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.
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:
The vrms tool will also list out each of these packages. Mine are:
Along with the contrib packages:
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:
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.
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.
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.