GNewSense, the Present and the Future

You would think that a GNU/Linux distribution dedicated to shipping only free software would be uncontroversial. After all, isn't free software what GNU/Linux is all about? Yet, when the latest version of GNewSense was announced recently, Slashdot readers were divided in their reactions.

Some thought the distribution would have too limited appeal, and argued that what was needed was a distribution so popular that hardware and software vendors would have to support it. Others suggested that GNewSense had two uses: As an indicator of what the free software community has done so far, and as a summary of what still needs to be done before the goal of a completely free operating system is realized.

GNewSense began at a conference in Tunis in 2005 when Paul O'Malley heard Mark Shuttleworth and Richard Stallman talking about the possibility of a politically free version of Ubuntu, whose various incarnations include proprietary wireless drivers and access to non-free video drivers. O'Malley raised the idea on chat channels, and the project began in June 2006 when Brian Brazil joined the project.

The first release in November 2006 was immediately endorsed by the Free Software Foundation, making it one of only half a dozen distributions with that distinction. In fact, the Free Software Foundation donated a build machine and server space for GNewSense during initial development.

Meanwhile, Shuttleworth encouraged the creation of Gobuntu, an Ubuntu sub-project with the same goal as GNewSense. In his recent blog musings, Shuttleworth has decided to forget about Gobuntu and encourage GNewSense, so as not to dilute the effort. Since Shuttleworth's musings coincided with the second release of GNewSense, they have helped to give the distro renewed attention in the media.

GNewSense, the Present and the Future?

June 9, 2008
By Bruce Byfield


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