Group: Hardware/FSDG distributions

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Introduction

This page is meant to document what type of hardware FSDG compliant can and/or want to support.

For instance having FSDG compliant distributions that support many architecture is interesting for several reasons:

  • To get the RYF certification for a computer, being able to use all the components of that computer with free software is not enough as that computer also needs run an FSDG compliant distribution on that computer. See the RYF endorsement criteria for more details on that certification.
  • Users that want fully free system can also build systems similar to the ones that got the RYF certification themselves and/or get some help to do it, and here they also need FSDG compliant distributions to run on their computers.
  • As some computers can run fully free software, with some of the hardware components not working, it's also very interesting to be able to have a distribution to support such hardware. See the article on single-board-computers on the FSF website for more details.

So it is very interesting to document that.

It is also interesting to combine that information with information about what type of users is able to use the FSDG distributions. For instance if an architecture is supported only by FSDG compliant distributions that are for technical users with good command line knowledge, it would then dramatically limit the amount of people able to use that computers with that architecture with fully free software.

The release type (Rolling release, stable releases) and the release frequency is also important to take into account:

General purpose GNU/Linux distributions

General information

Distribution Audience Release type
Dragora Technical users:
  • Graphical installation
  • No graphical package manager[1]
  • Very few packages[2]
Stable releases

Rolling releases are also possible

Guix System Technical users:
  • Mostly graphical installation
  • The knowledge of the scheme guile programing language is required to administrate the system
  • No integrated graphical package manager yet.[3]
Rolling release
Hyperbola Everybody?
  • Can the installation be done graphically?
  • It has a graphical package manager (octopi). Is it installed during the graphical installation?
  • Does the user needs to mess up with configuration files?
Stable releases
Parabola Everybody: Rolling releases
PureOS Everybody:
  • The installation can be done graphically
  • There is a graphical package manager installed during the graphical installation
Stable releases
Trisquel Everybody:
  • The installation can be done graphically
  • There is a graphical package manager installed during the graphical installation
Stable releases

Architectures support

Distribution or software ARM 32bit ARM 64bit MIPS 64bit little endian PowerPC 32bit big endian PowerPC 64bit little endian Riscv 64bit x86 32bit x86 64bit
Dragora No[4] No[4] No[4] No[4] No[4] No[4] i586 Yes
Guix System armhf Yes Cross compilation only[5] Cross compilation only[6] POWER9, experimental[7] Cross compilation only[8] i686 Yes
Hyperbola No No No No No No i686 Yes
Parabola armv7h experimental, through armv7h only[9] No, discontinued[10] No Unfinished Unfinished i686 Yes
PureOS 10 (byzantium) No Yes, can be installed with debootstrap[11] No No No No No Yes
Trisquel 9 (etiona) No No No No No No i686 Yes
Trisquel 10 (nabia) armhf[12] No No No No No No Yes
Trisquel 11 (aramo) armhf[13] arm64[13] No No ppc64el[13] No i386[13] amd64[13]

Boot software interfaces support

Many ARM single board computers contains a boot ROM (usually called bootrom) that is small and read-only and that loads the bootloader from an external peripheral like a microSD or the internal memory (like an eMMC for instance). There the bootloader replaces something like GRUB and the BIOS on x86. This situation usually puts the distributions in control as they can ship the bootloaders they want for these computers, so it's up to them to choose the details of how the computer boots (though the downside is that they might need to build and package a bootloader for each devices they want to support).

In contrast, on most x86 computers and on some ARM computers it doesn't work like that. There is a boot software like a BIOS or UEFI on a memory chip that is soldered on the mainboard, and it's a lot more difficult for users to replace that software with free software or to recover from code that doesn't boot.

This makes it interesting to document what boot software interfaces FSDG distributions supports, because if a distribution doesn't support the BIOS interface anymore, then it won't work on computers with that Interface (like laptops with Libreboot and SeaBIOS instead of GRUB).

And even if users have Libreboot and can change the way the computer boots, they are often afraid to try to change how things work by themselves: if something goes wrong, most users don't know how to recover form it (it requires advanced hardware tools like flash programmer, to disassemble the computer, etc).

