GNewSense, the Present and the Future: Page 2

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The kernel mailing list suggests that most kernel developers agree with him. Given such sentiments, you might imagine that they would be on guard against proprietary elements creeping into the kernel. Yet GNewSense seems to have proved that the proprietary elements are there. You can't help worrying that copyrighted code might have slipped in as well, despite all claims that the development model makes that unlikely.

Still, the proprietary kernel blobs aside, the limitations GNewSense identifies remain reasons for optimism. Start investigating these limitations, and you soon find that the more pressing of them are likely to be overcome within the next year -- or perhaps two years at the most. Gnash, for instance, is rapidly approaching its 1.0 release, when it will be a complete replacement for the Adobe Flash player. Similarly, the Nouveau project is coming closer all the time to 3-D drivers for NVidia. We have every reason to hope that upcoming GNewSense releases will have even fewer releases than the current one.

Present and future

The only criticism that I would level against GNewSense is that its first two versions have been focused too much on taking things out and not enough on promoting replacements. Not shipping Adobe Flash player is understandable, but why not include Gnash instead? True, it is not a complete replacement yet, but displaying its current limitations might rouse users to support the efforts to improve it.

The same goes for OpenJDK, which is likely to become a complete replacement for Sun Java by the end of the year. Highlighting the efforts to overcome GNU/Linux's shortcomings seems at least as important as pointing them out, yet GNewSense does not even include these efforts in its repositories.

GNewSense is not for everybody. Many users do not have the dedication or the self-determination to choose a radically free distribution. For this reason, some of the dismissals of GNewSense might be justified if it were the only GNU/Linux distribution, or if it were a leading distribution. However, with hundreds of distributions, many of them commercial and including proprietary drivers, GNewSense serves the purpose of presenting a useful contrast. It is the entire community, not any single distribution, that is likely to persuade vendors to support GNU/Linux, and the diversity among distributions should leave little doubt to anyone who cares to observe that the platform is thriving.

But, regardless of whether you are motivated most by pragmatism or idealism, you do not need to reject one in favor of another. If distributions like Ubuntu that mix free and proprietary pieces are the present, then perhaps GNewSense is the future -- or, to be more accurate, a preliminary sketch of what the future might look like.

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Tags: Linux, Windows, wireless, Mozilla

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