A recent announcement on Distrowatch.com
for a new distro called gNewSense perked my attention. It seems that
the Free Software Foundation, the group headed by Richard M Stallman,
otherwise known as RMS, sponsored this project and basically was
conceived "due to Frustrated by many Linux distributions which
include (or make it easy to include) non-free software in their
products, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) has decided to enter the
Linux distribution market by sponsoring a new project called gNewSense. Based on Ubuntu Linux, the distribution, created by two Irish free software advocates Brian Brazil and Paul O'Malley, released its first stable version last week. The gNewSense mailing list
immediately witnessed a rapid surge in traffic, indicating that the
interest in the project is reasonably high, even at this early stage.
Most of the discussion is currently revolving around possible
improvements to the project's infrastructure and advocacy. If you
strongly believe in the four software freedoms
as advocated by the FSF, then gNewSense looks like a perfect
distribution to use and an exciting project to join" quoting from
DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 176, 6 November 2006
As clearly stated on Stallman's Free Software Foundation
web site: Free software is a matter of liberty not price. You should think of "free" as in "free speech".
The Four Software Freedoms mentioned are as follows:
- Freedom Zero - the freedom to run the program for any purpose, any way you like.
- Freedom One - the freedom to help yourself by changing the program to suit your needs.
- Freedom Two - the freedom to help your neighbor by distributing copies of the program.
Three - the freedom to help build your community by publishing an
improved version of the program so that others can gain the benefit of
Now typically it is my practice to go over the
install process as how any newbie to Linux might encounter, but since
this is really an unbranded version of Ubuntu, that process can be
followed along from in my Ubuntu review located here
it is our goal to talk about the functionality of this distro, how it
works on various machines compared to its proprietary ladened
counterparts, and discuss a few topics about this gallant offering from
Brian Brazil and Paul O'Malley. Therefore our normal package of
Installation will get the same score as Ubuntu at 4 Pennies, although
this one did seem to go smoother on a machine where the Live CD
actually started. More on that later.Details:
Kernel - Kernel 2.6.15
Desktop - Unbranded Gnome only
FAQs - http://www.gnewsense.org/Main/Features
Cost - FREE!!! ah, if you had to ask that one with this distro, your on the wrong planet
Special Features - Live installer, excellent icons/graphics, absolutely free from proprietary code, modules or "blobs"Nitty Gritty:
Installation ( )
Please see Ubuntu review for detail of the Ubiquity install process
Starting ( )
thing you notice once the Live CD finished loading was a nice and
simple layout and good graphics. While this doesn't really show the
power of Ubuntu under this hood, it is showing that this distro is not
just taking all that Ubuntu's teams have done, strip out the logos and
icons, and repacking back as their own.
Why didn't they put Free as in Beer... here, I don't know.
quick tour of the applications and the main ones of note are the basics
to what I like to call simple productivity. There is Firefox for your
web needs along with Evolution that ties to the Gnome desktop. There is
the Ekiga Softphone and the Gaim client for IM. Office Applications are
not bare, using Open Office applications to keep up productivity.
thing I really liked was the artwork of the login screen. Simple things
make me happy I guess. But this is what really will set apart the look
and feel of this distro from someone looking at Ubuntu.
inside gNewSense is where the real changes happened. Basically they
stripped all of the commercial components of the Kernel, those pesky
little things like video drivers, wireless card drivers and other
"blobs" as they call them and kept only the open source components. Now
this did kill the functionality on my eMachines m5810 and m6805 laptop
by dying on kernel failures which I am sure I could have prevented by
telling the system to boot with "no acpi" or "pci=noapci" boot
switches, but again I try to tailor this to newbies and how would they
know about those issues? So I was really restricted to trying this on
VMWare only. I did run the live on an older HP Desktop running an AMD
processor and an HP6220 laptop, so I am sure it would install on these,
but just getting it past the boot process was my goal. I am sure with
the lack of some firmware "blobs" in the kernel, hardware will be hit
or miss, so try before you buy on this one is absolutely necessary.Bonus Stuff ( )
largest bonus of gNewSense is the fact that it is completely free from
proprietary code of any kind. I would also have to say there is a
downside of Freedom. With the lack of any proprietary code in the
distro, basically all the "cool" things go away. You can't play DVD's
without codecs from libdvdcss and win32, you can't play mp3's without
that codec and you sure as hell don't get 3D or wireless if you have
any of the main vendors who do video or wireless. So in the end you are
free and in control of your machine, but you are basically limited in
the function and wow factor that the latest and greatest computing
brings to consumers. Yes, you get on the internet, you can work, you
can code with the best of them, but as for fun, well you better have a
Play Station or XBox.
Another lacking aspect of the distribution
right now is a lack of knowledge base that people can turn to, with no
real Wiki or Forum to speak of, but since this is based on Ubuntu,
knowledge for the base system is plentiful. I would like to see more
direct support, but over time that will naturally evolve and no doubt
will be stellar.
I did take a bit of time and emailed the development group with a couple of questions. What I wanted to know was:
1) What is your end goal with gNewSense?
2) I noticed you have FireFox included, does that mean you do not stand
behind the IceWeasel project and their issues with the FireFox Icon?
3) What are the plans to support PCI (embedded) Wireless cards for laptop users?