And in case of computers with nonfree BIOS and UEFI users don't even have the option of changing the way it boots, and can't try to contribute to projects like Libreboot to add more options and get that tested by the community.

Distribution or software BIOS Libreboot with GRUB UEFI 32bit on 32bit CPU UEFI 32bit on 64bit CPU UEFI 64bit on 64bit CPU
Dragora
Guix System Yes[14]. Supported by Libreboot[15] Yes Incomplete [16] Yes[14]
Hyperbola Possible[17] Yes[18]
Parabola Yes Possible[19] Possible[20] Possible[21] Yes[22]
PureOS 10 (byzantium) Yes [23] Possible[24] No[25] Incomplete[26] Yes [27]
Trisquel 9 (flidas) Yes Possible[28] Possible[29] Possible[30] Yes
Trisquel 10 (etiona) Yes Possible[31] No[32] Possible[33] Yes

UEFI secure/restricted boot

Some computers vendor sell computers with what they call "secure boot". When it cannot be turned off, it becomes an anti-feature and the FSF calls it "restricted boot".

In 2012, the FSF wrote a whitepaper on the topic and advised that:

The best solution currently available for operating system distributions
includes:
1. fully supporting user-generated keys, including providing tools and full
documentation for booting and installing both modified and official
versions of the distribution using this method;
2. using a GPLv3-covered bootloader to help protect users against the
dangers of Restricted Boot;
3. avoiding requiring or encouraging users to trust Microsoft or any com-
pany which makes proprietary software; and
4. joining the FSF and the broader free software movement in pressuring
computer distributors to facilitate easy and independent installation of
free software operating systems on any computer.

And they also pointed to community resources where to report computers with restricted boot:

We will help provide information about which computers and compo-
nents are most compatible with free software, including making people
aware of which machines have Restricted Boot. Much of this informa-
tion will be found at http://h-node.org.

Since the release of Windows 10, Windows 10 certified computer are not required anymore to enable users to disable "secure boot"[34].

At the time of writing, h-node list 23 computers that cannot run free distros for some reasons, but there is no way to explicitly filter for computers with restricted boot. It's also not clear if that list contains one or more computers that use restricted boot.[35]

In case there is no menu to disable restricted boot, some workaround might still exist, for instance if some keys are removed, the computer is expected not to check signatures anymore. There is also free software source code and documentation[36] exist to do that but we don't know if it still requires signed tools to be able to replace the keys in the first place, or if some UEFI can simply allow users to replace the keys easily in their menu. Better documentation is needed.

Finally distributions could also for instance try to ship a set of public and private keys in packages (and ideally use the same keys in all distributions to be able to boot all of them), and provide installation instructions or configuration to use these keys to disable the boot security and enable users and contributors to not have to deal with complicated configuration and handling of security keys or not be able to run modified bootloaders. Since the distributions typically enforce some restriction when secure boot is on[37] the signed programs could also report secure boot as off to avoid the distribution automatically enforcing these extra restrictions.

Distribution or software Booting with secure boot disabled Avoiding trusting Microsoft key Fully support for user-generated keys
Dragora Yes Yes[38] No documentation[39]
Guix System Yes Yes[40] No documentation
Hyperbola Yes Yes[41]
Parabola Yes Yes[42] No documentation
PureOS 10 (byzantium) Yes No[43] No documentation
Trisquel 10 (etiona) Yes Yes[44]

Alternatives to UEFI secure/restricted boot

There are other ways to implement secure boot than the way it's done in UEFI. For instance:

  • With Libreboot+GRUB or Coreboot (which may include nonfree software) + GRUB, we can set a password in GRUB. If we add some seals (for instance with nail polish) to know if the computer was disassembled, we can get better security guarantees than with UEFI secure boot.
  • With Libreboot+GRUB / Coreboot+GRUB we can check gpg signatures. So it is possible to use that to check the signature of a kernel and initramfs, and that is much more simple to integrate in GNU/Linux distributions than UEFI secure boot, as doing that is just a matter of configuration. There is even a tutorial that was tested with older versions of Trisquel.
  • On Puri.sm computers, PureBoot is a way to check if the boot has been tempered with while still leaving users in control. It has been widely tested with PureOS. Though in practice it still somehow depends on nonfree software since part of it is implemented in the boot software which uses some nonfree software (Intel FSP, a stripped down Management engine firmware), to make the computer boot.

