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Why I'm not that excited for the Free Software Foundation-approved laptop

It's a great milestone...on a not-so-great piece of hardware.

By Bryan Lunduke on Fri, 12/20/13 - 3:39pm.

The Free Software Foundation is, for the first time, able to certify a laptop as being completely "free."

Free BIOS. No hardware that requires binary blobs or proprietary drivers. And able to run, without any gotchas, using a Linux distro that is, top-to-bottom, Free Software approved.

What is this miracle laptop, you may ask? It is a Lenovo ThinkPad X60 that has been refurbished by a company in the UK called Gluglug.

In a nutshell, Gluglug takes the seven-year-old ThinkPad X60 (seriously, these laptops came out back in 2006), removes the proprietary BIOS and replaces it with the open source CoreBoot BIOS, changes the Wi-Fi chip to something more "modern" and pre-installs the Trisquel Linux distribution (a version of Ubuntu with proprietary bits removed). The end result is a laptop that is 100% Free Software Foundation-approved.

Now, bear in mind that these laptops are not speed demons. Not by a long shot. They come standard with 1 gig of RAM and top out at 3 gigs. The processor looks to be a rather old Intel Core Duo. And the graphics chipset is the old, slow GMA 950, which means this isn't going to likely be a gaming rig. Nor will it be a primary software development machine.

On the upside, the price isn't terrible – roughly $300 USD. And you get the satisfaction, and perhaps peace of mind, that you have a truly “Free” system. Top to bottom.

But, again, this machine is over seven years old. Much newer, and much faster, laptops can be purchased for less than $300 right now. And most of them will run the majority of Linux distros out there wonderfully well. There's plenty of Chromebooks, netbooks and even just ordinary laptops that fit in that category nicely. And many of those machines can have their existing BIOS replaced with CoreBoot as well. That's just something you end up needing to do yourself.

So while I like the fact that there is a “Free Software” certified laptop out there... I'm not thrilled with what it is. And I don't actually know anyone who would buy one. All of the ardent Free Software advocates I know would rather spend less money on more powerful hardware, and simply replace the BIOS themselves.