This is a beginners list of hardware and software that we recommend so that you can compute in freedom. While this is no means a complete list of 100's of thousand of pieces of free software available, these are some options on how to get started.
The machines recommended here are the most freedom respecting hardware currently available. While we can never be guaranteed in terms of absolute security, these are the closest known machines that respect your freedoms and your privacy. These machines are chosen because of their free software nature to provide the options that allow the users to fix issues or add functionality if they so wish.
While, it might be difficult or expensive to acquire some of these machines due to limited resources/limited supply - if you want to operate in a freedom respecting manner, then hardware of this nature is necessary.
If you cannot get these machines then you can still use the software recommended here as they can run on most hardware that have non-free software components that run the hardware.
It is better to run using some free software rather than none at all.
Libreboot is a replacement for your computers BIOS/Firmware. The BIOS/Firmware is the first thing your computer loads up when you switch it on. It is responsible for starting up all the various components of your machine from the memory, keyboard and mouse, graphics, audio and networking. It is important to have free software in this area of your machine as it is the base system that controls everything your computer does. If it is compromised then so is your computer and the information on it. In recent years these systems have come under attack by malicious entities or have come with nasty back doors installed by the manufacturers.
We must demand machines that allow the users to control every part of the system. You bought and own these machines, they should not be working for anyone else but you.
There has been growing concern from computers powered by Intel and AMD processors as they both have universal back doors installed via the Intel Management Engine and the AMD Platform Security Processor. These are secondary computers installed these machines that only take orders from their makers, not you!
Machines that run Libreboot do not support any hardware were these functions are required to operate. They are designed to only work only machines with hardware entirely compatible with Free software.
Libreboot website - < ahref="https://www.libreboot.org/">https://www.libreboot.org/
Via the Libreboot website you will get the programs and the information on how to install this on your computer. This is not for everyone as some of it requires additional external hardware to execute. There is also a limited amount of hardware that is supported since it is only a mostly voluntary team trying to liberate potentially thousands of different machine models.
If it is too difficult to install yourself or you cannot get a compatible machine, here is a list suppliers that sell machines with Libreboot pre-installed. Both Laptops and Desktops are available. All of these available for shipping to Australia.
Libiquity - https://shop.libiquity.com/
Ministry of Freedom - https://minifree.org/
Phreedom - https://shop.phreedom2600.net/
Technoethical - https://tehnoetic.com/
Vikings - https://store.vikings.net/
Outside of the Intel and AMD machines is a new range of newer computers becoming available. These are being built on the IBM OpenPOWER platform, a range of high performance modern processors originally designed for servers but are now being made available to the public for Desktop computer use.
With the ability to add in up to two - 22 core processors on a single board, these machines provide performance that can compete with other high end machines available but without the need to give up your rights.
These are the highest price and performance libre machines available to the free software community.
Raptor RCS - https://www.raptorcs.com/TALOSII/
While this is still in the development stage it is possible to pre-order a libre computer for under $100 AUD (depending on exchange rate). The LibreTea computer uses another processor manufacturer (ARM*) to make a board that can be run entirely with free software.
This board is designed to be portable so that it can be used in multiple scenarios such as a Desktop, Laptop or Phone. This is a machine that is emphasizing small size over performance.
It is currently planned for release in March/April 2019.
EOMA68 LibreTea Card - https://www.crowdsupply.com/eoma68/micro-desktop
* ARM while free to use in this case is not inherently a 'Free processor platform'. Machines with these chips can be just as malicious as other machines. iPhones are an excellent example as they are entirely non-free and yet use ARM processors.
Replicant is a modified distribution of Android. While parts of Android are Free software, typically most android phones come loaded with lots of proprietary software in the form of pre-loaded non-free applications. These are known to report back your behavior to companies like Google, Facebook etc. These phones also run drivers than cannot be audited for security or privacy concerns. Typically the user cannot remove or install another program or operating system without breaking functionality.
Replicant runs using 100% free software all the way down to the drivers that talk to the hardware. Because manufacturers rarely release their programs in a manner favorable to free software this limits the amount of hardware that is supported. Of the phones that do work there are typically parts of the phones that do not work with free-software because of this imposed limitation. For example most of these phones do not support Wifi or GPS systems. This is slowly changing with continued development.
Applications are supplied by F-Droid the 100% Free software applications repository for Android Based devices, an independently community run service.
Do note, the baseband processor that talks to the phone network is still running non-free software. It is essentially a black-box to the rest of the system. Because of this, it is still possible there is a universal back door into the machine. While there have been efforts to liberate this system, lack of documentation by the manufacturers has prevented much progress from being made. Also you can be tracked by your phone network provider due to the nature of mobile phone wireless connections relying on your location information.
Replicant OS https://www.replicant.us/
The 'Free Software Foundation' has the 'Respect your freedom' designation that it gives out to hardware products and vendors that they approve of. While we share many ideals and goals of the FSF; we are an entirely separate entity with . However, we completely endorse the FSF's decisions on the 'Respect your freedom' badge and their list of approved hardware. If you see their badge then you are sure to get a machine that respects your freedoms.
