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The Gobuntu Mission Examined

What Makes a Linux Distribution Truly Free

  • November 12, 2007
  • By Roy Schestowitz

"It has nothing whatsoever to do with Freedom," argues one of Gobuntu's contributors. The contributor, Keith G. Robertson-Turner, is a longtime, passionate advocate of free software. Before joining Gobuntu, he was among the first package maintainers on the Fedora project. Yet recently he opted to leave the Gobuntu project after what he sees as continued disappointment.

"In fact, [Mark] Shuttleworth has just confirmed on-list that his only interest is the kernel (i.e., disable as much of the contentious drivers as possible) ... and see what still works," he continues.

In contrast, Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu, disagrees with Robertson-Turner. The developer's complaints "reflect one person's recollection of a vigorous discussion on the Gobuntu development mailing lists," Shuttleworth replied in an email response to Robertson-Turner's claims. Indeed, in Shuttleworth's view, "Gobuntu is about building a platform that expresses freedom in software and in content." He urges those interested to read key parts of the Gobuntu mailing list (linked to below).

Before examining Robertson-Turner's experiences and findings, let's delve into a little background. Later on, internal problems will be explained and ways to improve Gobuntu's direction will be suggested.

A truly free GNU/Linux distribution is one that honors the idea that full access to and control over program source code is both valuable and necessary. Such a distribution should avoid software and hardware drivers that cannot be controlled by the user. Moreover, all expressions of creativity, including artwork, should permit derivative work. All in all, this ensures that there is no restriction that ties the user to the software and hardware vendors.

There are several projects that strive to create such a Linux distro, for instance, Ututo and gNewSense. These projects make their work widely available, not necessarily for profit. The main goal of projects that follow this route is to reverse a growing trend in which hardware and software turn against their users. Examples include compromise of privacy, restriction on access, and forced upgrades, which can be expensive.

Gobuntu is a project whose purpose is to deliver a Linux distribution that is free not only in terms of cost, but also free in that it facilitates user freedom. Gobuntu essentially comprises a reduced set of packages that are used in Ubuntu Linux, with possible replacements for "non free" software packages and drivers.

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