Small distributions

Distribution or software Usage Audience Release type
libreCMC
  • WiFi access point and small network equipements
  • Ben Nanonote (tiny portable device)
  • LibreCMC can probably be used without any command line knowledge, but it requires some networking knowledge (like what is 'DHCP', what is an IP address, etc). See also DistroConfiguration for more details.
  • The installation might be more or less complex depending on the device. Some compatible devices are RYF compliant so they can just be bought with LibreCMC already installed.
Stable releases
ProteanOS ? ? ?
Replicant
  • Android distribution for smartphones and tablets
  • No need to know the command line to use it.
  • Users need to have extremely basic command line knowledge for the installation. Devices can also be bought with Replicant already installed. Though these devices are not RYF certified.
Stable releases

Target architectures support

This section mentions which architecture the small distributions can run on. For instance Replicant runs on ARM (smartphones and tablets).

Distribution or software ARM 32bit ARM 64bit MIPS 32bit big endian MIPS 64bit little endian PowerPC 32bit big endian PowerPC 64bit little endian Riscv 32bit Riscv 64bit x86 32bit x86 64bit
libreCMC built for cortexa9[45] No Yes No No No No No Requires to build from source Requires to build from source
ProteanOS No[46] No[46] No[46] No[46] No[46] No[46] No[46] No[46] Yes[46] Yes[46]
Replicant Probably requires ARMv7 No No No No No No No No No

Host architectures support

This section mentions which architecture can be used to build the small distributions. For instance Replicant can only be built on x86_64 GNU/Linux computers.

Distribution or software x86 32bit x86 64bit
libreCMC ? Yes
ProteanOS
Replicant No Yes

Adding support for a device

Distribution or software Adding support for a device
General purpose GNU/Linux distributions
  • You may need to package device specific software like bootloaders for non-x86 devices
  • You may need to update or write installation instructions for the device if the existing ones do not support the device
  • You need to upstream the code that makes the hardware work if it's not already done
libreCMC
ProteanOS
Replicant
  • You need to add a vendor/device/the-vendor/the-device repository with the hardware configuration
  • You may need to package the code that makes the hardware work if it's not already done

