April 25, 2019

The Gobuntu Mission Examined - page 2

What Makes a Linux Distribution Truly Free

  • November 12, 2007
  • By Roy Schestowitz

A complete operating system can be looked at from several levels of abstractions or operation. Two such levels are the applications and the kernel. In a truly free Linux distribution, source code should be openly available at all levels. But what does this mean in practical terms?

At the level of the kernel, things are relatively simple. All code, including that which operates peripheral devices such as printers and keyboards, as well as internal storage media, should be made available for inspection, modification, and even redistribution. The user is in total charge of the way software interacts with the hardware and can therefore tweak the computer's behavior to his or her heart's content.

When it comes to applications, the notion of "free" becomes more complex. Above the level of source code there tends to exist a graphical user interface with images, sounds, and other forms of art. Applications, unlike kernel code, can be very large and complex.

Dedication to both levels--the kernel and applications that sit on top--is needed when producing a truly free Linux distro. Without the conditions of freedom being satisfied, the computer that runs that software is not entirely under its user's control. The user is forbidden from doing certain things on their own computer. The user is sometimes forced to do undesirable things, too. For instance, the user is not permitted access to vital personal information, or very sensitive data is sent over the network without the user's consent.

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