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GNU is Not Unix Portables Hardware Your Rights Online

Free Software Foundation Endorses a "Truly Free" Laptop 340

Posted by timothy
from the high-standards dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Free Software Foundation announced today the first laptop they have been able to certify as-is that respects the user's freedoms. The laptop is free down to using Coreboot in place of a proprietary BIOS. The OS shipped on the laptop is Trisquel, the Ubuntu derived Linux OS that removes all traces of proprietary firmware, patented formats, etc. The only issue though for new customers is this endorsed laptop comes down to being a refurbished 2006 ThinkPad X60 with single or dual-core Intel CPU, 1GB+ of RAM, 60GB+ HDD, and a 1024x768 12.1-inch screen, while costing $320+ USD (200 GBP). The FSF-certified refurbished laptops are only offered for sale through the Gluglug UK shop. Are these outdated specs worth your privacy and freedom?"
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Free Software Foundation Endorses a "Truly Free" Laptop

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  • Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by twocows (1216842) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @02:59PM (#45738665)
    I support the FSF, but I can really just install free software on my own computers. This even includes coreboot usually. And they're a lot less expensive and a lot more powerful. I suppose it might be good to buy if your child needs a laptop or something.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 19, 2013 @03:00PM (#45738673)

    Seriously. I laughed.

  • by hawguy (1600213) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @03:04PM (#45738709)

    Is the harddrive running open-source firmware too? How could I possibly store my data on a device that uses proprietary software?

  • Re:Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by briancox2 (2417470) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @03:09PM (#45738779) Homepage Journal
    I get the sense that the FSF, though having some very good ideals, has no understanding of the importances of "just works" and "value added".
  • Re:Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @03:13PM (#45738837)
    No, it's not truly free unless it comes with exactly zero mysterious binary blobs calling home (or NSA, which may be the same thing).
  • by Kardos (1348077) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @03:16PM (#45738879)

    Creating free replacements for all non-free software is a monumental task that started many years ago, one that may never be complete. However, this is a milestone; the list of laptop models that are "truly free" can only expand from here, as can the includeable software. Have you seen the DD-WRT compatibility list recently? It was quite short a when that project was getting started.

  • by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @03:20PM (#45738927) Homepage

    > no understanding of the importances of "just works"

    That's not their part of the job.

    Various entities can label something as user-friendly. FSF is pretty much the only entity that can label stuff as free.

    This is one laptop. Hopefully next year there'll be twenty, and then someone can take on the job of announcing which is the most user-friendly of the twenty free laptops.

  • Liberated CPUs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by unixisc (2429386) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @03:26PM (#45738981)

    Yeah, RMS goes w/ Loongson, so since the FSF is putting this together, why don't they just team up w/ Lemote, slap Trisquel (or gNewSense) on the laptop, fire it up w/ GNOME3, and put it out to market? Better yet, if they can find someone to fab the OpenRISC chip, or come out w/ an GPLed version of a SPARC (where its HDL designs are GPLed) and fab it, and design it into a laptop, w/ coreboot, they'll get what they want.

    Remember, for an FSF endorsement, it doesn't need to be good, or even run end user software. It just needs to 'respect your freedom & privacy', so the solution above should do it.

  • Re:Well... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ackthpt (218170) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @03:28PM (#45739003) Homepage Journal

    No, it's not truly free unless it comes with exactly zero mysterious binary blobs calling home (or NSA, which may be the same thing).

    It's not truly free until it doesn't let you access Google-anything or Facebook or Amazon or pretty much everything else, because to access is to surrender.

    The ultimate free laptop is a cat (for various definitions of Free which involve feeding, care and a robust catnip supply.)

  • Re:Well... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by unixisc (2429386) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @03:30PM (#45739031)
    Oh, they understand it just fine, they just think it's less important than 'freedom' and 'privacy'. For instance, for most users, allowing JavaScript to run so that something they want to run actually runs would be 'just works' or added value, but for the FSF, all JavaScript is snooping, and shouldn't be allowed. Similarly, software that is distributed in a portable format, such as bytecode, is convenient for an end user, but hated by RMS, since it's not the source and doesn't respect your freedoms.
  • Re:free hardware? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by VortexCortex (1117377) <`VortexCortex' ` ... -retrograde.com'> on Thursday December 19, 2013 @03:31PM (#45739039) Homepage

    We can't punish all murderers, what's the point of punishing any?

