One or two (or five) questions about free software and hardware

Stian Rødven Eide julipan at
Fri May 2 22:01:52 UTC 2008

On Fri, 2008-05-02 at 08:29 +0100, Robin C. M. Staple wrote:

> 1.) Is the only reason why completely free GNU/Linux distros like
> Gobuntu or gnewsense don't work as well because of a lack of FOSS
> drivers?

Principally yes, if by working well you mean enabling the hardware to
work well. They also don't have a non-free repository that you can
simply enable to access (patent- or copyright-) restricted packages, so
it will also work less well as an mp3- or dvd-player to give an example.

> 2.) If so, are there laptops available in the world which one can buy
> that have completely FOSS hardware (like the OpenMoko phone)?

I believe the closest would be the XO Laptop from OLPC:
Richard Stallman has just started using it himself, since it is the only
laptop that can run a Free BIOS:
It does however need a proprietary firmware to enable the internal
wireless card, and I'm not sure how free/open the rest of the hardware
specifications are.

There's also the OpenCores project, which applies much of the Free
Software ethos to hardware:
I doubt they have any laptops ready though.

> 3.) If such a laptop exists, would any old Joe like myself be able to
> run a completely free OS? (Given that I am a GNU/Linux noob and know
> nothing about programming, compiling, etc.)

The choice of installation procedure and availability of drivers is up
to the distro maker. I assume installing gNewsense or Gobuntu should be
no different from installing Ubuntu and, if all necessary drivers are
included, should work just as well. 

There are also a few 100% Free Software distros (mostly European) that
ignore software patents and thus include (GPL) software that would be
regarded as non-free by Debian or Ubuntu. Dynebolic is a good example of
this, built to run as a live-CD, featuring everything needed to consume,
create and broadcast most media formats, and running impressively well
on even modest hardware:

> 4.) Is there a list somewhere of "certified FREE hardware" laptops /
> desktops and where to buy them?

The FSF has a modest list of recommended hardware at but it is far from a complete listing of
FS-enabled hardware. They also offer to build you a complete Free
(desktop) system, including the Free BIOS, though they don't name any
price or specifications.

> 5.) Is the JISUS laptop
> ( such a machine?

I hadn't heard of that. Probably not, though. I'm not sure which
wireless chip it uses, but even if it is among the few that doesn't
require a proprietary firmware, I doubt the laptop is able to use a Free


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