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Enter gNewSense - the free Ubuntu

Apr 16, 2009, 13:32 (1 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Benedikt Ahrens)

"A free Ubuntu? Isn't Ubuntu free already? No, Ubuntu isn't free according to how the Free Software Foundation FSF defines freedom the guidelines the FSF uses to determine the freedom of an operating system can be found here - and the same is true of Debian, the foundation Ubuntu is based on. The goal of these distributions is to support as much hardware as possible and thereby to make their installation as easy to use and as comfortable for the user as possible - market share is the objective here after all. The principles of free software are sometimes neglected in the process. A somewhat easygoing attitude towards freedom can be found in all areas of software production, from the Linux kernel to the distribution of software by Debian and Ubuntu. (Note: It is up to the reader to find out if the assertions made here are similarly applicable to other distributions, for example SUSE. Below, the author concerns himself exclusively with Debian and Ubuntu.)

"The Linux Kernel

"Most components of a computer, for example CD drives, hard disks, network cards etc. - require software to communicate with the mainboard that is kept in a memory module on the component itself. This software is called firmware. In most cases the firmware is installed permanently on the component. For other components, especially network cards, the firmware is copied to the component by the driver (that is by the kernel module) when the module is loaded.

"To provide a more comfortable experience for the user the firmware of some components (for example the firmware of Broadcom network cards that are run using the driver "tg3") is integrated into the Linux kernel. This sounds reasonable as the respective components often don't work without the firmware. But sadly most firmware does not fit the criteria of free software as the manufacturers have not published their source code. I will use the driver "tg3" as an example. Even though the driver is free and has a GPL license it uses non-free firmware. Here is an excerpt from the source code:"

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