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What is free OS according to GNU?
7 points by auslander 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 15 comments
Free software means the users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. www.gnu.org

Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech”, not as in “free beer”.

More precisely, free software means users of a program have the four essential freedoms:

- The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).

- The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

- The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).

- The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

All Linuxes/BSDs you heard of are not free:


GNU/Linux distros you are never heard of are free:


What the hell? I thought OpenBSD is free from blobs?

OpenBSD ships firmwares, where many/most devices already have a (perhaps bad) version installed already, but where the loaded firmware improves it or makes it usable at all. This runs on the device, in some cases regardless of if you update the firmware or not. It differs, as far as OpenBSD sees it, from blobs which run on the CPU. If you don't want firmware-driven hardware then just don't buy those network cards (or whatever it is) and don't run fw_update ever and you won't see source-less code other that those of your own choice.

I was mostly concerned about backdoors. Good point about code baked into and running on devices - hard to kill. GNU fails to detail it.

But, today, 2018, can you build a server with 100% open source sw? Including all firmwares, EFI, network cards, CPU microcode, ring -2 intel ME? Is it possible?

Skip Intel, puck only good ARM manufacturers, say Marvell.

Still very hard to pull off.

Also, OpenBSD does not have as a primary goal to accomplish all the GPL definitions of freedoms.

The "common-distros" page doesn't claim the OSes are "not free", it's just a list of gripes that those OSes don't meet the ideals of the GNU project.

Their issue with Debian is that the project gives people an option to install non-free software, even though the default repos and kernel are all entirely free.

I'm surprised they endorse any OS that doesn't disable the ability to install non-free software.

Yeah, I think that GNewSense is debian based, so its "only" a matter of pointing the apt-sources to anything debian-like that has any non-free stuff and type "apt-get install nonfree" and you are out of their favor. Which in my view, isn't very far from "install *BSD, download optional ports.tar.gz, go to non-free dir, optionally type make install". But for some reason, endorsements only cover one of those two "free until you deliberately choose to install x, and y, and then z"

Freedom has different meaning by FSF-alike and BSD Communities.

GPL License Freedom is also an "enforcement". You cant "revoke" and make the software "less free" turning it into proprietary software.

BSD License Freedom is a freedom that can be "revoked" to make the software proprietary. It is also "more free" free cause you can do actually whatever you want.

I'm using double quotes in specific words cause it is up to you and your philosophy/lifestyle to decide what kind of Freedom you like most. You don't have to swallow the FSF pill and believe on all they put as right and wrong.

Chose the Freedom you want

GNU and the FSF operate on the level of language, and rightly so, since terms like "freedom" are nebulous and have been thought about and debated by philosophers since Augustine (or maybe before with examples by sophists) all the way through analytic philosophy today. There is an indicator of the GNU endgame on that forst link about not free distros, specifically

  OpenBSD and perhaps other BSD distributions (called “projects” by BSD developers)
We can see here that they enforce their language as the norm first ("distributions") before offhandedly and perhaps disrespectfully acknowledging the language of the BSD crowd ("projects"). This is what GNU and/or the FSF do. Hence the definitions of freedom and the following declarations of what is and os not free.

GNU is a philosophy, and for my money, as long as they arent aggressive in their tactics (i.e. they play in their own space, letting others do their thing) then I can't make any value judgements on their actions, nor would i care to.

Disclaimer, I use OpenBSD, because it works, is secure, and is based on ideas of mandoc, vi, and not fixing what isnt broken in Unix, rather than info, emacs, and reprogrammong everything under the sun.

How about "free" as in "free from FSF politics" and "free to bundle whatever you like".

Isn't it rather arbitrary in how the GPL2 has an exception for system libraries?

Why can't a binary firmware blob from a hardware maker be regarded as a "system library". Just because you have to distribute it yourself? That's better: for one, the blob is more free than a non-redistributable system library and you control the exact image that you're using. Your totally free OS driver for the device is validated with that blob.

I agree with you. The absolute worst part of being a Linux user is dealing with free software zealots.

Honestly, I wish I could just be content with Windows... or better yet, that commercial Unix was still viable.

Three difference is that you can replace the system library with a recompile. (And sometimes without.) This is exactly why FSF had to put in the exception to get people to even use their implementations. Despite that, BSD and Android did not. They are even avoiding GCC now...

You absolutely cannot do that with firmware without detailed device specification and potentially signing keys. More so if certification like FCC is involved.

"to get people to even use their .." <- sounds like an argument for why you should run nvidia kernel blobs. You wish it wasn't a blob, but hey, won't get a picture otherwise and we sure want a display so let's stray just a little from the GPL path.

That would be commercial software... It's got some other politics tho.

Debian isn't "pure" enough by FSF standards but they do the best job of the mainstream distros from what I can tell.

Just because they call themselves 'Free Software Foundation' does not mean that they have the absolute authority over the meaning behind 'free software'.

Pick a definition that you agree with and start to call it 'free software'. Language is ours to define and not by some group from the 80s who prefer to weaponize our license.txt files.

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