gNewSense 3.0 with GNOME 2 desktop
|Developer||Current: Sam Geeraerts
Brian Brazil and Paul O'Malley
|Source model||Open source|
|Initial release||November 2, 2006|
|Latest release||3.1 / February 9, 2014|
|Latest preview||4.0 Alpha 1 / December 2, 2014|
|Package manager||dpkg / Synaptic Package Manager|
|Platforms||Loongson, x86, x86-64|
|Kernel type||Monolithic (Linux-libre)|
|Default user interface||GNOME|
|License||Exclusively free software licenses per GNU Free System Distribution Guidelines (GNU FSDG)|
gNewSense is a computer operating system based on Debian, and developed with sponsorship from the Free Software Foundation. Its goal is user-friendliness, but with all proprietary (e.g. binary blobs) and non-free software removed. The Free Software Foundation considers gNewSense to be composed entirely of free software.
gNewSense takes a relatively strict stance against proprietary software. For example, any documentation that gives instructions on installing proprietary software is excluded.
With no releases in two years, on 8 August 2011, DistroWatch classified gNewSense as "dormant". By September 2012 DistroWatch had changed the status to "active" again, and on 6 August 2013, the first version directly based on Debian, gNewSense 3 "Parkes", was released.
By default gNewSense uses GNOME. The graphical user interface can be customized with the user's choice of X display manager, window managers, and other desktop environments available to install through its hosted repositories.
Besides standard system tools and other small applications, gNewSense comes installed with the following software: the OpenOffice.org productivity suite, the Epiphany Internet browser recently renamed to simply "Web", the Empathy instant messenger, and the GIMP for editing photos and other raster graphics. Common software development tools including the GCC are installed by default.
gNewSense has made three major releases (TBA stands for to be announced):
|Version||Code name||Release date||Supported until||Based on||Supported architectures|
|Old version, no longer supported: 1.0||DeltaD||2006-11-02||Old version, no longer supported: 2008-05-01||Ubuntu 6.06 "Dapper Drake"||N/A|
|Old version, no longer supported: 2.0||DeltaH||2008-04-30||Old version, no longer supported: 2014-01-03||Ubuntu 8.04 "Hardy Heron"||N/A|
|Current stable version: 3||Parkes||2013-08-06||Current stable version: 2015-12-31||Debian 6.0 "Squeeze"||i386, amd64, Lemote Yeeloong|
|Future release: 4||Ucclia||TBA||Future release: ?||Debian 7 "Wheezy"||i386, amd64, Lemote Yeeloong|
Comparison with other distributions
Non-free software repositories are not provided by the gNewSense project, and most non-free documentation and artwork have been removed. While it was based on Ubuntu, the "Universe" package repository was enabled by default. In order to avoid trademark problems that stem from the modification of Mozilla Firefox, gNewSense 1.1 rebranded it as "BurningDog". BurningDog likewise does not offer to install non-free plugins for various web media, such as Adobe Flash. gNewSense 2.0 abandoned BurningDog and adopted the Epiphany web browser (later renamed simply "Web"), a component of GNOME, as its default browser application, and came with recommendations and instructions to optionally compile and run GNU IceCat. gNewSense 3.0 retains Web as the default browser, but also comes with a modified version of Debian's Iceweasel that does not offer to access proprietary add-ons.
Debian is another Linux distribution known for strict licensing requirements and adherence to free software principles. While both Debian and gNewSense rigorously exclude non-free software and binary blobs from their official releases, Debian maintains and hosts unofficial repositories of non-free software and firmware binaries, and Debian free software sometimes depends upon or suggests the optional installation of proprietary software, under the theory that users' own informed discretion about the use of such software should be paramount, as expressed in Clause 5 of the Debian Social Contract (though Debian's democratic project management has seen this stance become a source of recurrent controversy). gNewSense, by contrast, does not provide any packages which depend on or suggest the use of non-free software, firmware, extensions, or plugins, nor does the gNewSense Project provide convenience-access to proprietary software for any reason, seeing this as an abrogation of the commitment to the development of free software solutions. Similar to Debian, gNewSense policies do not allow including documentation that are licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License with invariant sections. This includes many manuals and documentation released by the GNU Project themselves.
While gNewSense was initially forked from Ubuntu (itself originally a fork of Debian) as a result of founding developer Paul O'Malley's prior work with Ubuntu, as of gNewSense 3.0 the distribution has tracked Debian as the base for its software distribution. In part this has been because the Debian Project does carefully disaggregate the free software in its official distribution from the proprietary software it provides courtesy access to. Indeed, many of the packages, including Debian-particular packages (such as Iceweasel and Icedove) ported to gNewSense are simply modified in such a way that they no longer provide such courtesy access to non-free software options.
Since gNewSense's repositories contain only free software, support for hardware which requires firmware and for which no free firmware exists (such as some wireless network cards) is not available.
By May 1, 2008, 3D graphics and application support had also been removed because of licensing issues with Mesa 3D. After January 13, 2009, those issues had been resolved and 3D support became standard starting with the 2.2 release.
In reviewing gNewSense 3.0 in August 2013, Jesse Smith of DistroWatch noted that many of the applications provided, including OpenOffice.org 3, the 2.6.32 Linux-libre kernel, Iceweasel 3.5 and GNOME 2.30 were quite out of date. Smith concluded this review with the following words:
Generally speaking, I was happy with gNewSense 3.0. Being based on Debian, the distribution can be counted on to provide both stability and amazing performance. The distribution is lean, fast and uncluttered. The flip side to this is gNewSense's system installer and default package management tools are geared more toward experienced users and will probably provide a steep learning curve to novice Linux users. Not much is automated and there is a minimum of hand holding. The main feature of gNewSense, the lack of proprietary software, is also a double-edged blade. On the one hand, it means the entire operating system can be audited, modified and redistributed. This is great from the perspective of software freedom. The fact that the distribution can play most multimedia formats and handled Flash content fairly well is a testament of the power of free and open source software. The one problem I ran into with gNewSense's software policy was with regards to my wireless network card. Most distributions ship with the non-free Intel firmware, but gNewSense doesn't include it and this means the distribution isn't a good fit with my laptop. It is, on the other hard [sic], a great match with my desktop system.
Richard Stallman (founder and president of the Free Software Foundation) said he used gNewSense in January 2010 and he was still using it in April 2014. Since then Stallman has switched to Trisquel.
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