See also

References

  1. https://dragora.org/manual/en/html_node/pkgmanagement.html
  2. http://git.savannah.nongnu.org/cgit/dragora.git/tree/recipes
  3. So far the only graphical tools are either very domain specific tools (like a web interface for using Guix to do scientific experiments) or are too experimental to be packaged into Guix.
  4. 4.04.14.24.34.44.5 Dragora can also be bootstraped from source, but there is no guarantee that it will work for unsupported architectures.
  5. Guix still support cross compiling for mips64el-linux-gnu
  6. Guix support cross compiling for powerpc-linux-gnu.
  7. The Guix 1.3.0 release blog post (https://guix.gnu.org/en/blog/2021/gnu-guix-1.3.0-released/) states that "POWER9 support is now available as a technology preview"
  8. Guix support cross compiling for riscv64-linux-gnu.
  9. For it to work:
    • You need to install the linux-libre-aarch64 kernel
    • You need a processor that also support running 32bit arm code
    Also note that bootloaders for aarch64 computers are not packaged yet, so you'll need to compile them yourself for now.
  10. https://www.parabola.nu/news/parabola-support-for-mips64el-discontinued/
  11. This can be done in two stages like with debian. The first stage can be done this way: debootstrap --foreign --arch arm64 byzantium ./rootfs https://repo.puri.sm/pureos Amber can probably also be installed but I lacked older hardware that was supported by its kernel. Adding the dtb made it boot on Amber though.
  12. If we look at the coreutils package, we can see x86_64 and armhf. There is also many u-boot packages for armhf computers
  13. 13.013.113.213.313.4 If we look at the coreutils package, we can see amd64, arm64, armhf, i386, ppc64el
  14. 14.014.1 The graphical installer supports BIOS and UEFI, and there is also support for both in the Bootloader configuration settings
  15. Libreboot has documentation on how to do that here: https://libreboot.org/docs/gnulinux/guix.html
  16. We can create images with guix system image -t efi32-raw, and define configurations with 32bit UEFI, but there is no official installer for efi32-raw (though we might be able to create one with "guix system image -t efi32-raw gnu/system/install.scm" with gnu/system/install.scm from the Guix source code) and the installer application probably doesn't support efi32-raw yet.
  17. TODO: Find some documentation on how to do that.
  18. Hyperbola installation instruction have specific instructions for UEFI.
  19. TODO: Find some documentation on how to do that.
  20. TODO: Look at status. We can at least install GRUB to 32bit UEFI because the GRUB package supports many GRUB platforms including i386-efi.
  21. TODO: Look at status. We can at least install GRUB to 32bit UEFI because the GRUB package supports many GRUB platforms including i386-efi.
  22. Parabola installation instructions have specific instructions for UEFI.
  23. The installer image boots fine on a qemu-kvm libvirt virtual machine running SeaBIOS on Parabola x86_64, and the installer (calamares) then detect the BIOS without issue.
  24. TODO: Find some documentation on how to do that.
  25. There is no i686 support in PureOS.
  26. The official PureOS installer image doesn't have support for 32bit UEFI (it only has bootx64.efi in /EFI/boot). But we can still install it (for instance with debootstrap, or by installing it on another computer first), because there is a grub-efi-ia32 package that can enable to boot on systems with 32bit UEFI.
  27. The installer image boots fine on an UEFI computer, and the installer (calamares) then detect UEFI without issue
  28. TODO: Find some documentation on how to do that.
  29. TODO: Look at status. We can at least install GRUB to 32bit UEFI because there is a grub-efi-ia32 package.
  30. TODO: Look at status. We can at least install GRUB to 32bit UEFI because there is a grub-efi-ia32 package.
  31. TODO: Find some documentation on how to do that.
  32. There is no i686 support yet in Trisquel 10.
  33. TODO: Look at status. We can at least install GRUB to 32bit UEFI because there is a grub-efi-ia32 package.
  34. According to the Wikipedia article on Windows 10, "As with Windows 8, all certified devices must ship with UEFI Secure Boot enabled by default. Unlike Windows 8, OEMs are no longer required to make Secure Boot settings user-configurable, meaning that devices may optionally be locked to run only Microsoft-signed operating systems."
  35. Some of the computers reach the distribution boot menu (like "Install Trisquel", "Try Trisquel without installing") but have a black screen after that. These computers don't have restricted boot. Some other could have restricted boot but they would need more tests to know if it's the case or not.
  36. Example: https://blog.hansenpartnership.com/owning-your-windows-8-uefi-platform/
  37. For instance they disable kexec, access to physical memory from programs, etc.
  38. Dragora has a grub package no packages for other bootloaders than GRUB. It doesn't have any bootloaders (directly or indirectly) signed by Microsoft.
  39. At the time of writing, the Part II - Installation section of the manual is empty so there is no documentation on how to do that
  40. Guix doesn't have any bootloaders (directly or indirectly) signed by Microsoft.
  41. Hyperbola doesn't have any bootloaders (directly or indirectly) signed by Microsoft.
  42. Parabola builds GRUB but also reuses some of Arch Linux packages, like the shim bootloader. Parabola and Arch Linux bootloaders aren't signed by Microsoft.
  43. PureOS byzantium has some bootloader packages from Debian (like shim-signed) that are signed by Microsoft. Though it also has corresponding unsigned packages like shim-unsigned.
    I also tested both the pureos-10~devel-gnome-live-20220602_amd64.iso and pureos-10~devel-plasma-live-20220602_amd64.iso installers on a Thinkpad X230 with the stock boot software (UEFI) with secure boot enforced, and due to some bug (probably in the UEFI) I had to select "debian" to boot on the installer. It then boots normally to PureOS. Without HDD that X230 would also refuse to boot on the PureOS installer.
  44. Trisquel doesn't have any bootloaders (directly or indirectly) signed by Microsoft.
  45. https://librecmc.org/librecmc/downloads/snapshots/v1.5.10/targets/mvebu/cortexa9/
  46. 46.046.146.246.346.446.546.646.746.846.9 http://proteanos.com/doc/install/pc/

This page was a featured resource in August 2020.