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A Libre OS

written by Robin Schubert on 2017-07-23 | Tags: dgplug-summertraining, free-software

As described in my previous post, I migrated my system to a completely libre GNU/Linux distribution (seems I need to use the term libre in order to avoid the free/gratis confusion).

I admit that the pure migration process was pretty simple and almost unspectacular: I was running Manjaro Linux, an Arch-based distribution that comes with a nice set-up environment, but still has the freedom, simplicity and cutting edge packages, which I enjoyed very much. I decided to stay with an Arch derivative and followed these instructions to switch to Parabola Gnu/Linux. I expected some more magic, but basically I did the following:

Removing the unwanted

While this sounds pretty straight forward there were some things I expected (like removal of certain software like TeamViewer, Skype etc) and some that were rather unexpected and made me swallow, like when I saw yaourt on the list of software-to-be-removed. Yaourt is a wrapper around the Arch packaging tool pacman that allows to compile and install packages from the AUR, the Arch User Repository that completes the package supply with everything that's not in the official repositories. It's been my number one alternative if pacman did not offer what I was looking for and I was successful in 99 of 100 searches.

However, it's still not crucial and I'll be happy to invest more time in finding free solutions in future, knowing that I will be more conscious about the software I install and use. I was a bit puzzled about X not starting anymore, untill I noticed that Plymouth which was hooked with my lightdm service, was removed with the non-free packages; well I can absolutely forgo that one.

Embracing the alternative

My Thunderbird is now an Icedove, I totally can live with that ;) so far the libre alternative software does not at all change or affect the way I worked before. I was surprised to see that my kerned needed to be replaced. I never thought about that, but apparently my linux kernel included binary blobs, I guess for hardware compatibility. The Free Software Foundation Latin America is depeloping libre-linux, a kernel free of any proprietary binaries, thanks for that!

I got into trouble however, whenever there was no alternative to software I acutally do need, like my proprietary wifi driver. Yes, I should have read just one more paragraph of the migration wiki, so at least I would have been warned. Of course, no FOSS driver exists for my wifi card (since no specifications are made public), like for the vast majority of wifi cards - as far as I understood. So I ended up with buying an external usb wifi-dongle with a supported chipset (RTL8188 in my case) - I've come so far, I won't be stopped by that :P

Keep the system clean

The funniest thing about the migration was indeed the your freedom package. The description given on the website tells you all you need to know about that:

This package conflicts with every nonfree package known to date to ensure your system is free.

So this is my watchdog, conflicting with eveything I didn't know I didn't want to have.

The system is up and running again, and I don't feel much of a difference, yet. What I feel however, is to have gained deeper insight in how proprietary software and binary blobs are integrated in every layer of our system. Unless we take the extra effort, time and knowledge to intentionally avoid it we're stuck. I am no paranoiac and I don't plan to become one in near future, but it is indeed alarming how many pieces of software are integrated per default, of which the operations that should be performed can not be verified - a very one-sided trust model.

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