  • Re:Well... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by aaaaaaargh! (1150173) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @03:33PM (#45739057)

    As an owner of a refurbished Thinkpad - from a German reseller of used laptops, not the company mentioned in the story - I can assure you that any old Thinkpad with GNU/Linux just works. Older Thinkpads are among the laptops with the best Linux support you can find. I use mine every day for 8 hours for years (and before that I used another old Thinkpad for years).

    Regarding the other thing you mention, to be honest I have to admit that I have no idea what "value added" means. I've heard it occasionally but always though it was more like a meaningless buzzword or (worse) a synonym for pre-installed bloatware. What does it mean?

  • Re:Well... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vux984 (928602) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @03:38PM (#45739119)

    I get the sense that the FSF, though having some very good ideals, has no understanding of the importances of "just works" and "value added"

    The FSF is like extreme overclockers. They are concerned with software freedom the way overclockers are concerned with cpu performance maximums, or drag racers are concerned with 1/4 mile times.

    Criticising the FSF for pushing software freedom as far as they can is like criticising extreme overclockers for using bulky custom expensive cooling solutions, or drag racers for lousy cornering, and needing a parachute to stop.

    Sure I'll probably never buy one of those devices, but I like that they are out there, and I support them, pushing the envelope. And even if I don't live right on the edge with them, preferring 'just works' to 'ideals' for a lot of day to day stuff, my 'just works' is a lot closer to 'ideals' than it would be without the FSF as a lot of that does trickle into what I use daily, even if I don't use it all, all the time.

    I like the FSF pushing that envelope as far as they possibly can.

  • Re:Well... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by spikeb (966663) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @03:38PM (#45739121)
    yes you can, although you'll find coreboot without blobs doesn't support hardly anything...which is why this is important.
  • Re:Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by marcello_dl (667940) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @03:38PM (#45739129) Homepage Journal

    You have a strange definition of freedom.
    A laptop with free hardware and free software let me do whatever with it, including signing up for pseudo-voluntary profiling in exchange for a meager chunk of ad ridden web service.

    GNU licensed stuff poses additional restriction but those are aimed at the respect of others' freedom, in the same way that "do what you wish" makes a less free society than "do what you wish as long as it lets other do what they wish", no matter the smaller number of restrictions imposed.

  • by Jherek Carnelian (831679) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @03:47PM (#45739215)

    That's a definition of fundamentalism, it certainly isn't the definition of fundamentalism that is common short-hand for extremist asshole. The FSF does not qualify for the extremist asshole definition, not by a long shot.

  • by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @03:50PM (#45739271)
    OpenSPARC and OpenRISC (OR1K) are two alternatives.
  • Re:Well... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by secretcurse (1266724) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @04:00PM (#45739419)

    but for the FSF, all JavaScript is snooping, and shouldn't be allowed

    Please point your browser to https://www.fsf.org/ [fsf.org] and view the source. Search the page for "" and see if the FSF really believes what you claim.

  • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Thursday December 19, 2013 @04:39PM (#45739851)

    "Asshole?" No. "Extremist?" I'd say so. (But that's a feature, not a bug!)

  • Re:JavaScript trap (Score:4, Insightful)

    by marsu_k (701360) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @04:56PM (#45739987)
    Yeah, and that position is just lunacy. Stallman complains about JS in Google Docs taking half a megabyte, minified. How large would it be unminified, with comments and all? It's not like there aren't any tools [jsbeautifier.org] to do so if you wish. Fill in the variable names as you please and you should be able to "de-obfuscate" the script quite easily, debug it Firebug or whatever you wish. There is a very clear technical reason for minifying JS, it's beneficial both for the server and the client. While I appreciate some of the foundations laid by Stallman/FSF, nowadays they just seem to be crackpots with no connection to reality (see the this article [slashdot.org] for example - give a substitute for Youtube as a present, WTF?).
  • by hawguy (1600213) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @05:07PM (#45740137)

    So I've got one person replying to me saying FSF is too "fundamentalist", and I've got you saying they're too lax and are letting too much slip through.

    I'm not saying they are too lax - I know there are no open source hard drive firmwares (though there is some progress on Open SSD firmware [openssd-project.org]). I'm saying that they are being unclear on what they are delivering, they are saying "No proprietary firmware" when they know that portions of the computer do have

    The general theme is that some people will look for even the smallest error just to avoid acknowledging good work.

    Why do I say "probably" in my previous post? Because you and I don't know what the firmware in our microwaves do. It's probably fine. There haven't been any big microwave firmware scandals that I'm aware of. (And if I didn't say "probably", you'd say "How can you know?!")

