing GNU/Linux distributions are different from Debian's.

> Are you *positive* the rigid stance in the KDE case here is because of
> high moral principles or is there an element of revenge here going back to
> the old flame wars?

I'm not denying few in the Debian project look favourably on KDE or Troll
Tech, but the issue is about Debian's principles, layed down as the Debian
Free Software Guidelines (

The KDE case is hardly the only one where Debian takes a strong stand on

> I ask this admittedly loaded question because I am concerned that Debian
> is shooting itself in the foot over this issue.

The Debian project is about building the best possible free operating
environment, it is not about scoring in the hit parade of Linux
distributions. The more people that use it, the merrier, but that's not at
the heart of the project. The project is succesful because its participants
all agree on this goal.

> Debian has been willing to compromise on many fronts by allowing lots of
> non-free software (such as Qt1) to be officially listed on their web site.

Personally, I'd much rather have the packages search work on "main" only by

We've tried to cooperate with KDE and Troll to get the license issue fixed,
by showing numerous options.

In particular Joseph Carter has worked long hours under difficult
circumstances and long flamewars to get the issue fixed by getting Troll
Tech to use good licensing terms for Qt2. He has gotten very far with this,
for which I respect him a lot, but regrettably Troll Tech decided not to
take the final step and make the QPL GPL-compatible.

The KDE project has not even been willing to "compromise" by admitting that
there is a problem, and fixing it, even though the fix consists of a mere
two-line addition (or if you prefer, "clarification") to KDE's license.

This is regrettable. As a project founded on respect for authors licensing
terms, we have no option than respecting KDE's licensing terms by not
distributing KDE binaries.

The philosophy of Debian as a project builds on that of the GNU project in
many ways. The GNU project was started because RMS was willing to stand by
his principles by not compromising and signing an NDA. While his
uncompromising stand may not have made him and his project popular with
many, it has provided us with a solid foundation to build on. We choose to
maintain that solidity. If others like Corel and Stormix feel they need to
build something on top of it that is less solid, that is their right, and we
try to make that possible for them, but it is in no way a motivation for us
to abandon the principles our project is founded on.

> IANAL, but I suspect this is not clear-cut and instead is a legal grey area

Many issues surrounding free software licensing are. For example, the GPL
has never been tested in court. Still, in those cases the FSF perceived its
license terms to be violated, the violators (e.g. NeXt and the ncftp author)
have backed down and complied with the FSF's request, suggesting that the
GPL is a strong license, likely to be held up in court. Debian's
interpretation of the GPL in the case of KDE is along the lines of the FSF,
which, until a court will interpret the GPL, is the the entity most likely
to offer a proper interpretation of the GPL.


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