​Librem 15, the first free software GNU/Linux laptop, makes funding goal

The Librem 15 Linux laptop has surpassed the $250-thousand goal it needed to launch.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

If you want a Linux on a laptop, it's easy to install it yourself. You can also always buy one from a specialized Linux vendor such as System76 and ZaReason or even get a mainstream laptop, like the new Dell XPS 13 and 15 with Ubuntu installed. What you can't do is get one with a minimum of proprietary firmware, until now.

The free-software Linux Librem laptop has made its funding goal and should ship in April 2015.
Crowd Supply, a curated crowd-funding and e-commerce company has been working on funding the first pure free-software laptop, the Purism Librem 15. The Kickstarter-like project had been seeking $250,000 to create the "first high-end laptop in the world that ships without mystery software in the kernel, operating system, or any software applications." On January 21st, the company achieved its goal. As of January 22nd, the project has raised just over $260,000.

Purism, the company behind the Librem 15, promises that it will ship an Intel CPU fused to run unsigned BIOS code. The hope is that this will allow a future where free software can replace the proprietary, digitally signed, BIOS binaries.

The company claims that Librem will be better than its competitors because the "the hardware used in the Librem 15 laptop was specifically selected so that no binary blobs are needed in the Linux kernel that ships with the laptop. All other Linux pre-installed devices include binary blobs in the Linux kernel."

In addition, "the Librem 15 is the first concrete step toward changing computer manufacturing in a fundamental way. We believe in users' rights, and will continue to push upstream to free the BIOS and component firmware."

That all sounds great, but there's one fly in the soup. While Purism has been trying to get Intel to open-source the Intel Firmware Support Package (FSP) and Management Engine (ME) blobs, which are essential for Linux to work with Intel chip-sets, they still haven't gotten access to this code.

This laptop will have a 15.6-inch 1920x1080 display, a 3.4 GHz 4-core Intel i7 CPU, Intel Iris Pro Graphics 5200, 4GBs of RAM, a 500GB hard-drive, 802.11n Wi-Fi, a 720p Webcam and... proprietary firmware. For its operating system, it will use Purism 64-bit GNU/Linux. This is a Trisquel-based operating system, which is built off Ubuntu Linux.

So, while its heart may in the right free-software place, this laptop will still ship with some proprietary code. Still, the first run of the Librem 15 is scheduled to ship in April 2015. When available, these laptops will sell for $1,495.

It may not be perfect from a free-software viewpoint, but even the grand guru of free software, Richard M. Stallman, has said about it that, "Getting rid of the signature checking is an important step. While it doesn't give us free code for the firmware, it means that users will really have control of the firmware once we get free code for it." It's a start.

Related Stories:

Editorial standards