Explaining Why We Don't Endorse Other Systems

We're often asked why we don't endorse a particular system—usually a popular GNU/Linux distribution. The short answer to that question is that they don't follow the free system distribution guidelines. But since it isn't always obvious how a particular distro fails to follow the guidelines, this list gives more information about the problems of certain well-known nonfree system distros.

To learn more about the GNU/Linux systems that we do endorse, check out our list of free GNU/Linux distributions.

Except where noted, all of the distributions listed on this page fail to follow the guidelines in at least two important ways:

  • They do not have a policy of only including free software, and removing nonfree software if it is discovered. Most of them have no clear policy on what software they'll accept or reject at all. The distributions that do have a policy unfortunately aren't strict enough, as explained below.

  • The kernel that they distribute (in most cases, Linux) includes “blobs”: pieces of object code distributed without source, usually firmware to run some device.

Here is a list of some popular nonfree GNU/Linux distributions in alphabetical order, with brief notes about how they fall short. We do not aim for completeness; once we know some reasons we can't endorse a certain distro, we do not keep looking for all the reasons.

A distro may have changed since we last updated information about it; if you think one of the problems mentioned here has been corrected, please let us know. However, we will study and endorse a distro only if its developers ask for our endorsement.

Arch GNU/Linux

Arch has no policy against distributing nonfree software through their normal channels, and nonfree blobs are shipped with their kernel, Linux.

Canaima GNU/Linux

Canaima GNU/Linux is a distribution made by Venezuela's government to distribute computers with GNU/Linux. While the overall plan is admirable, Canaima is flawed by the inclusion of nonfree software.

Its main menu has an option, “Install nonfree software,” which installs all the nonfree drivers (even the ones that are not necessary). The distro also ships blobs for the kernel, Linux, and invites installing nonfree applications including Flash Player.


We're not aware of problems in CentOS aside from the two usual ones: there's no clear policy about what software can be included, and nonfree blobs are shipped with Linux, the kernel. Of course, with no firm policy in place, there might be other nonfree software included that we missed.

Debian GNU/Linux

Until 2022, Debian GNU/Linux came fairly close to qualifying as a free distro: it was simple to specify that you wanted to install Debian without any nonfree software.

Debian's Social Contract states the goal of making Debian entirely free software, and Debian conscientiously keeps nonfree software out of the official Debian system. However, Debian also maintains a repository of nonfree software. It asserts that this software is “not part of the Debian system,” but the repository is hosted on many of the project's main servers, so people are likely to learn from Debian itself about those nonfree packages by browsing Debian's package database and wiki, and then might install them.

Until 2022, Debian GNU/Linux did not offer nonfree packages for installation unless the user explicitly enabled use of that repository. Thus, it was easy to make a free installation if you wanted to.

That is no longer true, because Debian has changed its policy. In Debian 12, initially, the installer offered to install nonfree firmware whenever some hardware devices “needed” that.

Since then, there has been another change for the worse. Debian now recommends preferentially a new installer program which, on most computers, installs all the nonfree firmware without even asking.

It is no longer easy to install only the free packages of Debian. There are ways to request this, but they require specific knowledge. See Optionally Free Is Not Enough. In effect, Debian has become more like the other nonfree distros.

Debian also has a “contrib” repository; its packages are free, but some of them exist to load separately distributed proprietary programs. This too is not thoroughly separated from the main Debian distribution.

In addition, some of the free programs that are officially part of Debian invite the user to install some nonfree programs. Specifically, the Debian versions of Firefox and Chromium suggest nonfree plug-ins to install into them.

Debian's wiki also includes pages about installing nonfree firmware.


Fedora does have a clear policy about what can be included in the distribution, and it seems to be followed carefully. The policy requires that most software and all fonts be available under a free license, but makes an exception for certain kinds of nonfree firmware. Unfortunately, the decision to allow that firmware in the policy keeps Fedora from meeting the free system distribution guidelines.

Gentoo GNU/Linux

Gentoo includes installation recipes for a number of nonfree programs in its primary package system.

Mandriva GNU/Linux

Mandriva does have a stated policy about what can be included in the main system. It's based on Fedora's, which means that it also allows certain kinds of nonfree firmware to be included. On top of that, it permits software released under the original Artistic License to be included, even though that's a nonfree license.

Mandriva also ships nonfree software through dedicated repositories.

Manjaro GNU/Linux

Manjaro includes nonfree software through its normal channels, and ships nonfree blobs with its kernel, Linux. It includes a proprietary office suite and proprietary games with DRM. The distro also recommends the installation of nonfree drivers.

Mint GNU/Linux

Mint does not have a policy against including nonfree software, it includes nonfree binary blobs in drivers packaged with the kernel, and it includes nonfree programs in its repositories. It even includes proprietary codecs.


