Linux Distributions and The Free Software Community — a note from the president of Debian

November 15th, 1997

We of the Debian project produce a high-quality 100% free-software Linux system. But, as volunteers, we have another job, too — Debian helps keep the commercial Linux distributors honest by providing a non-commercial alternative for them to be compared against.

There is a Social Contract in the free software community. Good members take value from it in the form of free software that others have contributed, and return value for what they have taken in the form of free software that they have developed. Bad members just take.

Is your Linux Distribution honoring the social contract? You can find Debian's policy at This provides a statement of what we will give back to the free software community, and our guidelines for what is free software and what's not quite free. We published this about half a year ago, expecting other Linux distributions to also state in writing how they were going to treat the free software community. So far, no other Linux distribution has made that statement.

If you run a Linux system other than Debian, we urge you to ask them for a copy of their Social Contract in writing. We'd like you to be able to compare all Linux systems on the basis of how they are treating the free software community.


        Bruce Perens
        Debian Project Leader