Debian Improves Docs To Inform Users Their Systems Might Not Work Without Non-Free Firmware

Written by Michael Larabel in Debian on 2 August 2021 at 06:38 AM EDT. 67 Comments
Debian 11 "Bullseye" is set to be released mid-August while out this morning is the third release candidate of the Debian Bullseye installer. With this installer update is more documentation for users letting them know the risks of modern graphics cards and the like that are often inoperable unless loading firmware that isn't considered free software.

With many modern graphics processors including those from AMD and even the Nouveau driver with recent generations of NVIDIA GPUs, there is often a situation of not only having 3D hardware acceleration not working but even display mode-setting can fail that leads to a blank screen or driving the unaccelerated display at a sub-optimal resolution. Especially for newer GPUs and modern displays, these open-source drivers are useless without the firmware files that are publicly redistributable but binary-only and thus not considered free software. There's similar situations of network adapters and other components not working without loading the Linux firmware files, but in the case of GPUs it's rather a blocker if you don't even have a working display for your desktop.

Rather than going against their principles, Debian 11 will continue to ship without the linux-firmware files by default. However, they did decide to add documentation around devices requiring firmware. It also outlines how the Debian Installer is able to load required firmware files from the likes of USB drives if the user is interested. They felt they at least didn't "want to leave users in the dark" over the issues of non-working displays due to lack of firmware and thus improved their documentation.

Debian's non-free installer images have also been improved around its firmware handling. Debian Installer Bullseye RC3 has also been upgraded to the Linux 5.10 LTS revision and other minor improvements made, as outlined by today's release announcement.
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Michael Larabel is the principal author of and founded the site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience. Michael has written more than 20,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and automated benchmarking software. He can be followed via Twitter, LinkedIn, or contacted via

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