Which Computer Operating System do you recommend?

I’m currently in the situation of needing a new laptop (very soon) and wanting to use this opportunity to finally get totally rid of Apple Software. So I looked through all computers recommended by the Fairphone community and (almost) decided to go with Why!. But like most Linux based computers in that thread it comes with Ubuntu and I’m not sure I trust them (1). I didn’t yet find out whether it’s possible to install a different OS on a Why! computer or if I have to start searching for computers over after I decided for an OS.

The candidates

So first I compiled a list of Operating Systems recommended by the Free Software Foundation ( :free: ) or by Prism-Break ( :zap: ). I ordered the GNU/Linux Distros according to Wikipedia’s Timeline.


  • Debian :zap:
    • Ubuntu :cloud: (1)
      • GNewSense :free:
    • Knoppix
      • Musix :free:
  • Trisquel :free:
  • Red Hat
  • Fedora :zap:
    • Qubes :zap:
  • Cent OS :zap:
  • Blag :free:
  • Arch
  • Parabola :free:
  • Dragora :free:
  • Guix :free:
  • Enoch
  • Ututo
    • Ututo XS :free:
  • Dynebolic :free:


  • Free BSD :zap:
  • Open BSD :zap:

(1) Ubuntu and Derivatives are not recommended by Prism-Break :cloud: referring to an article from 2013 about an Amazon Spyware included in Ubuntu. According to the Free Software foundation the spyware is still included in Ubuntu 16+ but no longer enabled by default (*).

My requirements

  • Preinstalled known spyware - even if disabled - is a no-go for me, but e.g. proprietary firmware is a price I’m willing to pay to have a laptop that runs smoothly with high quality hardware.
  • I want to run as much free software as possible, but also have the option to install some proprietary software.
    For example I don’t think I can live without iTunes, but I’d like to restrict the Apps permissions (does something like XPrivacy exist for GNU/Linux?).
  • The user interface should be designed for basic users. I don’t have any experiences with GNU/Linux (I only know OS X and Windows XP) so I’d be an absolute beginner. Reading a guide on how to install an app on GNU/Linux is already too much for me to understand (I’ll probably learn it easily once I have the computer in front of me though).

So: Can anybody recommend an OS that would be right for me?


When in the market for a new computer, you might as well also make sure that Coreboot or Libreboot is supported.

I still use OSX, but recently got a laptop with Ubuntu and for most other projects (servers) I use Debian (or Raspbian)

Some more fun reading can be done here: https://stallman.org/stallman-computing.html
And maybe these lists help you to make a decision as well: https://www.fsf.org/resources/hw/endorsement/respects-your-freedom and https://libreboot.org/docs/hardware/


Slightly OT: what about a second hand laptop from Green Panda. You could probably install the above mentioned OSes.


Perhaps Zorin is something for you. It’s an Linux distribution which I find easy to use compared to Fedora or Linux Mint, or Xubuntu.

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Why! is great if you want a computer you can disassemble and discover yourself, there are guides on iFixit, but I hope you can understand french or that you’re not afraid to read the guides with a german-french dictionary. Anyway, that’s for the promotion :slight_smile:

The fun fact is, if you want a GNU/Linux that can run proprietary softwares, is easy to handle and has a graphical interface by default, as far as I know :slight_smile:

  • Ubuntu is very good, a lot of people begin with it
  • If you want to avoid Ubuntu as much as possible, you can try Manjaro, but I never used it and I don’t know if it can meet your requirements, I just know it’s good for beginners
  • Avoid Arch Linux because it’s for advanced users and it’s a rolling-release, which is good if you use your computer a lot, but my experiences says that you can never have holidays with it (holidays, for me, mean that you can leave your computer away and go for reading, walking and bird/insect/nature-watching)

Why! computers come with a proprietary BIOS, designed by American Megatrends, Inc. In fact, it’s the case of most computers running GNU/Linux distributions, I fear, and if you want to avoid proprietary BIOS, you can try some companies like Minifree, you can get a list of such as-free-as-possible-computers there : https://www.fsf.org/resources/hw/endorsement/respects-your-freedom. Ironically, some Apple laptops are those you can install Libreboot + GNU/Linux on :wink:

And I think that, even if you want and get some easy GNU/Linux distribution, you will have to handle the terminal some day :wink: One very important thing : check for you printers compatibility first !! And for this topic, I think that running Ubuntu is the best for you.


Yeah that’s the kind of thing that I decided not to place much importance on. I do understand why such things are important, but if I limit myself to computers that run free firmware, bios, blobs, drivers and whatnot (in short: that get fsf’s “respects your freedom” badge), then I can’t go for high-end hardware.
For a phone that would be great for me (I’d prefer a worse FP if it ran Replicant), but since I heavily use my computer I’d rather pay 2500€ now for a device that will run fast for 7 years (+another n-100-€ for hardware upgrades) than pay 800€ for a device that respects my freedom but is so slow that I actually loose 3 months just waiting for processes to finish in the years I’ll use it.
That’s actually why I need a new computer now. I have a 7 year old MacBook that does still work, but I feel like I’m loosing at least half an hour every day because it’s gotten so slow. It wasn’t cheap either and I already upgraded RAM to the max.

I’m a big fan of second hand, but in case of laptops I’d rather be the one selling than buying second hand. :wink:

I’ll check it out. Thanks. :thumbsup:

You’re probably right. Actually when I started writing my post above I was dead-set against Ubuntu, but even while writing my resistance loosened. I guess Ubuntu might really be the best option for me at first - it’s definitely a huge improvement to OS X when it comes to freedom and privacy - and then when I’ve gotten used to the Linux world a little and feel like I need more freedom I can still switch (hopefully).

