An equally radical document is the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG). While most of the free software world relies on the Free Software Foundation's four freedoms to define free software, in the DFSG, the Debian community has developed a definition that is, if anything, even more radical. In some cases, such as the GNU Free Documentation License, Debian has gone so far as to reject or qualify the Free Software Foundation judgments about what is free.
At the same time that I respect the Foundation, I can't help thinking that having at least one source of independent judgment on software freedom creates a dialogue that benefits everyone by encouraging second thoughts. What's more, I suspect that the Foundation appreciates the independent viewpoint, too; its members have often met with Debian representatives to discuss differences of opinion.
For all its raucousness, the Debian community works, and at an astonishing level of idealism. This idealism is so firmly built on the tenets and implications of free software that I can only conclude that anyone who argues that Debian should be more commercial has either forgotten those tenets or wants to turn Debian into something that it's not.
Some would argue that distributions such as Ubuntu offer many of the same advantages as Debian. And clearly Ubuntu has made its mark, particularly in innovation.
A Field Guide to Free Software Supporters
How GNU/Linux Would Be Affected by Yahoo-Microsoft
Open Source Pros Pick their Favorite Projects
For Your Business: GNOME or KDE?
In some cases, too, such as the Restricted Drivers Manager, Ubuntu might be said to follow Debian's example of allowing users to choose their degree of software freedom.
Yet as Ubuntu pushes toward commercialization, one or two reports of increasingly corporate behavior are starting to emerge. Moreover, while Debian can recall its leader, or call for a resolution on the project's course, Ubuntu lacks any method of deposing Mark Shuttleworth or deviating from his decisions.
True, Shuttleworth has so far given no reason for any to call him to account; so far as I can tell from his writing, he seems a sincere free software advocate who practices what he preaches. Yet without such mechanisms, community input is restrained by hierarchy. And, to that extent, Ubuntu seems less open than Debian.
Perhaps that relative lack of democracy is the necessary price for a more focused direction and greater market share. And there's nothing wrong with that. Of all the commercially-oriented distributions, there are none that I would like to see succeed more than Ubuntu -- and not just because its success directly aids Debian.
However, we have no shortage of commercial distributions, and far too few non-commercial ones large enough to have an influence. If nothing else, we need Debian as a counter example, just so we can remember the basic concerns of free software and the full range of possibilities.