Free software defined according to the Free Software Foundation/Richard Stallman vs. the Debian project

There are already a few why should I choose PureOS vs. Debian topics but let me try a new aspect. PureOS claims to be one of the few operating systems certified as free (whatever that means) by the Free Software Foundation then led by Richard Stallman. I don’t want to get into the politics of the controversies around Mr. Stallman as a person here but I try to approach the question from a purely pragmatical standpoint. The Debian organization also claims their operation is free by their standards.

Why should I choose the Free Software Foundation’s/Richard Stallman’s approach to what to consider free software vs. the Debian project’s take on it?


The Debian project contains both open source and proprietary software. First of all, it is about drivers for devices that do not have open drivers, or open drivers do not provide full use of these devices. This allows the full use of such devices, but at the risk of system security. Purism produces computers that can run completely without proprietary software and PureOS, which ensures the full operation of these computers. PureOS does not contain proprietary software and is focused on maintaining a high level of security.


choose PureOS if 100% free-software is your goal and typically if your hardware can function properly without binary blobs in the firmware or proprietary software.
also look at how the lower levels of the code can be a problem for you …

choose Debian if you just want a universal operating system which is VERY stable (Buster) and can be enabled to install copyright restricted software from the non-free repository.

one makes the decision for you and tries to make it hard for you to use binary-blobs, proprietary-software (PureOS ideology)
the other is much more lax in terms of how it tries to guide you into something you may or may not want (Debian)

then there are the DIY (do-it-yourself) kind of GNU/Linux meta distributions that are THE BEST but are harder to learn how to setup (Linux-From-Scratch, Gentoo, Arch, Slackware etc.) and are considered THE WAY to rock GNU/Linux like a boss

Linux is just the kernel. there are other kernels available but none are as “mainstream” as Linux is.

see the sections and the FSF articles describing the differences between Linux and Linux-libre kernel …

RMS is the father of free-software and a genius so his way of dealing with computer-software problems is probably much more elevated than yours or mine considering that he wrote gnu/emacs from scratch and is a LISP wizard …


I think it’s a matter of how much you insist on software freedom. On a scale going from “don’t care” to “fanatic”, something like this:

Don’t care about free software: Windows/MacOS users

Appreciate free software but don’t mind some proprietary parts: common GNU/Linux distros like Ubuntu and Fedora

Want to use only free software but accept that proprietary parts may in practice be necessary in some cases: Debian GNU/Linux

Insisting on using only free software and won’t even consider anything else: PureOS/Trisquel/other FSF-endorsed GNU/Linux distros

Two reasons I can think of: (1) you want to be really really sure that you are using only free software, and (2) you want to push the world in that direction, help creating more incentives for making things work with free software.


No one can answer that for you. Read both definitions of the free software and choose the one which is closer to your principles and needs.

Be aware though that Debian OS distribution contains repositories which do not conform to DFSG (see point 5 of the social contract). PureOS distribution does not make such exception to maintain its RYF certification.


One significant point about debian and the DFSG in practice is that the debian project maintainers understand that code is data and data is code. This means that, for a package to meet the DFSG guidelines, not only must the program source be available, redistributable in modified form, but the associated media (pictures, documentation, et cetera) must be redistributable in modified form.

For a long time, this meant Firefox was restricted to the non-free repo, since Mozilla prohibited redistribution of the name and icon on source compiled versions, so debian’s version was branded Iceweasel (similar to the chrome/chromium split).


As an iOS developer, I guess I fell into the “not fanatic”, pragmatic camp. But that is changing, and any personal/family hardware I buy for now on will run free software. When I got into iOS development 11 years ago, I really liked that people now had pocket computers, and wanted to lend my skills to promoting that.

Something has always bothered me about Apple though - the walled-garden approach. Yeah, you could jail-break it, but that became harder and harder to do. You don’t really control/own the hardware. Android hardware was “more free”, but not fully. You had the proprietary blobs/etc.

Then I saw more and more of the industry going towards the “walled garden” - you can no longer choose to put whatever you want onto your computers, or at least Apple and Microsoft make it harder and harder. For example, with macOS Catalina, trying to run software from an “unregistered” (with Apple) developer you have to jump through hoops, approving them individually. When I got Manuskript to run, Gate Keeper (the program that blocks unauthorized apps) required me to approve EVERY FILE that made up Manuskript. It was ridiculous.

I think proprietary software is going to keep tightening the noose. The only real way to go is to reject it, and claim ownership of our hardware. Fully, hardware and software.

And that’s not even getting into the spying going on, phone tracking, computer tracking, etc.

I was much more in the “pragmatic camp” a few years ago, but now I think we have to, as much as possible, go “full freedom”, Richard Stallman style. We have to somehow get society to change course, to promote options where people really own their hardware, and promote a society where people can easily, conveniently avoid the surveillance around us.

My 2 cents :slight_smile:


The goal of free-software is to protect your freedom to use your hardware as you see fit and to protect that freedom for all people who receive the software.

