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gNewSense makes sense

January 31, 2007

This article was contributed by Joseph Quigley

A relatively new Linux distribution has emerged whose mission is to provide a completely free and open source Linux distribution. gNewSense (originally known as gnubuntu and Gnuiscance) is designed for those who just want to use free software for everything in their operating system. Based on Ubuntu, the gNewSense Linux distribution is officially supported by the Free Software Foundation. Even though gNewSense is based on Ubuntu, it stands out from other Linux distributions since it does not focus on having numerous features; its goal is to produce a completely free distribution--in every aspect.

gNewSense was created by Paul O'Malley and Brian Brazil, two Irish FOSS (free and open source software) advocates. The distribution was born because neither Ubuntu nor Debian meets O'Malley and Brazil's definition of a completely free distribution. Builder, a program that was developed in-house, was created to assemble gNewSense and it also aids the creation of a new GNU/Linux distribution based on Ubuntu 6.06 Dapper Drake. It requires that a large amount of disk space be reserved, since it downloads over 25 gigabytes of data. Builder not only configures most of the distribution but it also creates a Live CD of the newly created Linux distro.

The gNewSense distribution differs from its parents in many ways, primarily in the removal of some non-free firmware from the Linux kernel. Furthermore it includes several software development tools such as gcc, make, and GNU Emacs which it installs by default, and it only runs on the x86 platform. To cater to hackers, bsdgames and nethack are also installed. The gNewSense community's beliefs on kernel firmware are stricter than Fedora's so that gNewSense users can be one hundred percent free of proprietary software.

The second major difference between it and Ubuntu is gNewSense's repository changes. The "multiverse" repository is disabled and the "restricted" repository was removed entirely. gNewSense encourages users to download free and open source software by enabling the "universe" and "main" repositories. Although most software in the "universe" repository is free and open source, the gNewSense team has been forced to remove several packages that were not completely free due to licensing issues, such as nvidia-xconfig (a package to configure non-free drivers) and gstreamer-0.10-plugins-ugly-multiverse (which allows gstreamer applications to play a myriad of closed-source codecs). In the kernel, over 115 files that are in Ubuntu that did not comply with gNewSense's free software beliefs were removed from project since its 1.1 release earlier this month.

Recently, gNewSense has been making some changes and considering others. The community recently set up a forum and although gNewSense provides its users with full security updates, they are also planning a community-managed software repository, with some of the same principles of the Fedora community (which maintains livna.org). The community managed repository would be for software that gNewSense will not distribute. Some users have also proposed a new distribution logo which combines the aspects of the Ubuntu and GNU logos. The results look promising. Some potential users may be discouraged by a question that was raised about the frequency of gNewSense package updates. Brian Brazil responded "7 months isn't old, it's actually very new. 10 years is old. Stability is important, and it's a lot easier to track LTS which has major changes once every 3 years, rather than every 6 months. Thus far, noone [sic] has put any effort into working on the non-LTS releases." This could be one disadvantage to using gNewSense over Fedora.

gNewSense is a great example of what a completely free Linux distribution should be. It allows its users to free themselves from proprietary clutches with ease of the apt package manager, while giving it the stability and speed of Ubuntu and Debian. This project has a promising future.

Comments (16 posted)

New Releases

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Distribution Newsletters

Debian Weekly News

The Debian Weekly News for January 30, 2007 covers an interview with Anthony Towns on Dunc Tank, status of the Alpha port, standards for how applications organize data and configuration files, a proposed Social Committe for Debian, a request for translation updates, a Debian-Installer Loader for win32, a new UTF-8 Migration Wizard, Debian at the Chemnitzer Linux-Tage 2007, and several other topics.

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Gentoo Weekly Newsletter

The Gentoo Weekly Newsletter for January 22, 2007 covers the release of Flash Player 9, Adopt-a-dev update, end of KBase and much more.

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Package updates

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Updates for Fedora Core 5: squirrelmail (clean up .orig files), gcc (update from gcc-4_1-branch), enscript (bug fix), gphoto2 (bug fix), spamassassin (annoying typo fix), pinfo (bug fixes), PyQt (update to PyQt-3.17/sip-4.5), fetchmail (bug fix), netpbm (bug fixes), sip (update to PyQt-3.17/sip-4.5).

Comments (none posted)

rPath updates

Updates for rPath Linux 1: conary, conary-build, conary-repository (Conary 1.1.16 maintenance release).

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Ubuntu updates

Updates for Ubuntu 6.10: app-install-data-commercial (added channels/opera.desktop and channels/realplayer.desktop), app-install-data-commercial (fix edgy-commercial channel description), xubuntu-system-tools (add debian/patches), lvm2 (fix dev_is_md check on big endian machines), system-tools-backends (no-change upload to edgy-updates), gnome-applets (no-change upload to edgy-updates), gnome-system-tools (no-change upload to edgy-updates), xubuntu-system-tools (no-change upload to edgy-updates), gnome-netstatus (no-change upload to edgy-updates), app-install-data-commercial (new opera/realplayer packages added), gnome-panel (no-change upload to edgy-updates), lvm2 (backport endian fix for dev_is_md from upstream), digikam (bug fixes), foo2zjs (bug fixes), udev (no-change upload to edgy-updates), azureus (bug fixes), python-imaging (backport of missing ${shlibs:Depends}), nautilus (debian patches), python-apt (protect against not-parsable strings sent from dpkg), epiphany-browser (debian patches).

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Newsletters and articles of interest

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Expert shares secrets to saving thousands with K12LTSP (Linux.com)

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Comments (1 posted)

Inside PC-BSD 1.3 (O'ReillyNet)

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Distribution reviews

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E is for elegant with Elive live CD (Linux.com)

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Lesser known "mini" Linux runs from RAM (Linux Devices)

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Pardus gives Linux a custom lift (Linux.com)

Linux.com reviews Pardus 2007. "Apart from a KDE desktop and applications, the developers of the Pardus 2007 Linux distribution have built an entire distribution from scratch. Pardus, released last month, has its own multilingual installer, custom dependency-resolving package manager, and an INIT system that slashes boot times by several seconds. The distribution has come a long way since its first release in 2005, when it was based on Gentoo and lacked a package manager. Thanks to its custom tools, it's one of the easiest Linux distribution to run and manage."

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