Linux is a free and open source operating system. However, Linux (and another open source operating system) can use and load device drivers without publicly available source code. These are vendor-compiled binary drivers without any source code and known as Binary Blobs. Die hard open source fans and Free Software Foundation (FSF) recommends completely removing all proprietary components including blobs. In this post, I will list seven best Linux distribution that meets the FSF’s strict guidelines and contains no proprietary components such as firmware and drivers.
Top 5 Reasons to Avoid Binary Blobs
- Modification & distribution – Binary blobs can not be improved or fixed by open source developers. You can not distribute modified versions.
- Reliability – Binary blobs can be unsupported by vendors at any time by abandoning driver maintenance.
- Auditing – Binary blobs cannot be audited for security and bugs. You are forced to trust vendors not to put backdoor and spyware into the blob.
- Bugs – Binary blobs hide many bugs. Also, it can motivate people to buy new hardware.
- Portability – Binary blobs can not be ported on different hardware architectures. It typically runs on a few hardware architectures.
- Privacy and Security – Binary blobs may contain backdoors and other code that might harm your computer or steal your personal information.
Look Ma Not Just Free Software!
The following are not just a distribution but offers additional benefits too:
- Learn how a distribution works on the inside.
- Ease of use.
- An active community is providing quick and helpful support.
Say hello to Linux-libre kernel
Linux, the kernel developed and distributed by Linus Torvalds et al, contains non-Free Software, i.e., software that does not respect your essential freedoms, and it induces you to install additional non-Free Software that it doesn’t contain. GNU Linux-libre is a project to maintain and publish 100% Free distributions of Linux, suitable for use in Free System Distributions, removing software that is included without source code, with obfuscated or obscured source code, under non-Free Software licenses, that do not permit you to change the software so that it does what you wish, and that induces or requires you to install additional pieces of non-Free Software.
gNewSense is a GNU/Linux distribution based on Ubuntu Linux. However, gNewSense v3.0 will be based on Debian instead of Ubuntu. The current version is same as Ubuntu, but with all non-free software and binary blobs removed. The FSF considers gNewSense to be a GNU/Linux distribution composed entirely of free software.
=> Download gNewSense
Dragora is a GNU/Linux distribution created from scratch. The FSF considers Dragora to be a GNU/Linux distribution composed entirely of free software. It has a very simple packaging system that allows you to: install, remove, upgrade and create packages with ease. Dragora features runit, among other things, for it’s system startup by default, which ensures the complete control of system services.
=> Download Dragora
#3: BLAG and GNU
BLAG Linux is a GNU/Linux distribution based on Fedora Linux. The current version is just like Fedora but with all non-free software and binary blobs removed. The latest stable release, BLAG90001, is based on Fedora 9, and was released 21 July 2008.
BLAG comes with various server packages including Fedora plus updates, and support for 3rd party repo rom Dag, Dries, Freshrpms, NewRPMS, and includes custom packages. BLAG140000 (beta version) is based on Fedora 14, and was released on 8 February 2011. The FSF considers BLAG and GNU to be a GNU/Linux distribution composed entirely of free software.
=> Download BLAG Linux (stable) and BLAG140000 (beta version)
#4: Musix GNU/Linux
Musix GNU/Linux is a live CD and DVD Linux distribution based on Debian Linux. It is intended for music production, graphic design, audio and video editing, and general purpose applications. The FSF considers Musix to be a GNU/Linux distribution composed entirely of free software. Musix is developed by a team from Argentina, Spain, Mexico and Brazil. The main language used in development discussion and documentation is Spanish; however, Musix has a community of users who speak Spanish, Portuguese, and English. The default user interface is set to IceWM. However, user can install other interfaces such as KDE.
=> Download Musix GNU/Linux
Trisquel is a GNU/Linux distribution based on Debian Linux operating system. The latest version is derived from Ubuntu Linux, but includes only free software with all blobs removed. The FSF considers Trisquel to be a GNU/Linux distribution composed entirely of free software with its own complete binary repository. It is intended for for small business / enterprises, domestic users and educational centers. From the project home page:
Trisquel has several editions, designed for different uses: the one called simply Trisquel. The most important one is intended for home and personal use, and includes a lot of apps for that: networking, multimedia, office, games, etc. The Edu edition is designed for educational centers, and allows the teacher to build a custom digital classroom within minutes. The Pro edition is for enterprises, and includes accounting and business management software. The Mini edition is for netbooks and older computers.
Guix System Distribution is an advanced GNU/Linux distro built on top of GNU Guix (pronounced “geeks”), a purely functional package manager for the GNU system.
=> Download GuixSD
Parabola GNU/Linux, a distribution based on Arch that prioritizes simple package and system management. Parabola GNU/Linux-libre uses a rolling release model, such that a regular system update is all that is needed to obtain the latest software.
=> Download Parabola GNU/Linux
#7: Other Recommendation From FSF
- Dynebolic, a GNU/Linux distribution with special emphasis on audio and video editing.
- LibreCMC is an embedded GNU/Linux distro for devices with very limited resources. While primarily targeting routers, it offers support for a wide range of devices and use cases. In 2015, LibreWRT merged with libreCMC.
- ProteanOS is a new, small, and fast distribution for embedded devices. Its platform configuration feature allows binary packages to be configured at build-time and run-time for different hardware and use cases.
A list of Linux Distributions in which Linux-libre kernel includes as alternate kernel
See Linux-libre home page for more info.
How Usable Are FSF Recommend GNU/Linux Distributions?
A lot of wireless cards and nvidia graphics did not worked with any of the above distros as blobs are removed. However, I was able to install it on my old Intel Celeron 1.7GHz desktop with 512MB RAM + 40GiB disk. Graphics worked well including onboard NIC, sound card and Atheros wireless card also worked out without any problems.
A Note About OpenBSD
OpenBSD developers do not permit the inclusion of closed source binary drivers in the source tree and are reluctant to sign NDAs. If you are serious about running a system with no binary blobs, you may want to try out OpenBSD too. It supports Gnome, KDE and other desktop environments too.
A Note About Debian GNU/Linux 6.x+ and the latest version
The Debian project has been working in removing non-free firmware from the Linux kernel shipped with Debian for the past two release cycles. At the time of the releases of Debian 4.0 “Etch” and 5.0 “Lenny”, however, it was not yet possible to ship Linux kernels stripped of all non-free firmware bits. Back then we had to acknowledge that freedom issues concerning Linux firmware were not completely sorted out.
Debian v6.x or above (including the latest version of Debian Linux) will provide the non-free firmware from the official non-free repository.
- Jeremy Andrews conducts a free-ranging interview, focused mainly on OpenBSD 3.9 and drivers, that gives Theo a chance to explain how the big North American chip vendors’ business practices make it harder for open source projects, talk about “binary blobs” vs firmware in drivers, and more.
- Guidelines for free system distributions
- OpenBSD 3.9: “Blob!” lyrics.
- Free GNU/Linux distributions
(Image credit: Respective GNU/Linux distribution projects webpage and wikipedia).