gNewSense: Finally, a modern GNU+Linux Distribution that is 100% Free Software

I was recently advocating Free Software in my local Freecycle forum and was asked,

So what are the versions that are 100% free then?

This has been a tricky question.

The Debian GNU/Linux system says it aims to be 100% free, and has a “social contract” as a formal commitment to this.

However, The Debian project actually includes tiny pieces of non-free software, and shares proprietary software that can be used in the Debian system, but is not essential.

Another problem for Debian GNU/Linux is the freshness of its software. The progress of Free Software is rapid, but Debian aims to run on almost all kinds of computers, and to be a ‘perfect’ system that has no bugs. (Bugs are the unexpected aspects of software - like crashes.) This means it does not have the latest versions of many things, and people who value features over reliability tend not to like that.

Ubuntu is based on Debian, and includes the latest versions of popular Free Software, and several pieces of proprietary software offered by hardware manufacturers. Ubuntu feel its better to have more computers work, even though those computers will not run 100% Free Software.

Because of this, it is hard to recommend either Ubuntu or Debian.

However, I personally have been recommending Ubuntu, because I figured most people do not yet feel strongly about the importance of ethical and sustainable software. If a version of GNU+Linux works well on their computer, and they hear the GNU project’s message about the ethics and sustainability of software, they are much more likely to value software freedom.

But the GNU Project itself cannot recommend such versions. They maintain a list of 100% Free GNU+Linux distributions but the list did not have any cutting edge systems.

But a significant event happened yesterday!

A new GNU+Linux distribution, based on Ubuntu, that is 100% Free Software, has been released. The FSF issued a press release at

I have experienced practical benefits of Ubuntu over Debian. Firstly in terms of hardware detection, as I tried to install Debian on my computer in July 2006 and it failed to detect my SATA harddisks and would not install, while Ubuntu installed perfectly. And secondly in terms of prettyness; as Mark Shuttleworth is fond of saying, “Pretty Is A Feature”.

So I think gNewSense is great!

…now I just need to install it…


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