GNU Linux-libre 6.2 Continues The De-Blobbing Battle

Written by Michael Larabel in GNU on 20 February 2023 at 01:30 PM EST. 24 Comments
Building off yesterday's release of Linux 6.2, the GNU Linux-libre 6.2 kernel was published today by the GNU FSFLA folks maintaining this kernel downstream that strips out driver support dependent upon non-free software firmware/assets as well as dropping the ability to load closed-source kernel modules.

GNU Linux-libre lead developer Alexandre Oliva commented in today's release announcement of their v6.2 release:
This release cycle had a reminder of the early days of Linux-libre, in which Linux carried tons of actual blobs disguised as source code: v6.2 upstream introduced a brand new old-fashioned sourceless binary blob disguised as a sequence of numbers, i.e. binary object code encoded as pseudo-sources.

Now, sequences of numbers in Linux are common, and many of them are just configuration numbers, developed and maintained as such. They are not an attack on our freedom, so they stay.

But this is not the case of those we've been removing, or disabling. The numbers encode executable instructions that control the embedded processor it is supposed to run. They are programs, or fragments thereof, and there is certainly actual source code for them somewhere. The binaries encoded as numbers are active software rather than passive data, and we're deprived of their actual sources, so they have to go: a device under someone else's control is worse for the user's freedom than a device that does no harmful work at all.

The 6.2 release announcement went on to add:
Every release also brings new blob names and requests in drivers we cleaned up before (too many to mention in this release), and that sometimes also requires other adjustments and updating (nouveau, radeon, mt7921, new and preexisting aarch64 dts files).

There were also several new drivers containing blob names and requests (mt7622, mt7996, bcm4377) that we have disabled.

One driver we used to clean up, s5k4ecgx, was removed upstream, so we could drop its cleaning up logic.

We've also removed commented-out logic left over from when we were not sure whether PCMCIA CIS loadable files were code (they aren't, they are just a compact encoding of configuration data), and whether Sound Open Firmware should be cleaned up (the code can load Free firmware indeed, even though some devices seem to require the otherwise-Free firmware to be signed, which effectively Tivoizes those signed programs, but the loading code cannot distinguish between them, so it is left enabled).

So GNU Linux-libre 6.2 is now available for those wanting to try running this pure free software kernel on your hardware, but your mileage may vary with much of today's hardware requiring proprietary firmware for hardware initialization, extra functionality, or security updates.

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