Additional hardware is available from several suppliers. While all these suppliers are based over seas, most do ship to Australia. Most products sold by these vendors are powered by Free software - not all are. At the very least these companies will sell products will compatible to work with Free software operating systems and drivers even if the product itself is not running libre software. Be cautious and double check to see if the item being sold respects your freedom before purchasing it.
For a complete list of hardware that is endorsed by the FSF.
Respect your freedom list - https://www.fsf.org/resources/hw/endorsement/respects-your-freedom
For hardware accessories that work on Free software systems also check out the following providers.
Think Penguin - https://www.thinkpenguin.com/
The operating system is the base system that your computer uses to get things done. It talks to the hardware allowing the interface to be displayed and controlled and to allow you to run programs on top of it. Without an operating system, your computer is functionally useless. Because it is such a vital piece of the machine, those that make the operating system have high control of the machine as it will see and process everything that goes on.
With proprietary software it is the developers alone that have control over your machine. They do not make a contribution to society but instead make a power play over other individuals. By using an entirely free software operating system, you put the power back in you and the communities hands.
We recommend the GNU/Linux based operating systems. While not the only free operating system available, they are the most viable operating system to use. For most people they will get this in a complete package that combines thousands of different programs together to make a single cohesive and easy to use system. These are called 'Distributions' or 'Distros' for short.
There are hundreds to choose from due to various different customizations and modifications. Unfortunately the vast majority ship with proprietary software as standard. These are typically in the form of drivers to gain short term compatibility at the long term cost of your freedoms.
These distros also use a 'repository' that allows you to easily install other software without having to find it directly online via a website. So while a distro can install with entirely free software, it is possible for you to install non-free via their repository without you even being aware of it.
There are a few distros that run entirely on and supply only 100% free software.
Trisquel is based on the popular Ubuntu distro but with all the non-free software removed. The main software 'repository' that it only provides free-software to install from and only uses free software drivers.
While this does limit the amount of hardware it will operate on, the machines it does work on will be running entirely free software.
We recommend this distro for beginners as it is the easiest to setup and work with. The interface is simple yet powerful and the software provided should meet most users needs.
Trisquel - https://trisquel.info/
Pure OS is an OS developed by the company Purism. While Purism make hardware as well, their hardware does NOT meet the requirements for our hardware recommendation list as none of their hardware is free of potential hardware back doors via the Intel Management Engine. While they have tried to remove these issues, it is still an on going battle for them.
Their operating system however is 100% free software.
This is a simple OS in terms of interface but it will also provide only free software from its repositories. It is still in the development (Beta) phase as it is an incomplete system.
Pure OS - https://www.pureos.net/
This distro is based on a somewhat popular non-free distro called 'Arch'. It is for more advanced users as it needs an extensive setup for it to be usable. This is what is called a 'rolling distro' in that there is no one single release of it. Every program is constantly being updated all the time and as such it does not ever have a steady state.
While it is the most flexible system available it is also the most difficult to use in the early stages. It is only recommended for the more advanced users.
Parabola - https://www.parabola.nu/
One of the oldest distros available is Debian. It is the basis of many popular distributions. It is the ground work for the fully free Trisquel distro. On the initial install you will be using a completely free operating system. It will not load any proprietary drivers or programs unless the user specifically seeks them out. Because they allow the option for you to use these non-free programs via their repository, it is generally not recommended as it can allow the users to eventually fall back into the trap of non-free software without being immedieately aware of it.
Due to the nature of the Linux kernel and its drivers it is possible to run other potentially non-free distros in a free manner but this is more for advanced users. It is easy to fall into the trap of non-free programs as they can be hard to distinguish initially until it is too late for you to help yourself.
While most of these distros will come with a large selection of programs pre-installed, here is a recommendation list of software that provide a lot of key functions that people typically use their computer for.
Please note that a lot of these programs are also available for use on non-free platforms such as Windows and Mac OSX. As much as we do not recommend using these systems, it is strongly advised that if you insist on using these non-free platforms, it is wise to use Free-software programs will at least help you avoid some of the nasty features of these systems.
If you are using these programs to see how well they work for you, do take the next step and move over to a fully free-software operating system.
LibreOffice is a very comprehensive office suite that allows you to do word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, illustrations, math formula processing and even data base creation. The aim is to provide a powerful complete office suite while also providing all the same functionality as Microsoft Office but in a free-software manner.
Not only does it support most free software office file formats but is also compatible with the non-free formats as well such as the Microsoft Office and Apple formats. It also supports over 100 legacy formats that the original proprietary software no longer supports - just another reason to use free software.
It is highly recommended because it provides the bulk of functionality that most people would need without being forced into the power control of the developers.
Libre Office - https://www.libreoffice.org/
For those that want to do word processing but without the extra functionality, this is a selection of text editors.
Emacs was originally created in the early 70's by the founder of the Free Software movement - Richard Stallman. It was one of the first non-linear text editors ever created. While Stallman is no longer involved in its development, the community has been building on his base work for over 40 years since inception.
