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Purism Librem 15 Linux laptop blends high-end hardware with totally free software

Chris Hoffman | Nov. 20, 2014
Purism wants your help making an uncompromisingly high-end Linux laptop with uncompromisingly free software inside.

Novena is different because all its hardware components themselves are open-source. This bulky laptop system runs on "open hardware," so you can download the documentation for the hardware and hack on it all you like. But it's just a hacking platform. As the Novena's crowdfunding page says: "This is not a device made for consumer home use. The internal electronics are exposed during normal operation to facilitate easy access by developers and professionals."

But today is about the Purism Librem 15, not the Novena! So, why do I even mention the Novena? Because the Librem 15 looks like everything the Novena isn't. It's a slick piece of hardware that looks an awful lot like a MacBook Air at first glance. It has a high-end Intel Core i7 CPU and NVIDIA graphics. Where the Novena was a hobbyist project, the Purism Librem 15 is free software in slick consumer laptop package.

Getting to this goal does take some sacrifice. While the Purism Librem 15 does run fully open-source software, it doesn't have open-source hardware. Those Intel and NVIDIA chips were picked because it works well with open-source software, but the hardware itself is a closed black box that you can't hack on. And, technically, the individual pieces of hardware here run "firmware," little bits of closed-source software written by the manufacturer that run on the individual hardware components themselves.

Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth has called proprietary firmware a security threat. On the Novena or another device using pure open-source hardware, there's no closed software or hardware black boxes to deal with.

But, let's be honest: The Novena and Lemote YeeLoong are fairly impractical for most people. We want today's high-end hardware in a slick package, even if it does have non-free firmware. The Librem 15 offers that, avoiding any closed-source drivers entirely. Sure, if you're using a Lemote YeeLoong or Novena, it's a step down in software freedom, but if you're a FOSS devotee using practically any other laptop, the Librem 15 appears to be a big step up.

Take my money! ...or not?

That's the theory, anyway--and it all sounds pretty good if you can swallow the premium price tag! But I haven't gotten my hands on the Purism Librem 15 prototype, so bear that in mind before deciding whether or not to give any money to this crowdfunding campaign. I can't personally vouch for this hardware or campaign.

But this column should be a platform where awesome things happening in the Linux and free software communities can reach a wider audience. So, here you go! You've seen the Purism Librem 15's promises; now you can make your own decision.


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