By choosing free-software you are taking a stand against proprietary software that either limits peoples freedoms (e.g. preventing installation of non-Apple approved apps) or includes features that users don’t like, also known as anti-features (e.g. tracking you, recording your conversation, downloading your address book, etc).

Over the past few decades, users have been the proverbial frog in slowly boiling water. Hardware / chip manufactures have increasingly hidden behind NDA’s, only released binary blobs and don’t provide detailed documentation to allow people to write their own free-software drivers to use the hardware. NVidia is probably one of the most notorious examples of this.

This is the reason why people who want to use free-software are forced to make a “pragmatic” choice just to do their work, study, play, research, hack, etc.

Hence, choosing to use, support, program, help others to use free-software is a moral decision to push back against the increasing restrictions and anti-features being imposed on users by proprietary software/hardware developers.


A thing that may be missing here is that when a lot of us first used linux, we didn’t know how to install drivers for the devices. Of course some here from the /boot /root linux days may know, but most of the new users today don’t. There’s a place for debian style distros, theres a place for getting manufacturers to use their current supply chain as the industry reforms.

Also the FSF kinda stabbed the Debian team in the back, Debian by default is fully free, and the kernel was equivalent to linux-libre and then you had the option to for when you needed it, to install non free drivers. Now we live in a world where the Linux kernel has non free software in it and is no longer FSF approved. The number of FSF approved distros has shrinked a lot.

Us that understand how truly important this issue is will buy hardware from manufacturers that embrace free software and aspire to be pure, but others are stuck with what they have. They have businesses running on non free software, they have all the games they wanna play, they have streaming services and such, so understand that the world needs so transition to free software, and that legislation is important here. If we really care about these issues, we need to elect representatives that understand the issues with non free software.

and who do you believe those “representatives” are financed BY ?

vote RMS for president :grimacing:

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I didn’t care that much myself until recently and have been making a lot of strides to go completely free. The only non-free software on my Android phone right now are a couple banking apps (which I installed via a 3rd party app that allows access to the Google Play Store anonymously). My daily driver is an Alienware 13 with PureOS installed. Unfortunately I did have to install a non-free firmware package for the wifi card but I can buy one that can use free firmware if I choose. The only non-free bit of software I have on the PureOS install other then the firmware for the wifi is the currant oldest game still in development and updated which is Unreal World which does have a (much deserved on their part in my opinion) proprietary license from its dev team. The game however is free to play and download, surviving on just donations from players.

I think it’s fairly easy at this point to go almost entirely free with FSF endorsed computers and Android phones running LineageOS with no Google Apps and only free software from F-Droid. You can of course use PureOS and add the Debian non-free repo and whatever non-free software you choose to install but ultimately, the decision to use only free software is up to you. No one is forcing you to conform to anyone else’s standard of “free”.

but that’s exactly what proprietary means … if i can’t play DOOM Eternal 2020 release on the M$ platform because i can’t afford a stinking M$ license that at “only” 150$ is HOME edition and severely limited then i AM FORCED to use a device that runs GNU/Linux … or … become a ONE-PIECE pirate :rofl:

the copyright world tells you that you ARE “free” according to THEIR standard … so you see someone is ALWAYS telling you that you ARE “free” according to THEIR standard … the question is WHOM can you TRUST … maybe add to that VERIFY, SUSTAIN, MANAGE, OWN, etc.

Well that’s what I mean. I don’t count that as free haha. I also never paid that much for a license myself. The only windows code I ever paid for was a Windows 10 Enterprise code for $30 off a 3rd party website. Worked fine ever since.

I just mean that OP shouldn’t feel the need to get caught up on one version of “free” or another and should just focus on what they themselves feel they need. For example if you need your PC for work and need to use a piece of proprietary software for said work then your choice of how free your software and OS is will probably differ from someone like me who only uses company PCs at a desk for work and is free to use whatever I damn well please for myself everywhere else.

i mean 150$ … bah that’s peanuts right ? yeah and a shitload of telemetry and spying and manipulation and whatnot … insert EVIL here >

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That’s actually why I originally bought Enterprise since you can disable more telemetry then normal via policy settings but I never ended up doing it since I only really use my Windows PC for gaming.

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yep i’ve used Enterprise myself before … but if it’s not downloaded from a legit source you ARE probably in MORE trouble for those 30$ that you saved on … i’ve been lucky with my bank 2FA because otherwise that could have been IT for me … don’t want to expand on that …

A friend of mine used to be a network installer for the US Army and ended up having a USB stick that provided you with basically unlimited licenses for installs of 7 Ultimate. None of his PCs had to pay to be upgraded to 10 :sweat_smile:

i guess it is a GOOD thing that i am “forced” to run GNU/Linux ? look where that got me … :heart_eyes:

I couldn’t do IT of any sort for Windows at this point. I got sick of figuring out my own problems with it let alone someone else’s.


i was talking with a former customer-service-employee of M$ sometime the last summer while i was giving her measurements for the new Glasses and she had only “good” words to say about her stay there … poor girl and so young too !

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