Explaining Why We Don't Endorse Other Systems
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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
system distribution guidelines. But since it isn't always obvious
how a particular system 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
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 has the two usual problems: there's no clear policy
about what software can be included, and nonfree blobs are shipped with
their kernel, Linux. Arch also has no policy about not distributing
nonfree software through their normal channels.
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 provides blobs for the
kernel, Linux, and invites installing nonfree applications including
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'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 provides a
repository of nonfree software. According to the project, this
software is “not part of the Debian system,” but the
repository is hosted on many of the project's main servers, and people
can readily learn about these nonfree packages by browsing Debian's
online package database.
There is also 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.
Previous releases of Debian included nonfree blobs with Linux, the
kernel. With the release of Debian 6.0 (“squeeze”) in
February 2011, these blobs have been moved out of the main
distribution to separate packages in the nonfree repository. However,
the problem partly remains: the installer in some cases recommends
these nonfree firmware files for the peripherals on the machine.
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 includes installation recipes for a number of nonfree
programs in its primary package system.
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 provides nonfree software through dedicated
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
openSUSE offers a repository of nonfree software. This is an
“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
SteamOS, a version of GNU/Linux to be distributed by Valve, is not
actually released for download yet. At present, we can say that it is
very unlikely to be an operating system which respects user freedom,
because it is meant to work closely with the Steam service. Steam uses
Management (DRM) to impose
restrictions on the software it distributes. SteamOS will have to
contain the proprietary software necessary to enforce these
restrictions. It will also be designed to promote and integrate with
the Steam store, which promotes a large amount of proprietary
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.
Ubuntu provides 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's trademark policy prohibits commercial redistribution of exact
copies of Ubuntu, denying an important freedom.
As of October 2012, Ubuntu
sends personal data about users' searches to a server belonging to
Canonical, which sends back ads to buy things from Amazon. This does
not, strictly speaking, affect whether Ubuntu is free software, but it
is a violation of users' privacy. It also encourages buying from
Amazon, a company associated
with DRM as well as mistreatment of workers, authors and publishers.
This adware is one of the rare occasions in which a free software
developer persists in keeping a malicious feature in its version of a
Some Other Distros
Here we discuss some systems that are not GNU/Linux.
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.
No BSD distribution has policies against proprietary binary-only
firmware that might be loaded even by free drivers.
Haiku includes some software that you're not allowed to modify. It
also includes nonfree firmware blobs.
This modified version of Android 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. Allowing people to continue using the proprietary software
and drivers meant for Windows is one of the stated goals of the