Open Source

Insult & anger: The fight for the most open laptop

Late last year, IDG Connect covered the crowdfunding campaign of Purism, a Seattle-based computer company that wanted to create a high-end laptop which “Respects Your Essential Freedoms”. The company’s Librem 15 laptop was pitched as “the first high-end laptop in the world that ships without mystery software in the kernel, operating system, or any software applications.”

A successful campaign on Crowd Supply saw the company raise almost double its $250,000 goal and launch a second campaign with its new Librem 13 device. In recent weeks, however, several stories and posts have appeared online accusing Purism of lying to people about how open its Librem devices actually are.

Stories have appeared on Linux’s new site Phoronix, questioning its use of drivers, a lengthy post on Reddit criticised the company for using a proprietary BIOS. A post on Coreboot.org’s blog page from Google engineer Alexandru Gagniuc also called out Purism for reportedly being able to deliver software that is actually as free as they claim.

There have even been suggestions, including emails sent to IDG Connect, that Purism “is not only misleading/scamming backers and the public, but also harming the free software community at large with its actions”.

Quite aside from the issue of whether Purism has been completely honest with its backers, the openness of the BIOS matters to anyone who desires full control over their devices. Aside from offending the ethics of free software enthusiasts, the presence of proprietary software means the source code cannot be accessed, meaning bugs and backdoors may exist and potentially leave users exposed until the source code owner decides to fix things. It also means making improvements or alterations are impossible.

Purism has been open about the fact that the Librem’s BIOS is yet to be fully opened, but this hasn’t stopped the backlash. When IDG Connect reached out to Purism for comment CEO Todd Weaver said: “We have been clear about where we stand at Purism and we are dedicated to creating the world's most secure and private computers and operating system.”

“We have yet to free the Intel FSP binary from within the Coreboot BIOS to get FSF RYF endorsement. We are working diligently to free the BIOS, this is will not be measured in weeks, but more likely months. But our goal is to go further than that: Purism also intends to free the firmware within HDDs and SSDs. We have been very clear on that, and we welcome any developers who share that long term goal to join us.”

Weaver thinks the claims stem from a “very negative individual,” possibly from rival company, “in an attempt to discredit us.”

“[This individual] is bitter, and has gone so far as attempting to get FSF to make a statement against us, but FSF will actually be doing the opposite, and within a few weeks’ time, we should be getting PureOS FSF endorsed. Time will incrementally remove this competitive troll’s misinformation campaign.”

 

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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