An open letter to Richard M. Stallman

Hello,

I am shopping for a laptop computer and i would like to buy one that is truly free – one that is able to run GNU/Linux without any restricted drivers, binary blobs and proprietary firmware.

I’ve been looking for such a laptop for almost a week now, and unfortunately couldn’t find it. I’ve tried asking about it on Ubuntu and gNewSense forums and local (Israeli) forums of GNU/Linux and Free Software experts, but the best reply i could get was that finding a perfectly Free laptop is just too hard and that at this time i should just give up! That is what Mark Shuttleworth himself said, even though he claims that he is also concerned about the issue of “radical” hardware freedom (see discussion at the bottom of Bug #1).

Why is it so hard?

For example: The hardware database at the FSF website has a list of network cards that support Free Software; This is informative, but in practice i couldn’t find anywhere on the Internet a way to search for laptops that have these cards. A lot of laptop vendors don’t even bother to list the manufacturer and model of the network card in the details of their laptops’ components, because in Windows they all just work and Ubuntu makes it relatively easy to install restricted drivers.

The above is also correct for video cards, DVD burners, etc.

So, apparently, most people – even Linux users! – don’t care about free firmware. I do care, and i tried my best to do something about it, but my wife urgently needs a laptop to write her thesis, so unfortunately it seems that i’ll have to buy a (partially) restricted system after all.

I thought that you would like to know that there are people that care about this issue, but find it hard to do something about it in practice.

If you do know about a laptop that is fully usable with purely free drivers, please tell me.

Thanks!


N.B.: I have great respect towards Mark Shuttleworth and i believe that he is doing his best to help and fix this issue. I regret using the word “claim”, but i already sent the letter to RMS and wanted to post it here without changes.

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10 Responses to “An open letter to Richard M. Stallman”


  1. 1 huygens-25 2007-07-06 at 01:47

    My work laptop (which I had sadly to return) was running without any restricted driver. The Wi-Fi, Video Card, etc. were all open source.
    However, the model is a bit old, it was a Dell Latitude D600. With a Centrino (1st generation) 1.6GHz.

    Also according to Ubuntu restricted driver manager (http://www.berthon.eu/ice_and_fire/?p=50), I did not need any proprietary driver.

  2. 2 aharoni 2007-07-06 at 23:04

    Thanks for the reply.

    You say that you have an ATI video card – does 3D work for you? For example, the new fancy Beryl/Compiz stuff?

    And the driver for you wireless card may have binary blobs, which Ubuntu does not consider restricted, at least for now. The binary blobs policy of Linux kernel and/or Ubuntu may change in the future, though.

  3. 3 huygens-25 2007-07-07 at 12:35

    I had a (crappy) ATI Radeon Mobility 9000. ATI does not support this card since long, and even when they used to support it, it was full of bug!
    So I always have used the open source driver which does a good job with this hardware.
    I had configured Compiz (when Beryl was not yet existing), I think it was on Dapper (Ubuntu 6.06). It was “working” or let’s say usable… But due to some artefacts appearance from time to time, and that some application I was using did not like the compositing environment, I went back to the traditional X. But 3D was still working, only I did not have a 3D desktop. Most OpenGL application were using the GPU (I could see it, because there was almost no CPU usage in some cases).
    Btw, I’m not (anymore) a gamer, so OpenGL application are Google Earth, screensavers… So I have no clue what the card is really capable of. I can tell you that it was not really good with Google Earth…

    As for the wireless card, I do not know if it uses a binary blob, it worked out of the box :-) so I did not dig into it! The card was the Intel Pro Wireless 2100. OK, sorry, I just checked the page of the driver on SF (http://ipw2100.sourceforge.net/), and it seems to require a binary firmware (a blob). So, you must be correct about the blob thingy… :-(

  4. 4 aharoni 2007-07-07 at 12:48

    Don’t feel too bad about it :)

    It’s probably really impossible to find the perfect free laptop. I am giving up on it too this time. Although i keep in mind the target of freedom.

    P.S. I love Iceland, although i’ve never been there. Sigur Rós, Björk and gusGus (at least the old stuff) are among my favorite musicians.

  5. 5 huygens-25 2007-07-12 at 15:13

    Iceland is an amazing place. Amazing because of its history and its landscape.
    I hope to find time to blog about it, but not yet…

  6. 6 Peter Rock 2007-10-09 at 09:56

    “It’s probably really impossible to find the perfect free laptop.”

    I don’t know what “perfect” is, but there is always this.

  7. 7 aharoni 2007-10-12 at 09:42

    A perfectly free computer is a computer which you can run using only free software. It means that the complete technical specifications for all its components are openly available.

    Free Software is not just about being able to read the source code – it is also about the problems of DRM, privacy – knowing that your computer is not spying on you, fair competition that promotes quality, and many other issues.

    OLPC looks like a nice idea and its creators seem pretty serious about about using Free Software. However, its hardware looks heavily customized, and i’m not a hardware expert even in simple and common configurations.

  8. 8 Daniel 2007-12-25 at 22:45

    Hi Aharoni.
    My name is Daniel, I am a student for hardware /electrical enegineering in Bar Ilan University.

    It is very nice to someone eager for freedom as I am.

    I have looked for a free software compatible laptop, but I found none.
    That means free BIOS compatible, rt24xx wireless card compatible & more.
    Unfortunately,corporations like IBM tries to make it so difficult to run free software on their Thinkpad laptops through Malicious features in the BOOT PROM such as wireless card whitelist.

    EVEN THE OLPC IS NOT COMPLETELY FREE!!!

    I guess I will have to wait till I will find one.

    Daniel.

  9. 9 jones 2009-12-18 at 08:52

    You may have heard of this by now, but Chinese PC manufacturer Lemote makes a netbook with completely free software.

    http://www.lemote.com/english/yeeloong.html


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