I care a lot about free software, not only for security and privacy reasons. Nowadays, I mainly contribute to Replicant to help advance free software. Replicant does not ship any non-free software and the website and wiki do not offer instructions to install non-free software. As a consequence, some functionalities are missing when installing Replicant because Replicant cannot yet provide free replacements for all parts that require non-free software, only for some.

Replicant's primary goal is to provide a fully free operating system that can be used on phones and tablets. Providing non-free software that makes the parts working that do not yet work with free software, would go against this primary goal. But one might argue that it makes sense to offer these non-free software pieces because some users really need the functionality that would be missing otherwise. And these users probably will not use Replicant if the functionalities they need are missing and they will use a different operating system that not only ships these non-free software pieces, but even more non-free software than the user would need to get the needed functionalities working. Wouldn't it be better if these users could still use Replicant instead of an operating system that has a lot more non-free software?

I think that there is no need for a free software distribution to make a compromise in this way and offer non-free software for critical functionalities while violating its primary goal at the same time, just to make it usable for more users. Someone will simply provide the non-free software and instructions to install it outside of the project. If there is a need for it, then this will happen in any case. This is not under the control of the project and it shouldn't be. Users can install non-free software on a free operating system if they want, but they shouldn't expect that the free software project is OK with it and helps with instructions or even forces the non-free software onto its users.

I recently thought again about this topic when working on the F-Droid issue where we try to find a way to make the F-Droid client shipped with Replicant compliant with the GNU Free System Distribution Guidelines (GNU FSDG). Unfortunately, work like this sometimes gives the impression that Replicant only tries to remove non-free software and promotion of non-free software and doesn't really contribute any new free software. This couldn't be further from the truth as the main work Replicant developers are doing is to write free software to make hardware work that does not yet work with free software.

I'm a Debian user and I hope that the Debian project will someday take the same stance and remove all non-free software from its repositories. Debian already provides the non-free software in separate repositories and not in the main repository, but it still hosts these repositories and provides instructions to add them to install the non-free software. There is also the problem that some free software in the main repository advertises non-free software. For example, Firefox offers non-free addons alongside free ones. Of course, the Debian project can freely decide whether they provide non-free software or not and the decision should be respected. I'm just a user voicing his opinion.

I believe the following analogy captures pretty well how I feel about all of this:

You own a nice restaurant. You really care for your customers. You want them to eat tasty and healthy food and be happy about the service. They should feel welcome when entering your restaurant and feel great when leaving.

But there are some folks you just cannot convince to eat at your place. They do not want to wait so long for their order and the menu is too expensive for them. You know some of these people, some of them are friends of yours. So you want to accommodate them as well. And you can make a quick buck when they at least buy some drinks at your bar. Some time ago, you bought some space next to your restaurant. Now you decide to rent this space to a fast food chain. The people you could not convince to visit your place are now at least stopping by for a drink or two and maybe a snack when going to the fast food restaurant next door.

So you have now a little more customers and make some money with the rent to the fast food joint. But it turns out that the fast food restaurant is also competition as some of your core customer base comes less frequently and the general spirit of eating high quality and healthy food is not quite there anymore. So has renting the space next door to a fast food chain really helped your original goals? Probably not at all, maybe even the opposite. Yes, you still have more customers and more money overall, but at which cost?