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Running a free Gentoo

Posted 10-29-2012 at 04:52 PM by hydraMax

Gentoo is overall a great distribution, but unfortunately it is not dedicated to free software with the same determination as distributions like Trisquel and gNewSense. If you have been running Gentoo for a while, but are not familiar with this issue, you may be surprise to learn how much non-free software is in your system, from application software to the kernel.

The offset to this, however, is that built-in Gentoo mechanisms make it very easy to change this configuration, so as to maintain a "purist" free software system. Three things must be done:

1. Add the bindist flag to your global USE flags. Some software, like Firefox, have licenses that do not allow modified distribution of the software unless the brand logo has been removed. The bindist flag affects this change in relevant packages.

2. Add the deblob flag to your global USE flags. Many people are not aware that the linux kernel released by Torvalds is filled with non-free firmware binaries, which are called binary blobs because no source code is included. If the deblob flag is activated when the kernel (from Portage) is compiled, a script will also run which strips the kernel of all the blobs. This results in the installation of a libre or gnu kernel.

Associated warning: This will remove a large number of firmware modules for graphics cards and some other devices, which may result in some loss of functionality. For example, ATI Radeon cards will still work, but will no longer provide 3D graphics acceleration, which functionality depends on the non-free firmware.

3. Modify your LICENSES flags. The default Gentoo configuration allows any package to be installed that does not have a license that is part of the EULA class. This leaves room for a fair amount of non-free software to be installed (including, strangely enough, some packages with Microsoft EULAs attached.) This is fixed by adding the following to your make.conf file:

This restricts the list of accepted licenses to only those accepted as free software licenses by the OSI (and a few others free software licenses). After doing this, packages on your system with non-free licenses will NOT be automatically uninstalled; however, each time you run emerge, a warning will be generated which provides a listing of all such packages installed on your system. In the future you will not be able to install packages with a non-free license unless you accept the license globally or for the specific package.

If you need to accept any other licenses, simply add them as flags after FREE in the aforementioned variable. You may wish to add the following licenses, which are relevant to packages which contain freely-redistributable books, documentation, or multimedia (no software): freedist CCPL-Sampling-Plus-1.0 ISOC-rfc. There is also the interesting MOTIF license, which restricts the use of the software to free software operating systems. (Obviously not a problem for a Gentoo user).
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