With the recent announcement of Novell and several people indicating
that their new policy of "licensing" to Microsoft is actually a
violation of GPL, what will gNewSense do in regards to supporting
Evolution, Gnome, and and other Novell based software packages not
5) How do you feel about people adding proprietary or
non-open source packages to your distro in the future and is there any
restriction in your license restricted said practice?
couple of members of the community took the time to answer these for
me, and I wish to thank them for doing so. Andreas replied back to
number one with "A long-term sustainable distribution consisting of only Free Software as it is defined by the FSF
", while Karl Goetz mentioned that he wanted "A 100% FSF Free distribution
As for question two, both mentioned pretty much the same thing, as told by Andreas as "Firefox
came along with Dapper, so it's not an active choice at this point. So
far one of the most requested features is indeed the inclusion of the
Iceweasel. The practical problems are the long time security support
and active maintenance, and being a fledgling distribution there are
little resources to dedicate to having strictly gNS native packages at
In reading a couple of the email chains on the list,
there is a lot of work moving to get the IceWeasel package into
gNewSense and having Ubuntu support the extensions issue.
Number three got what I felt was going to be the answer, I just wanted to ask it anyway. Karl stated quite plainly that "If
they run on Free software, they get support. If they run non-free
software, they get no support. (non-free software includes non-free
This is following the four software freedoms to a tee,
so one would naturally have expected. I guess I was hoping for some
really intense effort to backward engineer, but again I think that goes
against what the FSF is all about. Instead, they want the hardware
people to come to them and open up the doors on what the hardware is
really doing and why.
As for question number four, I was a bit
aught off guard that a topic as hot as this one wouldn't be talked
about more within the FSF, as it really impacts what people considered
as being open, now possibly being closed. Karl mentioned in his
response that "This hasn't been discussed much in our community to
my knowledge. But if software is under the GPL it's under the GPL. And
until some party tries by force to deny users the rights granted to
them under the GPL it's mostly just a marketing gimmick and a scare
" While I agree that some people are making this out to be
more that it really is, the fact still is there that by licensing some
of their key components, Novell is basically moving away from GPL into
a third party agreement. It will be interesting to see how this plays
out for gNew, especially since Gnome and Evolution are the two key
pieces still run by Novell.
The last question number five was
just a thought to see how the team would react to people doing what I
expect some will eventually do, once they realize that somethings just
don't work, especially laptop users. I wanted to see how militant they
were about this practice, to see if this was a hot topic or one they
had already considered and possibly restricted by policy if not by
license. I was very pleased by both answers, with Andreas clearly
stating "We cant restrict the practice in licenses - that's the
beauty of the gpl. The official line is (again afaik) we do not support
people installing non-free, and will not assist them in this task. We
wont however stop people setting up 3rd party repositories, because we
cant. Personally, it seems odd to install a system for its freeness,
then install non-free on it."
Karl went on to add, "Obviously
it can never be added to the distribution itself. And hopefully our
community will prove strong to not setup third-party repositories to
distribute proprietary software for gNewSense. The only official
project statement so far is a promise to uphold the four software
freedoms and there have been no such things as for instance an
equivalent to the Debian social contract formulated yet.
really is what I was hoping was that the essence of the distro would be
the key to controlling people doing what they want once they took the
time to download. I agree with Andreas that if people plan on doing
this, then probably Ubuntu itself is the better path. I just wanted to
know that the goal wasn't to really try and place any restrictions in
the code to limit the repositories that people can add in the future.
would like to again thank Andreas, Karl, Brian and Paul for taking the
time to send me notes and help me pull this information together.
Hopefully these were questions on your mind and with the answers being
open and clear, I think everyone who reads this will be happy with the
responses, as I know I am.Overall ( )
this what computing should be about? Well, that is never really on the
mind of RMS or FSF. They are in the game of freedom of companies
profiting from knowledge that should be open to the world. They are
against DRM in how it licenses things you purchased away from your
control. I applaud the efforts of these individuals and stand behind
this distro 100% in what it is trying to do. However, as a realist I am
into getting all of what my laptop that I paid $1700 for has to offer.
I hate MS and their crappy code and BSOD. But I love to get on the
internet with my wireless card. I hate the idea of having to pay to
watch a movie that I paid for, but I love to be able to watch a movie
on a plane ride across the world. I hate the idea of some video card
company knowingly restricting its features only to promote their own
agenda, but I love 3D features and eye candy. I wish I wasn't all of
these things, and I feel that I am part of what the FSF is trying to
combat; people willing to compromise their beliefs for functionality.
other part of me is still an engineer and business person who
understands some of the issues with just giving everything away for
free. In my industry people want more wireless minutes, free phones and
no dropped calls with coverage everywhere, yet they don't want towers
and they hate paying their bills. Do I wish it were free, hell yah!!!!
But reality then would be I wouldn't have a job, nor would about a
million people world wide that work in the wireless industry. The fact
remains that in order to make money, some things need to be proprietary
and/or covered by IP. It sucks, but it is the world in which we live.
Star Trek aside, the future is more of the same and until we get a
remedy for greed and plain old corruption in industry, we will be
governed by these truths.
I wish I could put this in the 5
Pennie review category, but right now it isn't the time for freedom for
the sake of lack of function. Once the industry gets a bit farther
along, or hardware people open up the cabinets and let out code to
drive a lot of the hardware out there today, then this will be the
model of what Linux should be and will most likely become. It is a bit
ahead of its time, and that might be its undoing, but I for one will
always have a copy of this on any machine of mine that will run it.
Thank you gNewSense for taking a stand and giving the world Freedom.
For those who have been looking for this, the team is definitely in
need of help in many areas, so please get involved in either financial
support or with your time and knowledge. Together with people of like
mind, this distro will be what many FSF enthusiasts have been dreaming
of for years: a distro that works and is completely free.
always, if you appreciate what you have read here, or any Linux site
for the matter, please remember that Free as in Speech is not the same
as Free as in Beer. We need your help in supporting what we do, so
please if you can donate here by the link on the side of the review. We truly enjoy bringing our view of various Linux
distros and helping newbies get on track with their hopes of becoming
free of MS and Patent Lawyers, so anything you can do to help will be