Computer hardware vendor ZaReason recently announced the addition of Trisquel, a Linux distribution comprised only of completely free code, as a pre-installed software option on its products. Here's the scoop, along with some notes from the company's CEO on the motivations behind the change.

Since its founding in 2007, ZaReason has enjoyed esteem among Linux enthusiasts as one of only three major hardware vendors in the United States offering Linux -- and, in ZaReason's case, only Linux -- as a pre-installed operating system choice on laptops, desktops and servers. The other two manufacturers in this category are System76, which also ships its machines only with Linux, and Dell, which has a few Linux options.

Why Trisquel?

Given that ZaReason already offers a variety of different Linux distributions -- including the big names like Fedora and Ubuntu -- as OS options, it's not too surprising to see Trisquel added to the lineup. What is worth noting, however, is that Ubuntu-based Trisquel stands out as a brand of Linux whose main mission is to remain 100 percent free of "binary blobs" and other bits of proprietary software that most mainstream Linux distributions use, often because they're essential for supporting certain hardware.

Since I was a bit surprised to see ZaReason embracing Trisquel, a niche distribution within a niche OS market, I got in touch with the company's CEO, Cathy Malmrose, to ask about the motivations behind the decision. She explained that the added option will help appeal to customers who are free-software "purists" without diminishing the company's commitment to more popular distributions.

Malmrose was quick to point out as well that only a minority of ZaReason patrons are motivated chiefly by issues of software freedom. "Approximately 15 percent buy their computers from us because of the freedom aspect," she said. "Less than 5 percent are what you would call 'purists.' The vast majority, a whopping majority, get an optimized-for-Linux computer because they want a computer that works well. They do not have time for tech support calls to massive companies that have no way of fixing problems quickly enough, if ever."

Malmrose also emphasized that the decision to support Trisquel would in no way prejudice the company's support for Ubuntu and other more popular distributions. "Customers, especially people completely new to free and open software, are usually best-suited by an Ubuntu system," she said, and ZaReason has no plans to stop offering Ubuntu or any other of its current options to its customers.

Malmrose stressed ZaReason's mission of "building computers that work so well that people one-by-one experience a qualitative improvement in their computing experience" means offering whichever operating system choices will deliver the best and most hassle-free experience to the end user.

Raising the Software-Freedom Bar?

As a final note, it's worth remarking that ZaReason's decision to support Trisquel could help promote a higher standard of software freedom within the Linux world.

No one in the Linux community likes binary blobs, but most developers and users tolerate them on their otherwise open-source operating systems because many computers contain wireless cards, graphics chips and other devices that won't work without proprietary code. And unless you build your own computer -- a task nigh impossible if you want a laptop -- steering clear of such hardware can be difficult.

But with ZaReason offering computers it guarantees to be completely compatible with Trisquel, living a life free of binary blobs will become much more practical. That may matter to only a subset of Linux users, but ZaReason's move to embrace Trisquel nonetheless represents a true first in the Linux world.

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