NixOS doesn't have any policy that completely forbids nonfree software. Instead, it has an option that needs to be activated to install nonfree packages. But even with that option disabled, it still ships nonfree blobs in its main repository, either with Linux (the kernel), or through separate package(s) like sof-firmware.


openSUSE offers a repository of nonfree software. This is an instance of how “open” is weaker than “free”.

Red Hat GNU/Linux

Red Hat's enterprise distribution primarily follows the same licensing policies as Fedora, with one exception. Thus, we don't endorse it for the same reasons. In addition to those, Red Hat has no policy against making nonfree software available for the system through supplementary distribution channels.


Slackware has the two usual problems: there's no clear policy about what software can be included, and nonfree blobs are included in Linux, the kernel. It also ships with the nonfree image-viewing program xv. Of course, with no firm policy against them, more nonfree programs could get in at any time. There is an unofficial list of nonfree software in Slackware.


SteamOS, a version of GNU/Linux to be distributed by Valve. It contains proprietary software, including the Steam client and proprietary drivers. Steam uses Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) to impose restrictions on the software it distributes, as well as on the proprietary software it promotes via the Steam store.

SUSE GNU/Linux Enterprise

In addition to the usual two problems, several nonfree software programs are available for download from SUSE's official FTP site.


Tails uses the vanilla version of Linux, which contains nonfree firmware blobs.

Ubuntu GNU/Linux

Ubuntu maintains specific repositories of nonfree software, and Canonical expressly promotes and recommends nonfree software under the Ubuntu name in some of their distribution channels. Ubuntu offers the option to install only free packages, which means it also offers the option to install nonfree packages too. In addition, the version of Linux, the kernel, included in Ubuntu contains firmware blobs.

Ubuntu appears to permit commercial redistribution of exact copies with the trademarks; removal of the trademarks is required only for modified versions. That is an acceptable policy for trademarks. However, the same page, further down, makes a vague and ominous statement about “Ubuntu patents,” without giving enough details to show whether that constitutes aggression or not.

That page spreads confusion by using the misleading term “intellectual property rights,” which falsely presumes that trademark law and patent law and several other laws belong in one single conceptual framework. Use of that term is harmful, without exception, so after making a reference to someone else's use of the term, we should always reject it. However, that is not a substantive issue about Ubuntu as a GNU/Linux distribution.

In addition, Ubuntu is moving more and more packages to a new package manager called Snap, which is not good for users' freedom and autonomy. Snap uses a special kind of repository implemented on Canonical's unreleased software. In practice this makes it very inconvenient to package modified versions of the free programs in Ubuntu such that users of Ubuntu can easily install them.

Some Other Distros

Here we discuss some well-known or significant non-GNU/Linux system distros that do not qualify as free.


Android as released by Google contains many nonfree parts as well as many free parts. Most of the free parts are covered by a pushover license (not copyleft), so manufacturers that distribute Android in a product sometimes make those parts nonfree as well.

BSD systems

FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD all include instructions for obtaining nonfree programs in their ports system. In addition, their kernels include nonfree firmware blobs.

Nonfree firmware programs used with Linux, the kernel, are called “blobs,” and that's how we use the term. In BSD parlance, the term “blob” means something else: a nonfree driver. OpenBSD and perhaps other BSD distributions (called “projects” by BSD developers) have the policy of not including those. That is the right policy, as regards drivers; but when the developers say these distributions “contain no blobs,” it causes a misunderstanding. They are not talking about firmware blobs.

None of those BSD distributions has policies against proprietary binary-only firmware that might be loaded even by free drivers.

Chrome OS

The central part of Chrome OS is the nonfree Chrome browser. It may contain other nonfree software as well.

The rest of it is based on ChromiumOS, so it also has the problems of Chromium OS, plus the nonfree parts of Android.

Chromium OS

Chromium OS contains proprietary software, including firmware blobs and nonfree user-space binaries to support specific hardware on some computers.

In addition, the login system surveils users, as it requires a Google account (Chromium OS does not support local accounts). The “guest” session feature is not a real alternative to logging in with a Google account, because it doesn't allow persistent storage and limits the system's features.


/e/ (formerly eelo) is a modified version of Android, which contains nonfree libraries.


GrapheneOS is a version of Android which is described as “open source,” but it seems to include software that isn't free software or even “open source”. For instance, it comes with firmware programs for installation and it appears that at least some of them are binaries without source code. It is said to be “de-Googled,” but includes a way to download and install the nonfree Google Play program.


Haiku includes some software that you're not allowed to modify. It also includes nonfree firmware blobs.


LineageOS (formerly CyanogenMod) is a modified version of Android, which contains nonfree libraries. It also explains how to install the nonfree applications that Google distributes with Android.


ReactOS is meant as a free binary compatible replacement for Windows. Use with proprietary software and drivers meant for Windows is one of the stated goals of the project.