gNewSense 2.3 and waited patiently for 3.0 to be released. Having seen it pop up on Distrowatch this week, I decided to give it a try.
First and foremost, I am most experienced with Ubuntu. Despite my uncomfortable position with Unity, I feel that Ubuntu is the best overall option with Mint as a close runner-up. The thing I want to stress is that while Ubuntu is my particular flavor (and CE inside of that), I'm intrigued greatly by gNewSense. The idea of making a distro completely free, with zero proprietary software options included, is fascinating to me. I wanted to know exactly how it would work out, so I gave it a try first with the 2.3 version and now the 3.0.
As I use VirtualBox to do most of my Linux testing on my MacBook Pro, I installed gNewSense in VB with a full installation. Booting to Live CD was easy. It loaded up just like any other Linux distro does, so no surprises there. However, I encountered a problem when I tried to install the distro outright. The first time I did it, it got hung up at the timezone selection screen and stopped working. I restarted the VirtualBox and then got through all of what I thought was the installation, but when I restarted it, the installation was gone. Since I have used VirtualBox with Linux before, I knew that I had a good VirtualBox. This was disturbing.
Start Screen for gNewSense 3.0.
gNewSense comes with a standard load-out of older-model software; OpenOffice being a prime example. I will admit that they did upgrade to OO 3.2 vice the 2.4 of gNewSense 2.3. Unfortunately, OO is now releasing a 4.0 version, so gNewSense is still a little behind, not to mention they aren't using the LibreOffice that just about everyone else is using. It also uses the Epiphany browser instead of Chrome, Firefox, or Opera.
CPU usage when idling is around 1-3% of my resources. Since I have a 2.5 GHz i5 processor, this was absolutely acceptable. I allowed for 1GB of RAM in the VirtualBox instal, and gNewSense was using 84MB during idle. When running Nibbles, it shoots up to 71% of my CPU and 101MB of RAM. Using the web browser for a search, I use about 12% of CPU and 130MB of RAM. While downloading the Opera webrowser (my browser of choice) it needed 14% of my CPU and 112MB of RAM. Overall, it's pretty light on the resources, although I'd like it if a simple game didn't require so much processing power.
Idle memory/CPU usage.
The Bad: First, and to my last point above, you get a completely non-proprietary system, which means you get (in my opinion) a very limited OS. As long as your ethics regarding free software are driving you instead of your need to be productive, you're fine. If you are on a limited hardware setup and all you really need is a word processor and an internet machine, then gNewSense is fine. Other problems are that they don't come with the very nice package installer that Ubuntu has, or any other modern Linux OS has (whatever that flavor of Linux may call it). This makes getting the apps you want difficult to install for novice users. Finally, it's based on an older build of Ubuntu, which just looks bad when most other distros have moved on by now.
As a final note, the gNewSense team has developed their own builder program. Unfortunately, I don't see how that is really beneficial. Since the build is based on Ubuntu Hardy, which is from 2008, I just don't see how it's all that relevant today.
Here's the biggest problem with gNewSense. It is trying to do the right thing, but it's doing it by providing a second-rate product. If you are not busy trying to tackle the issues of today (how to get Linux and other open source software to the masses) then you're on the wrong side of history. Ubuntu, for example, is working on the Edge project. Trying to get a Linux phone out there is a great idea. Sure, Ubuntu is a little bloated and of course it isn't completely non-proprietary, but the game plan is right. Despite their best efforts, gNewSense lacks a modern operating system to work from. If they are worried about the modern Ubuntu's proprietary packages, then they should go to the Linux kernel and start from scratch with their own product.