Updated: September 2, 2011
A few days ago, I tried testing Trisquel Linux 4.5.1, a Debian and Ubuntu based distribution running with the Gnome desktop. Conceptually, it is somewhat similar to Debian. Not only do you get free software only, the kernel is also stripped of proprietary firmware blobs, leaving you with something that can only be referred to as libre, since this French word portrays the feeling more strongly than an English one.
Despite my reluctance, given the abundance of Ubuntu cutlery (re: forks) as well as the free-only approach, which I find detrimental to the health of the modern computer user, I set about testing the distribution, with all the usual plethora of challenges, on top of my T60p test box. The experiment was short yet wicked. It is also in no way representative of Trisquel as an operating system, but it is representative of what Trisquel stands for.
I am anticipating, no, prophesying the storm wave of outrage and noobaccusations for my obviously flawed test concept, but this is how it went. Copied the ISO to a USB and off we go. A very quick boot, into the live session. Visually pleasing overall. Then, I clicked on the network manager icon and learned that my Wireless card was not configured.
Looking about, including dmesg, I found some interesting errors:
For those of you who can't see the screenshot, it says, iwl3945 DEBLOBBED, firmware file req failed, Could not read microcode, Missing Free firmware, and more stuff that only geeks care about. Interesting, isn't it? Apparently, Intel firmware is naughty and not deemed righteous enough to sit at the round table of free code, so it seems. This is where the problems began and where they ended.
I must say I was a little disappointed, perhaps even angry. Look at the lovely fonts, look at the window borders. There's a great promise of aesthetics there, too bad it's ruined by the Spanish Inquisition. But then, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.
All right, at first I assumed this only happens in the live session. So I set about installing the distribution to see what gives. Ubuntu all the way, however rebranded with exquisite style and elegance. Ah, humanity.
The installation was successful, including a dual-boot setup. Now, if we're into freedom, why chainload Windows into the GRUB menu? After all, it's a non-free operating system and should not be included.
Anyhow, I rebooted. The system came up without the Wireless card configured, with the same error message showing in the system logs. At this point, I could have tried connecting the laptop in the wired mode, which is stupid, or go about hunting for missing drivers. But then, I decided I had better things to do than fence with ideology, so I shut the machine off and written this short review.
My experience with Trisquel is somewhat similar to Debian. A shame really, since Trisquel does have the potential to be a very beautiful operating system. From what little I could see and test, despite the haze of anger clouding my judgment, the distro is designed with forethought and quite a bit of style. The choice of theme, fonts and colors is smart. The attention to detail is fairly meticulous. The only problem is all the fun is ruined by a completely unnecessary deliberate crippling of functionality. Fedora is the king of closed source compared to this one. That's what I call a missed opportunity.
I'd really love to test this distro. But there's a limit how much effort I'm going to invest in something as trivial as Wireless connectivity for a distro review. I hope things will be sorted out in the future. If not, then I'll settle for a binary blob, a recompiled driver suitable for my Wireless card available for download somewhere. Then, we might get serious.
There you go, the shortest review ever. Trisquel could be great, but it won't let me test it. One day perhaps. I sure promise to take it for another spin, as soon as I'm allowed to enjoy myself. Thanks to Jiri for the suggestion.