Free Compiz Fusion

I remember a couple of years back when I started using GNU/Linux: Ubuntu's 7.04 was probably the flagship of the GNU/Linux movement, encouraging people to use "Linux for human beings" (that probably meant I wasn't a human being since I had been using Debian Sarge for a couple of months before the 7.04 release) and the Compiz project (and to some smaller extent, the Beryl project) was surely the most important eye-candy feature the movement offered newcomers, showing it was possible to have a beautiful desktop outside the mainstream operating systems.

I was attracted too, I have to say. I remember playing around with di3go's recently acquired laptop and it's X Server configuration (back in those days running Compiz was little less than magic craft specially on an ATI video card) until I got the cube rotation effect working. I then bought my own laptop but Compiz couldn't fully run on my integrated ATI video card (I only had the wobbly and some fade effects) so it wasn't until I bought my new PC at the end of that year that I could run desktop effects at a reasonable performance. Nevertheless, I was a big fan of the project even throughout the months I couldn't run it myself. We used Compiz heavily at the FLISOL that year and the year after (2007 and 2008) to attract people to the Linux adoption.

Looking back at those days, now from a different perspective of the meaning of GNU/Linux, i.e. as a Free Software activist instead of just a Linux User, I recognized a subtle flaw on the usage of Compiz as a project to attract masses to the Free Software movement which I consider should be fixed for upcoming Free Software events like Software Freedom Day and next year's FLISOL: we usually promoted the use of Compiz with the non free drivers provided either by NVidia or ATI. Even without specifically stating people should install proprietary drivers, we didn't specifically state people should use free drivers for their video cards neither, which is harmful for those projects and for the Free Software movement in general. The reason we had to use proprietary drivers was simple, though: it's a lot easier to get things rolling on the proprietary drivers, plus the free drivers lack of some of the latest capabilities offered by vendor-provided drivers not because the programmers on the free driver projects are not as good  as the companies' ones, but because the companies won't release specifications in time and most of the work of free driver projects are done by reverse engineering. I myself ran Compiz Fusion on propietary NVidia drivers on my Frugalware Linux before I changed to KDE 4.0 and it wasn't until ATI's Catalyst driver dropped support on my laptop's integrated video card on latest drivers that I switched to radeon free driver on it, and I haven't got Compiz running on this driver yet.

So yes, it's true: it's not as easy to set up Compiz Fusion on free drivers as it is to set it on the proprietary ones maybe just because there's a lot more documentation on the web for the former ones. But then if we can't get those working for demonstrations, it's a good time to practice one of Richard Stallman's most important teachings: if you are to choose between showing software you cannot run on a free platform and not showing it, do not show it.

And yes, you may not agree with me. I expect to read comments from people saying that it's better to use "semi-free" software to bring people "closer" to freedom. But is freedom a fuzzy concept? or is it binary? You are always free to choose your definition of freedom.

I must add a disclaimer here: I'm a big fan of the Compiz Fusion project and I'm still trying to get it running again on my radeon driver (it's on my never-ending TODO list, and I'll post about that if I get it working) even though di3go already dropped the enthusiasm on it (he claims to hate desktop effects actually :D).

Compiz Fusion

Compiz Fusion