7 Best GNU/Linux Distribution With No Proprietary Components

Linux is a free and open source operating system. 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. Commonly known as Blobs. Die-hard open source fans and Free Software Foundation (FSF) recommends completely removing all proprietary components including blobs. This posts list seven best Linux distribution that meets the FSF’s strict guidelines and contains no proprietary components such as firmware and drivers.

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What is a BLOB?

A blob is nothing but closed source binary-only software. These BLOBs loaded into the kernel of Linux. Sometimes it can be loaded at runtime outside the kernel. A typical example includes:

Top 5 Reasons to avoid blobs

  1. Modification & distribution – Blobs can not be improved or fixed by open source developers. You cannot distribute modified versions.
  2. Reliability – Blobs can be unsupported by vendors at any time by abandoning driver maintenance.
  3. Auditing – Blobs cannot be audited for security and bugs. You are forced to trust vendors not to put backdoor and spyware into the blob.
  4. BugsBinary blobs hide many bugs. Also, it can motivate people to buy new hardware.
  5. Portability – Blobs cannot be ported on different hardware architectures. It typically runs on a few hardware architectures.
  6. Privacy and Security – 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 Linux 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. The software that does not respect your essential freedoms. It induces you to install additional non-Free Software that it doesn’t provide. GNU Linux-libre GNU Linux-libre is a project to maintain and publish 100% Free distributions of Linux. The project provides additional benefits:

  1. BLOB removed
  2. 100% free software

1. gNewSense – Fully free software GNU/Linux distribution.

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.

Fig.01: Default gNewSense Desktop

Fig.01: Default gNewSense Desktop

Download gNewSense

2. Dragora – A LIBRE, reliable, UNIX-like GNU/Linux distribution

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.

Fig.02: Dragora GNU/Linux Desktop

Fig.02: Dragora GNU/Linux Desktop

Download Dragora

3. BLAG and GNU – Le brixton linux action group

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.

Fig.03: Blag GNU/Linux Desktop

Fig.03: Blag GNU/Linux Desktop

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.
Fig.03-1: Blag GNU/Linux 140k Beta Desktop

Fig.03-1: Blag GNU/Linux 140k Beta Desktop

Download BLAG Linux (stable)

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.

Fig.04: Musix GNU/Linux Desktop

Fig.04: Musix GNU/Linux Desktop

Download Musix GNU/Linux

5. Trisquel – Run free

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.

Fig.05: Trisquel GNU/Linux Desktop

Fig.05: Trisquel GNU/Linux Desktop

Download Trisquel GNU/Linux

6. GuixSD – An advanced distribution of the GNU operating system

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. It is developed by the GNU Projectβ€”which respects the freedom of computer users.
Fig.06: GuixSD desktop[
Download GuixSD

7. Parabola – A fully free, simple, and lightweight operating system

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.

Fig.07: Parabola GNU/Linux-libre MATE in live mode

Fig.07: Parabola GNU/Linux-libre MATE in live mode

=> Download Parabola GNU/Linux

#7: Other Recommendation From FSF

  1. Dynebolic, a GNU/Linux distribution with special emphasis on audio and video editing.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

  1. Arch Linux
  2. Slackware Linux

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 work with any of the above distros as blobs removed. Nevertheless, 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 the Atheros wireless card also worked out without any problems. See my other hardware related posts:

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 version 6.x+

From the project website and social contract info:

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.

References:

  1. 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.
  2. Guidelines for free system distributions
  3. OpenBSD 3.9: “Blob!” lyrics.
  4. Free GNU/Linux distributions

(Image credit: Respective GNU/Linux distribution projects webpage and wikipedia).

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I'm Vivek Gite, and I write about Linux, macOS, Unix, IT, programming, infosec, and open source. Subscribe to my RSS feed or email newsletter for updates.

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