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Why Linux enthusiasts are arguing over Purism's sleek, idealistic Librem laptops

Chris Hoffman | Aug. 10, 2015
Purism's idealistic Librem laptops are causing controversy in the free software community.

Purism seems hopeful that Intel might cooperate in releasing some necessary information to help free the Intel FSP, but Libreboot is pessimistic from experience: "For years, coreboot has been struggling against Intel. Intel has been shown to be extremely uncooperative in general. Many coreboot developers, and companies, have tried to get Intel to cooperate; namely, releasing source code for the firmware components. Even Google, which sells millions of Chromebooks (coreboot pre-installed) have been unable to persuade them."

A recent anonymous email published by Phoronix goes more into depth in the argument against Purism succeeding here.

So where does that leave Purism and the Librem laptops?

This controversy may be littered with technical details, but it's easy to wrap your head around. Purism made some big promises and has some big goals, but many of the people working in the trenches--Coreboot and Libreboot developers--don't think those goals are realistic or achievable.

Purism has certainly been overly optimistic. Many of the people crowdfunding Purism laptops probably didn't believe Purism's promise that its laptops "will be free" meant that they will be free at some point in the future, if possible, but the initial models wouldn't.

More worryingly, Purism has been getting a lot of attention at the expensive of organizations like Gluglug and its LibreBoot X200 laptop, which has seemed awfully dated compared to the shiny new, MacBook-like Purism laptops. That's not surprising--such laptops are outdated compared to modern ones like Purism's Librem line. But Gluglug works to ensure its laptops are running a free software BIOS, and that's why it can't use recent hardware. Unlike Purism's laptops, the LibreBoot X200 is actually endorsed by the Free Software Foundation.

Purism is alone among these free software laptop projects in using the latest Intel CPU's and other hardware. That means a lot of Purism's stated goals haven't actually been met, and there's no realistic timeline for if they ever will be met. It also means Purism Librem laptops stand out next to Libreboot laptops, and people don't necessarily appreciate that Purism is chasing a future goal of freedom while Libreboot is delivering it today.

On the other hand, Purism is the only such "ideologically pure" project delivering the latest hardware and it does promise to actually work on these issues. If you do want high-end, current hardware, a Librem laptop offers a better free software experience than a MacBook, a Windows 10 ultrabook, or even Dell's sleek Linux laptops, which simply plop Ubuntu on popular XPS notebooks designed primarily for Windows. Many people who support the idea of free and open PCs will want the latest hardware, and the Purism Librem offers it--even if it's less ideologically pure than something like the LibreBoot X200.

But understand what you're getting. If you really do want a completely free software experience, avoid Purism for the foreseeable future and stick with Gluglug's laptops.


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