Open Source

Photos: Five pieces of kit with 100% free software

No matter how big a fan of open source software you may be, chances are your computer relies on proprietary instructions to get its job done.

Whether it's hardware drivers or firmware, most laptops rely on a certain amount of closed-source code.

However, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) has taken it upon itself to identify those machines and equipment that come as close as possible to its ideal of running 100 percent free software. In this instance free software means the source must be open to be studied, modified and shared with others – affording opportunities for improved collaboration and security. Hardware that meets this standard is granted the Respect Your Freedom (RYF) certification by the foundation.

The FSF this week certified a second laptop as RYF-compliant, recognising it for having an open software stack that is open to user scrutiny and tweaking.

Here is the kit the FSF recommends if you want to steer clear of opaque software on your machines.

Libreboot X200 laptop

The newly-certified Libreboot X200 laptop from Gluglug is a 12.1-inch laptop with a 1280 x 800 TFT LCD screen. The machine comes with a dual-core Core 2 Duo P8400 processor or higher and supports a 64-bit GNU/Linux operating system.

The base configuration is available with 2GB of memory and 160GB HDD, ranging up to 8GB of memory and a 1TB HDD or 120GB SSD.

The machine weighs in at 1.7 kg and measures 11.6 x 9.2 x0.8-inches.

For connectivity the laptop offers 802.11n wifi, as well as providing one gigabit Ethernet, one modem, one ExpressCard/54 and three USB 2.0 ports. The display can output via VGA and there is also a headphone socket.

Available from £358, the X200 ships to the US, Canada and Europe.

The Libreboot X200 is a refurbished and updated laptop based on the Lenovo ThinkPad X200.

To meet the Free Software Foundation's certification guidelines, the developers at Gluglug had to replace the low-level firmware as well as the operating system. Microsoft Windows was replaced with the FSF-endorsed Trisquel GNU/Linux operating system, which includes the GNOME 3 desktop environment.

The free software boot system of Libreboot and the GNU GRUB 2 bootloader were adapted to replace the stock proprietary firmware, which included a BIOS, Intel's Management Engine system, and Intel's Active Management Technology (AMT) firmware. The FSF said replacing this stock firmware took months of reverse engineering and was particularly important as it removed a potential backdoor into the machine.

As might be expected due to the extensive customisation that has taken place, some of the specs are behind what is on offer in comparably-priced laptops, for instance the Core 2 Duo P8400 processor was launched more than six years ago.

This is the second laptop to achieve RYF certification, the first being the, now discontinued, Libreboot X60 in December 2013.

Image: Gluglug

By Nick Heath

Nick Heath is a computer science student and was formerly a journalist at TechRepublic and ZDNet.