Confessions of a “practical” FSF fanboi
Without getting into all the politics, we all use GNU/Linux and many of us appreciate the four freedoms advocated by the Free Software Foundation.
- The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
- The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (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 distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the community a chance to help from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
I came across the GNU/Linux-libre almost by accident and have enjoyed taking Trisquel and Parabola gnulinux for a test drive. I found both communities friendly and helpful.
Trisquel 5.5 is based on Ubuntu 11.10 and has a visually pleasing gnome-shell
KDE is also available.
Parabola gnu/linux is based on Arch and is thus a rolling release. The installer is a bit dated and hopefully they will release an updated CD in the near future.
I made a pair if user bars, feel free to use them if you wish
Rubber meet pavement
Booting Trisquel, Parabola, or a gnu/linux-libre kernel is where the rubber hits the pavement and many people will find it frustrating if, as with any operating system, they do not have compatible hardware. The two most common problems are incompatibility with graphics cards and wireless, although you could also have problems with BIOS.
You basically have to buy hardware that is compatible with the FSF GNU/Linux-libre definition of open source drivers.
While this may sound harsh, it is true of any OS, and while I do not expect everyone to run out and purchase new hardware, understanding hardware compatibility is crucial to successful future purchases.
Many people buy hardware with Windows or OSX pre-installed and then have a bad experience when they try to install “Linux”.
The simplest solution is to encourage “Linux users” (yes you) to make their next hardware purchase with Linux pre-installed. We should support OEM that support Linux.
It is due diligence to research your hardware before you buy. There are several online resources available, h-node maintains a hardware listing of -libre compatible equipment.
Using that guide, I was able to find graphics cards, manufactured in 2010, ranging from as little as $10 (single head) up to $50 (dual head) in less then 10 minutes.
Wireless cards are a little more difficult as you need to identify the wireless chip, which is not always easy. I found USB wireless cards ranging from $10 to $20.
So for a little as $20 I could find both a graphics card and wireless card that offer decent performance ( video single head 1600×1200 ).
Again, next time you purchase hardware, I strongly advise -libre compatible hardware. Compatible hardware is not more expensive, will work with any distro, and performance will be better than a more expensive, incompatible, unsupported piece of hardware.
Politics aside, hardly a day goes by when I do not see someone on IRC converting from closed source hardware drivers to open source. The costs are minimal and it is simply less hassle to use compatible hardware. For example, if you have a Nvidia card, and you have not taken the open source nouveau driver for a test spin, I highly encourage you to do so. It is not uncommon for people to find adequate or sometimes better performance with the nouveau driver then the Nvidia driver.
Again, if you use Linux, consider supporting the OEM who support open source.