Sunday, August 31, 2008

What a nuisance

If there's one thing the Free (as in speech) Software crowd can't do, it's create a good marketable name for an application or Linux distribution. The classic example of the former is the Gnu Image Manipulation Program, or Gimp. The best and latest example of the latter appears to be gNewSense (or nuisance).

The latest release, 2.1, was just announced on Distrowatch. Based on Ubuntu, it strips out all the proprietary bits, including codecs and drivers, and forces the end user to initially use the open and free equivalents if they exist. If they don't then you're stuck without features such as 3D acceleration, DVD playback, QuickTime movies, etc.

Rather than reflexively kick gNewSense to the curb, I downloaded the live ISO and booted it on europa to see what did and didn't work. What follows are some very brief notes.
  • Booting - gNewSense has one of the simplest, if not the lamest, boot prompts I've run across in a long time. The initial splash artwork is the name of the distribution in large ragged green letters on black, with a boot prompt sitting beneath it. And that's where it'll stay unless you either press F1 or Enter to start the boot process. No timeout. That caught me off-guard; I'm so used now for a live CD to automatically timeout and boot I can't remember the last time I had to specifically boot the CD. What a nuisiance
  • Video - The desktop came up in 1280 x 1024 resolution. Surprisingly enough System -> Preferences -> Screen Resolution allowed me to select 1600 x 1200, something that every Gnome-based distribution since May of 2007 hasn't been able to do. Mandriva can select that resolution, but only with the Drax configuration tools. All other distributions required I install the AMD/ATI package fglrx. As for 3D acceleration there is none, at least not for my card. Even if by some miracle I had 3D acceleration I couldn't use it because the geniuses behind gNewSense recompiled the X packages to remove GLX support. Why? Because the "non-free SGI Free B license" isn't free enough. What a nuisance.
  • Web-browser. What??? No "Ice Weasel"??? I was able to use the bundled "Web Browser" to view many sites and to file this blog post Unfortunately it was missing features I've come to rely on with Firefox, such as automatic spell check and plug-ins. I can only assume that the reason for the "Web Browser" is, like for GLX, Firefox just isn't free enough to suit them. Not even Ice Weasel!

    Another problem with the Web Browser: it becomes confused with Ajax-based forms such as Blogger. Even though I saved the majority of this post (Save Now) but did not publish it, Web Browser popped up the following dialog.

    That, along with no Flash, makes for a very dull experience. What a nuisance.
  • Keyboard. While writing this post I discovered that the double quote (") is found via shift 2, not shift ('). That's right folks, the shift 2 and shift (') are swapped. At least it didn't take long for me to figure out. What a royal nuisance.
  • Appearance Preferences. Remember how GLX was removed from X? The visual effects tab is still available on the Appearance Preferences dialog. What a nuisance.
  • Multi-media. Ubuntu is proud of its ability to support multimedia, and as a consequence provides an Examples folder on the desktop. So does gNewSense. Unfortunately the slim pickings that Ubuntu provides has been dumbed down even further with gNewSense. Instead of the nice little Ogg movie about Ubuntu we're given a horrible recording of Stallman singing. What an utter nuisance.
It takes a perverse turn of mind to brag about building a distribution that deliberately removes functionality because it doesn't adhere to some given ideology, but that's exactly what gNewSense does. All this in the face of two new distributions, kiwilinux and PC/OS, that were released after gNewSense and that brag about including all those 'restricted' codecs and drivers and Flash. Oh, and by the way, they were both derived from Ubuntu 8.04.1. And let's not forget Mint Linux, Mandriva, PCLinuxOS (derived from Mandriva), and Sabayon that also include all those ugly but essential bits out-of-the-box. Or those distributions that make it drop-dead easy to install all those nasty bits, such as openSUSE and Ubuntu. But what finally gets to me is that the keepers of gNewSense consider themselves even more Catholic (Free) than the Pope (Debian): in their FAQ they note that even Debian is non-free because Debian "provides non-free software through its repositories and includes non-free kernel drivers."

If you're the kind of geek who likes to program while wearing their hairshirt, then gNewSense is probably the distribution for you. But if you're the regular kind of geek who wants to get on with a task and not fight the OS, then all gNewSense will ever be for you is a big big nuisance.


  1. 100% wrong about 100% free.
    Maybe the name gNewSense was intentional? Could that be??
    The creators are obviously aware that only relying on 100% free software can be a PITA in the world we live in.
    But that shouldn't stop anybody from trying. That is what Linux is all about.

    Don't use gNewSense if you don't give **** about software freedom!

    gNewSense is obviously for people that don't want to run non-free code ( for ideological, technical, business or security reasons )

    Nobody who does _not_ actively search for something like that will ever use or try it.

    But it can be useful. You can check how well your hardware is really supported by linux.
    It is a showcase of how far 100% free software has come over the years. It will only get better to the point where even gNewSense will be usable for non-hardcore-geeks ( might still take years, though).

    And the webbrowser is Epiphany, which is the standard Gnome webbroser.

    This whole post is pretty pointless IMNSHO.
    Maybe you should try to be more constructive and work on the bugs that make you such a grumpy man and not write posts about forking KDE or about bugs in alpha software etc.
    That might make you less grumpy and your posts a lot more interesting.

  2. I think you are missing the point of a distro like gnewsense.

    The aim is to highlight what hardware wont work with out propriety blobs/drivers/firmware.

    Also to highlight what Free software is still missing. Firefox has some licensing issues so is not 100% free

    Even Mark Shuttleworth sees the point of this distro.

    Hardware vendors like Dell can test their machines with Gnewsense and see what they still need to work on to get free drivers for their machines.

    This distro is not for casual users like yourself.
    Stick with Mint and Pclos for your needs.

  3. The internet never ceases to make me laugh! Is it peoples attempt to be funny? NOOOOO its people's lack of tolerance which should be what the world of linux and open source is all about. The ability to like and dislike certain software, be it Windows or another bad distro. It may be that everyone else on the net worldwide likes gNewSense and only Bill dislikes it. Well, so what! He wants a distro that does what he wants. He is not a born-again free software zealot. I load many distro's but if they dont do what I want, the cd gets dumped!


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