100 % free Linux distributions

Jack Wallen
Jul 4, 2010
Updated • Mar 26, 2018

On this, July 4, 2010, the day the United States celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, I thought I would take a moment to celebrate that same day with a toast to those Linux distributions that shirk all non-free software. This means EVERYTHING on these distributions is protected under, at least, the GPL.

There aren't tons of these distributions and some of them are threatened, daily, to disappear from lack of support. So it is my honor to hopefully introduce the Ghacks audience to these distributions.

Update: Check out Mike Turcott's A look at 100% free modern GNU/Linux distributions published in 2018.

Why free?

There is a common feeling among the GNU community that if you are going to opt for an operating system that offers you freedom from the "tyranny" of proprietary software, you should do so from top to bottom. There are a lot of Linux distributions out there and not all of them are 100% free. Take Ubuntu Linux for example. Install a little application called Virtual Richard M. Stallman (vrms) to find out all of the non-free software installed. On my Ubuntu 10.04 system I have:

  • 4 non-free packages, 0.2% of 2069 installed packages.
  • 3 contrib packages, 0.1% of 2069 installed packages.

The vrms tool will also list out each of these packages. Mine are:

  • esci-interpreter-gt-f720  Plugin for the GT-F720/S620 and Perfection V30/V300
  • iscan                     simple, easy to use scanner utility for EPSON scanners
  • nvidia-current            NVIDIA binary Xorg driver, kernel module and VDPAU lib
  • virtualbox-guest-addition guest additions iso image for VirtualBox

Along with the contrib packages:

  • nvidia-common             Find obsolete NVIDIA drivers
  • nvidia-settings           Tool of configuring the NVIDIA graphics driver

Can I live with that? Sure. As soon as the free NVIDIA drivers gain some level of maturity I will have no need for the NVidia proprietary drivers.

However, if you are one of those who insists on gaining independence from non-free software, you are in luck. There are Linux distributions just for you. Let's take a look at some of them.

Mandriva Linux Free

Of all the completely free distributions, this is probably the one with the most support. With this flavor of 100% free Linux you at least know your foundation is based on a well known, well made operating system. Mandriva has been around for a long time and enjoys maturity an outstanding installation


This particular distribution is one of few who's primary goal is to stick to the four freedoms of software users:

  • Freedom 0: The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
  • Freedom 1: The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish.
  • Freedom 2: The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
  • Freedom 3: The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others.


This is a spin off of Ubunut/Debian without the non-free software. It offers the typical, clean GNOME desktop and all the standard bells and whistles (free ones though) that accompany any Ubuntu distribution. The original name (Gnusiance) was a play on Richard M. Stallmans GPG key. The name has since been changed to gNewSense. A sense of humor will go a long way.


Kongoni is the African word for GNU. This distribution is based on Slackware and is aimed at being an easy to install, user-friendly, desktop OS that is bereft of non-free software. So if you are looking for a Slackware spinoff, with 100% free software, look no further.

Final thoughts

There are plenty more 100% free distributions out there. The four above should give you a fairly good taste of what is available to those who seek complete independence from non-free software. I hope you will try one of these listed. Or, if you have another you would like to share, please do.

Article Name
100 % free Linux distributions
There aren't tons of these distributions and some of them are threatened, daily, to disappear from lack of support. So it is my honor to hopefully introduce the Ghacks audience to these distributions.
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  1. Alfons said on July 6, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Trisquel is a great 100% linux distro, you should have a look



  2. Steven Lilley said on July 6, 2010 at 8:10 am

    I thought Fedora was 100% free too? Perhaps it’s not all under GPL?

  3. FreeBooteR said on July 5, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    This article is clearly for those who are interested in a 100% free system. Why do people who have plenty of non free solutions feel so threatened by this?

  4. Ryan Wdzieczny said on July 5, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    I can’t and won’t use a 100% Gnu distro. I’m a Linux user not a gnu user I strive to have the best & more efficient software regardless of GNU’s opinion on it. I gladly use Nvidia Driver 256.35 over nouveau which is a joke I’m posting this from Opera and I have Chrome installed. I could go on and on but to sum it up GNU is bad for Linux I’ll always use the best software available Free or Proprietary.

    (I’m a Kubuntu user)

  5. Andrew Cole said on July 5, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    “Can I live with that? Sure. As soon as the free NVIDIA drivers gain some level of maturity I will have no need for the NVidia proprietary drivers.”

    Then you should have no need for Nvidia graphics cards either. Why be a hypocrite? I do believe that hardware drivers are best when they are open. Eric Raymond did an excellent job of advancing that argument in the Cathedral and the Bazaar, but if my hardware manufacturer doesn’t release their drivers as open source, I am not going use anything else. They made the hardware, and they have the best resources available to create a driver that works, which is included in the price of the hardware. We are lucky Nvidia even offers drivers for Linux so that our graphics cards work at all. The free ones make us seem ungrateful, they will always be behind and lacking features, and I refuse to use them.

    There is a limit when it comes to freedom, and I want what I paid for, which is drivers that allow my hardware to work the way it was designed, free or closed. Nobody is oppressed by their hardware vendor. Nobody suffers vendor lock-in over drivers. If the original manufacturer stops producing the drivers or they go out of business or something else happens that causes them to stop supporting the hardware, then an open driver might make sense, but usually that kind of hardware is very old and is probably on the verge of breaking anyways.

  6. iss said on July 5, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    I think in most cases non-free packages are some drivers and adobe-flash. If these pieces of software could be replaced with free software then many GNU+Linux systems could be made fully free without any inconvenience for users.

  7. Frafra said on July 5, 2010 at 10:39 am

    Fedora gives good support for nouveau and other free drivers. If you exclude binary firmwares, it’s really free :)

  8. David Kastrup said on July 5, 2010 at 7:25 am

    You mean “protected under, at most, the GPL”. And that is semi-accurate since there are free software (and documentation) licenses that are GPL-incompatible.

  9. Andrew George said on July 5, 2010 at 3:23 am

    I really love the idea of a 100% free OS. I currently have some non-free packages installed on all of my computers using GNU/Linux (Arch Linux, Ubuntu, Debian) but I wouldn’t mind having a totally free OS installed on one of my machones. I guess I’ll have to look into some of these distros.

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