Ever wondered how Trisquel and Ubuntu differs and what’s behind the curtain from a developer perspective? I have. Sharing what I’ve learnt will allow you to increase knowledge and trust in Trisquel too.
The scripts to convert an Ubuntu archive into a Trisquel archive are available in the ubuntu-purge repository. The easy to read purge-focal script lists the packages to remove from Ubuntu 20.04 Focal when it is imported into Trisquel 10.0 Nabia. The purge-jammy script provides the same for Ubuntu 22.04 Jammy and (the not yet released) Trisquel 11.0 Aramo. The list of packages is interesting, and by researching the reasons for each exclusion you can learn a lot about different attitudes towards free software and understand the desire to improve matters. I wish there were a wiki-page that for each removed package summarized relevant links to earlier discussions. At the end of the script there is a bunch of packages that are removed for branding purposes that are less interesting to review.
This covers the basic of approaching Trisquel from a developers perspective. As a user, I have identified some areas that need more work to improve trust in Trisquel:
Auditing the Trisquel archive to confirm that the intended changes covered above are the only changes that are published.
Rebuild all packages that were added or modified by Trisquel and publish diffoscope output comparing them to what’s in the Trisquel archive. The goal would be to have reproducible builds of all Trisquel-related packages.
Publish an audit log of the Trisquel archive to allow auditing of what packages are published. This boils down to trust of the OpenPGP key used to sign the Trisquel archive.
Trisquel archive mirror auditing to confirm that they are publishing only what comes from the official archive, and that they do so timely.
I hope to publish more about my work into these areas. Hopefully this will inspire similar efforts in related distributions like PureOS and the upstream distributions Ubuntu and Debian.
On the shortlist of things to try on my new laptop has been Guix. I have been using Guix on my rsnapshot-based backup server since 2018, and experimented using it on a second laptop but never on my primary daily work machine. The main difference with Guix for me, compared to Debian (or Trisquel), is that Guix follows a rolling release model, even though they prepare stable versioned installation images once in a while. It seems the trend for operating system software releases is to either following a Long-Term-Support approach or adopt a rolling approach. Historically I have found that the rolling release approach, such as following Debian testing, has lead to unreliable systems, since little focus was given to system integration stability. This probably changed in the last 10 years or so, and today add-on systems like Homebrew on macOS gives me access to modern releases of free software easily. While I am likely to stay with LTS releases of GNU/Linux on many systems, the experience with rolling Guix (with unattended-upgrades from a cron job to pull in new code continously) on my backup servers has been smooth: no need for re-installation or debugging of installations for over four years!
I tried the Guix 1.4 rc2 installation image on top of my previous Trisquel 11 installation; following the guided Guix installation menus was simple. I installed using wired network, since the WiFi dongle I had did not automatically become available. I put the Guix system on a separate partition, that I left empty when I installed Trisquel, and mounted the same /home that I used for Trisquel. Everything booted fine, and while I had some issues doing guix pull followed by guix system reconfigure /etc/config.scm I eventually got it working by using --allow-downgrade once. I believe this was a symptom of using a release candidate installation image. Guix did not auto-detect Trisquel or set up a Grub boot menu for it, and I have been unable to come up with the right Guix bootloader magic to add a Trisquel boot item again. Fortunately, the EFI boot choser allows me to boot Trisquel again.
Guix 1.4 uses Linux-libre 6.0 which is newer than Trisquel 11’s Linux-libre 5.15. The WiFi dongle worked automatically once the system was installed. I will continue to tweak the default system configuration that was generated, it seems a standard GNOME installation does not include Evolution on Guix. Everything else I have tested works fine, including closing the lid and suspend and then resume, however the builtin webcam has a distorted image which does not happen on Trisquel. All in all, it seems the resulting system would be usable enough for me. I will be switching between Trisquel and Guix, but expect to spend most of time for daily work within Trisquel because it gives me the stable Debian-like environment that I’ve been used to for ~20 years. Sharing the same /home between Trisquel and Guix may have been a mistake: GNOME handles this badly, and the dock will only contain the lowest-common-denominator of available applications, with the rest removed permanently.
My NovaCustom NV41PZ laptop arrived a couple of days ago, and today I had some time to install it. You may want to read about my purchasing decision process first. I expected a rough ride to get it to work, given the number of people claiming that modern laptops can’t run fully free operating systems. I first tried the Trisquel 10 live DVD and it booted fine including network, but the mouse trackpad did not work. Before investigating it, I noticed a forum thread about Trisquel 11 beta3 images, and being based on Ubuntu 22.04 LTS and has Linux-libre 5.15 it seemed better to start with more modern software. After installing through the live DVD successfully, I realized I didn’t like MATE but wanted to keep using GNOME. I reverted back to installing a minimal environment through the netinst image, and manually installed GNOME (apt-get install gnome) since I prefer that over MATE, together with a bunch of other packages. I’ve been running it for a couple of hours now, and here is a brief summary of the hardware components that works.
Connected to Dell 27″ 2560×1440 via Wavlink port extender
Builtin 1MP Camera
Intel Alder Lake
ISO layout, all function keys working
Trackpad, tap clicking and gestures
Realtek RTL8111/8168/8411 with r8169 driver
O2 Micro comes up as /dev/mmcblk0
Wavlink 4xUSB, 2xHDMI, DP, RJ45, …
Intel Alder Lake
Hardware components and status
So what’s not working? Unfortunately, NovaCustom does not offer any WiFi or Bluetooth module that is compatible with Trisquel, so the AX211 (1675x) Wifi/Bluetooth card in it is just dead weight. I imagine it would be possible to get the card to work if non-free firmware is loaded. I don’t need Bluetooth right now, and use the Technoetic N-150 USB WiFi dongle when I’m not connected to wired network.
Compared against my X201, the following factors have improved.
Faster – CPU benchmark suggests it is 8 times faster than my old i7-620M. While it feels snappier it is not a huge difference. While NVMe should improve SSD performance, benchmark wise the NVMe 980Pro only seems around 2-3 faster than the SATA-based 860 Evo. Going from 6GB to 64GB is 10 times more memory, which is useful for disk caching.
I’m still unhappy about the following properties with both the NV41PZ and the X201.
CPU microcode is not available under free license.
Intel Mangement Engine is still present in the CPU.
No builtin WiFi/Bluetooth that works with free software.
Some other secondary processors (e.g., disk or screen) may be running non-free software but at least none requires non-free firmware.
Hopefully my next laptop will have improved on this further. I hope to be able to resolve the WiFi part by replacing the WiFi module, there appears to be options available but I have not tested them on this laptop yet. Does anyone know of a combined WiFi and Bluetooth M.2 module that would work on Trisquel?
While I haven’t put the laptop to heavy testing yet, everything that I would expect a laptop to be able to do seems to work fine. Including writing this blog post!