    Why do you keep comparing hard drive firmware with microwave firmware? My microwave doesn't see every bit of data I store on my hard drive, nor does it have full access to the physical RAM of my computer.

    You keep saying "probably" because you really don't know what the hard drive firmware is doing. Which is fine, but don't dismiss it with "Well no one knows what it's doing and besides you can't do anything about it, so just ignore it".

    Regarding FSF's statement, they said "no proprietary firmware options". Options. Whatever firmware could be removed has been removed.

    Ahh, so there's no proprietary firmware except for the parts that use proprietary firmware. Well that's crystal clear and not misleading at all.

    Is the HDD firmware a problem? I don't know. I don't know personally, and I don't know what FSF's take on it is.

    If you feel that proprietary software infringes on your rights, how could closed source HDD firmware not be a problem?

    But even if you did find some flaw, the right thing to do is say "Well, FSF is definitely 95%, and well done to them for their effort, but I'd like some discussion on this other 5%".

    I might be willing to give them more credit if it was clear why they are promoting a computer that has open source software and open source BIOS, but the CPU and peripherals have proprietary embedded software and no one really knows what it does. How could I even give them 95% credit when I don't even know what the goal is or how what they've done so far meets the goal - how would that 95% be measured? If the system can't function without a hard drive and the hard drive runs proprietary software, are they really 95% close to a free and open solution?

    In reality, it doesn't matter since few people will want to purchase a 7 year old laptop just because it is "open" - but it doesn't really help the FSF much when they endorse an "open" product that's really not open.

  • Re:Liberated CPUs (Score:4, Insightful)

    by unixisc (2429386) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @05:30PM (#45740383)
    True. I only mentioned it b'cos rms believes it, not b'cos I do. I happen to think that the FSF guys live in Fantasyland, and have Utopian goals.
  • Re:Well... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by exomondo (1725132) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @06:15PM (#45740907)

    When was the last time a proprietary video card driver or wifi chipset called home and caused you any problem?

    I have no idea, and that's the scary part.

    Even if everything is free and open and under your control and you can actually verify everything the ability to "phone home" is predicated on connection to a network, a network of systems that you don't control and that are potentially hostile. If you're genuinely paranoid about the potential for your system to "phone home" with some information then you could trap your network traffic and identify anything abnormal.

  • Re:Liberated CPUs (Score:2, Insightful)

    by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@gma i l . com> on Thursday December 19, 2013 @09:55PM (#45742559) Journal

    Actually Loongson is a CPU makr you might want to watch, sadly we won't get the chips here (thanks to the broken patent and copyright messes) but they re cooking up some REALLY interesting chips, in fact I'd argue that for the first time in ages you have someone actually thinking out of the box and innovating instead of just making variations on the arm bandwagon.

    For an example check out their MIPS designs, where they have added a hardware X86 emulation layer so that you can fire up their custom version of Bochs and have 80% of the performance of the chip when running your legacy software! Imagine how sweet it would be to have mobile devices with the power saving of RISC that still allowed you to fire up your old Windows programs in return for some battery life ONLY when you needed them, wouldn't that be awesome?

    As for TFA, sling hate ALL you want but lets call a spade a spade, okay? RMS passed the reasonable exit about 20 miles ago and has been in batshit militant town for several years now, I mean the guy said the fricking OLPC was "too locked down"...what? Then again I figured the cheese had slipped off his cracker when I saw this video [youtube.com]...Stallman WTF? You are in public man, on stage no less? What were you smoking that made you think that THAT was appropriate behavior?

    That is why I say, much as I disagree with the man, especially on the way he treats people, that if you are gonna look for direction from someone in the FOSS community? Look to Torvalds. He may have a smart mouth but I've never seen him act like he might need a psych eval and even when you disagree with him he makes DAMN good arguments to support his position. With his holding up signs, acting like he does on stage, frankly RMS reminds me more and more of Rev Al Sharpton than anything, someone who trolls the media for publicity and does outrageous shit just to stay in the spotlight. With all the media looking seriously at FOSS since the hit of Android is that REALLY the kind of spokesman you want?

  • Re:Liberated CPUs (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Pseudonym (62607) on Friday December 20, 2013 @02:52AM (#45743699)

    I happen to think that the FSF guys live in Fantasyland, and have Utopian goals.

    The world needs people like that, and not because they have a realistic chance of making it happen.

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