Beginning as a text editor for both writing and programming it has been greatly expanded over the years thanks to the community. Nowadays it can be used to do all sorts of things such as web browsing and as an email client.
While it is made for more advanced users, it is very powerful for those that need ultimate control over their text needs.
This is a very simple program, it is designed to run in the a terminal - in that it is purely text driven and has no graphical elements. It is designed to be simple yet flexible.
Nano - https://www.nano-editor.org/
Firefox is a program that is built by the Mozilla corporation, it is a good example of both the best features of free-software and of why we need to be vigilant of these programs regardless of their licensing.
Firefox is powered almost entirely with free software but in recent years it has moved to include some 'anti-features' either for compatibility with DRM systems or for profit motives such as forcing add-ons or breaching privacy by sending browsing history off to various online (dis)services. As such we do NOT recommend using Firefox as your web browser. While it is still better than the alternatives in the form of Edge, Chrome and Safari - it still mistreats the users.
Fortunately, due to the nature of free software and the community, we have made web browsers based off Firefox that do not include these 'anti-features'.
This fork is the official web browser of the GNU project. Not only does this not have the non-free DRM extensions but it also comes packaged with add-ons to protect you from malicious software. Of note is the GNU projects LibreJS - a program that checks the Java script on a website to see if it is free software, allows you to block non-free java script and even contact the website administrator to advise them of this issue.
GNU Ica Cat - https://www.gnu.org/software/gnuzilla/
The default browser in the Trisquel OS, this is designed to address some of the core functionality of the web browser - complete with a 'technology control ballot' allowing you to switch on and off features that can potentially be used for tracking.
The default browser of Pure OS, this is designed to operate using only free software. It does not have the technology control ballot of Trisquel but it is still wholly free software.
A group of text based browsers designed to be run in a terminal. This is a minimal browser to provide a bare bones experience. It is simplicity over excess functionality.
Links - http://links.twibright.com/
Elinks - http://elinks.cz/elinks.git/
Thunderbird is a side project of the Mozilla corporation. Despite being powered by the same technology as Firefox, it does not directly contain any anti-features or malicious functions. It is not entirely clean however as its add-ons store contains non-free add-ons. You should check the add-on license before installing so as to protect yourself from non-free software.
It is also possible to browse website via this program and in that capacity it is not very secure to your private information. If you use this program, do not use it to browse websites.
It can link to many online email services via various standards like POP, IMAP and SMTP. It can also be used for calendars, as an IRC Chat client and RSS reader.
Typically in a lot of distros this program will go under different names to avoid trade mark issues and the add-ons issue. For instance in Trisquel it is called IceDove and does not link to the non-free add-ons.
This is a terminal based email client originating in 1995 and has had continuous development ever since.
This is designed for more advanced users and allows you to use a text editor of your choice to write the emails.
Mutt - http://www.mutt.org/
There is a saying we have heard around a few times - 'if it doesn't play in VLC, it probably isn't a media file'.
VLC is considered one of the highest quality media playback programs ever built due to its compatibility with a very large variety of file formats, excellent playback performance and a whole host of additional functionality that can be discovered if the user so needs.
This is a program that is designed for simple media playback, it favors ease of use over complexity. It is compatible with all the same formats as VLC but with a more slim line interface.
MPV - https://mpv.io/
A program that is designed for audio playback and sorting. It can be used to organize your media on your computer and your portable device. It can also be used to download to synchronize your podcasts to an external device or storage.
Rhytmbox - https://wiki.gnome.org/Apps/Rhythmbox
A terminal based music playback program. While not compatible with as many formats as the likes of VLC and MPV it is designed to be very light weight by avoiding a graphical interface.
CMUS - cmus.github.io
All three programs allow you to create and edit video. These are in line with how video is typically handled on other non-free platforms.
Openshot - https://www.openshot.org
PiTiVi - https://www.pitivi.org
Blender - https://www.blender.org
Video editing is merely a side function of Blender. Its main role is as a professional grade 3D graphics creation tool. It has been used in many TV productions and Feature films. Despite this it is a program that is easy to use even for beginners.
Blender - https://www.blender.org
A audio editing system with a simple but powerful interface. Allows you to drop in your recordings so that you can adjust them to your taste or combine multiple audio tracks together how you wish.
Audacity - https://www.audacityteam.org
Designed more for professional audio production, this is a multi-track recording and manipulation program. It allows for maximum possible control over the recordings it makes and the ones you bring in.
Ardour - https://ardour.org
Allows you to combine and manipulate pictures with a variety of powerful tools. When people say "it is photoshoped", please correct them and point out that GIMP can do the same things while respecting your freedom.
GIMP - https://www.gimp.org
An illustration packaging that works with vectors instead of pixels like most typical images. Allows you to produce works that can be blow up to any size you wish.
InkScape - https://inkscape.org
A digital art program designed to illustrators and those that work with input tablets. A mix between GIMP and InkScape but very powerful.
Kirta - https://krita.org/en/