Linux-libre: Creating a Free Kernel Package

Alexandre Oliva

Published on June 2009 in Issue 14 of the Free Software Foundation Bulletin.

FSF Latin America

Back in early 2005, a group from the deep South of South America set out to create the youngest member of the FSF Network. After a few false starts, we have managed to form a growing team of Software Freedom activists from all over Latin America.

After the realization that promoting Free Software and its use is much narrower than our goal of promoting Software Freedom, we adopted the motto “Be Free!”, and a very social conscience-oriented discourse and behavior. Nearly all of our actions gravitate around enabling software users to be free, and educating them to seek freedom.


One of our first realizations in the “Be Free!” mindset was that, while there were a number of Free System GNU/Linux Distributions, the largest Free Software communities were around distributions that did not qualify as Free System Distributions, but that contained few non-Free components. Unfortunately, just removing those was not viable, because one of them was the non-Free kernel Linux.

We realized that, in order to enable people to “Be Free!” without abandoning the communities and the distributions they were fond of, it would be useful to offer them Free kernels. So, building upon the work started in gNewSense and expanded by BLAG, FSFLA took over the maintainership of Linux-libre, a Free distribution of the kernel Linux, aimed at Free System Distributions and Free human beings.

Nowadays, we maintain and publish Free source releases based on various non-Free Linux releases, along with programs we wrote to automate their cleaning up. Furthermore, in a server kindly offered by the FSF, we maintain, host, and encourage the Linux-libre community to maintain binaries of Linux-libre that can be used as drop-in substitutes for the non-Free Linux binaries offered by various GNU/Linux distributions, and as the kernels offered by GNU/Linux-libre Free System Distributions.

Maintaining Freed distributions of Linux based on its various releases seems to have been key for its wide adoption among Free System Distributions. Once this was done, it didn't take long for all of the Free GNU/Linux distributions, recommended by the GNU project for their commitment to Software Freedom, to adopt Linux-libre, and for a number of new Free GNU/Linux-libre distributions to appear.

Libres Latinos

It is telling that, aside from gNewSense and BLAG, all the recommended Free GNU/Linux-libre distributions were created by Latin developers, most of them from Latin America. Ututo, Musix GNU+Linux and Dragora started in Argentina, whereas dyne:bolic and Trisquel have their roots in Italy and Spain, respectively. Furthermore, it appears that there's soon to be a new entrant from Venezuela.

There must be more than Latino blood to it. An average Brazilian might be tempted to credit the nearly-dominant presence of Argentina in the list to gaucho pride, but that would be inappropriate and most certainly wrong. It is not hard to notice how important freedom is for the Argentinian people in general, even more so in the Free Software communities there.

It may have to do with their having got out of a particularly nasty military dictatorship not too long ago. This can't be all, for a number of other Latin American countries also got out of military dictatorships just as recently, and their peoples don't set out to create Free System Distributions as often.

Nevertheless, fighting dictatorships certainly changes the social fabric in a significant way for Free Software: people and peoples deprived of something as important as freedom are more likely to value it in its various dimensions. And then, the dictatorships were long preceded by colonization and slavery-based economy, and the echoes of the struggles for sovereignty, independence and respect for human rights and essential freedoms can still be perceived.

Some kind of social conscience and unity seems to have come out of this misery, which explains why Free Software is making such inroads into governments in so many countries in this region. After all, sovereignty and independence are nothing but freedom applied to countries and peoples. Let's hope that social misery is not a requirement for learning to value one's own freedom, and to respect others', for then there's hope some day we can all “Be Free!”

[[center|Freedo, the mascot of Linux-libre|image:/selibre/linux-libre/freedo]]

Copyright 2009 Alexandre Oliva

Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this entire document without royalty provided the copyright notice, the document's official URL, and this permission notice are preserved.