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If you go for Ubuntu, be aware that there are several Ubuntu’s. I have Xubuntu as my favorite Ubuntu, because Xubuntu comes with Xfce, which is a stable, light and configurable desktop environment.


I’ve been using Debian for over ten years now.
You can choose whether or not to add non-free sources to your paket manager.
Give it a try. If “stable” doesn’t support your bleeding edge technology you may still try the “testing” or “sid” branch.
There are numberous Desktop Environments to choose from.
iTunes won’t run natively on Linux, you will have to work around using something like WINE.

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I run a Dell XPS 13 with Manjaro Linux. It’s Arch based and noob proof - a point which is quite important to me… :joy:

You can choose between a lot of flavours. I run the GNOME edition, but if you prefer KDE or XFCE no problem.

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Let me second @Bergziege here and strongly recommend Debian! I am running Debian stable with KDE for a few years now (after leaving kubuntu for ideological reasons when Canonical started shipping amazon spyware …). The release of Debian Stretch this June means most software is reasonably up to date. And if you want to know how free your system is, there is vrms :wink:

For hardware, I never bought a new computer and can recommend buying used ThinkPads of the T and X series on ebay or similar. As with phones, I guess the best thing is what already exists (modulo the demand of used products making it easier for others to retire old hardware and buy new stuff…).


Have you replaced the HDD by a SSD? That helped speed up my 4 year old Windows computer a lot. And with a new SSD you can also choose to install a new OS on it.

I installed the Samsung Evo 850 with 500GB as it has a specification of 150 TBW (TB written) and 5 years warranty.

As with Android launchers, you can actually choose the desktop environment you want to use on Linux.

I’d probably go for Debian, as it is very wide-spread and probably has a bigger developer community than most of the other derivates. As @Bergziege explains, you can choose to only enable free-sources in the package manager:


Replacing the HDD by an SSD is a great option - I did that with an iMac from 2010, and the increase of speed was dramatic. Gave it a new life.

I thought about it but it’s usually not processes that include the HD that take up much time.
What I’d need to upgrade is the graphic card (which is not possible), the processor (neither) and the RAM some more (already maxed out) (EDIT: And especially the ventilation).

@Bergziege, @m4lvin & @Stefan: Thanks, Debian does sound great. By now I have pretty much fallen in love with a certain Why!-laptop (Also my brother lives in Swizzerland and can get it there 20% cheaper), so I’ll go with Debian if I manage to install it, otherwize I’ll stay with the pre-installed Ubuntu.

Thanks everybody! :thumbsup:


replacing a HDD with a SSD does indeed help a lot.

The Debian installer has come a long way and is very userfriendly nowadays, good luck with that.

If you need any help installing Debian, feel free to contact me.


What are the specs of your old Macbook?

I have a Why! running Debian Stretch since the begining. My opinion and advices in simple dots:

  • Have you looked at Purism or does it fit your money range? 100% libre from the BIOS (running Coreboot)
  • Why! laptops have proprietary BIOS and proprietary WiFi card drivers. I can tell.
  • Why! has official iFixit guides, which is absolutely awesome, but I’m currently looking for an updated motherboard and a new battery replacement to really use them. Those things were available online when I bought my laptop, but not now. Beware with future-proof upgrades.
  • Plastic cases are prone to be left marks around the touchpad, because of your wrists’ swear.
  • I’d go with Ubuntu Gnome if you’re a Linux newbie. Saves you some configs and headaches. Also, choose the Gnome flavour because that will be the default desktop from the next LTS release (Ubuntu 18.04) onwards.

I’m very happy with my Why!, but (hope) you all already know by now that I’m a deeply critical kind of person.


Processor: 2,7 GHz Intel Core i7
RAM: 8 GB 1067 MHz DDR3
Graphic Card: Intel HD Graphics 3000 512 MB
OS: OS X 10.9.5 (I refuse to update)

Cool so installing Debian shouldn’t be a problem then. :slight_smile:

I did. The best laptop there, with every specs maxed out (except for the HDs) would cost 2.400€ (without shipping and I guess duty from US), would have 16GB Ram, English Keyboard and a lot of specs are not even shown, but I guess most are worse than the Why! laptop I have in mind that would cost 2500€ (no shipping as my brother would bring it with him next time he visits), 32GB Ram, German Keyboard and lots of other great specs.

Yeah maybe I’ll just stay with Ubuntu until I’m not a newbie anymore and then switch to Debian.
Once I moved all my data from my mac to my Why! I may even try to install Debian on my Mac to compare it with Ubuntu. Whether I sell my Mac a few months earlier or later won’t make a big difference.

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Just my comments to the discussion:
I saw that Debian stable was recommended by different users. I am not a Linux veteran myself, but switched maybe 3 or 4 years ago.
Since almost 2 years I have now Debian testing on my PC, and since a year also on my notebook. Testing runs pretty stable (there were two times when an update broke the GUI of a program, which was fixed by another update 12 hours and 2 days later, respectively). Yet, compared to stable, you are always up to date with software versions. Testing basically offers a rolling release, which I very much appreciate, and from my experience it is perfectly fine for a production system (I use my computers for work).
With open hardware there shouldn’t be any driver issues with Debian. With some hardware, particularly some graphic cards, I could imagine that Debian may cause some headache for someone who just decided to switch to Linux.
I started, and I would also highly recommend this distro for beginners, with Linux Mint, which is an Ubuntu derivate. It brings along many drivers and the installation routine also makes it easy to set up the system with some non-free codecs and drivers. Plus, while being based on Ubuntu, you can still avoid getting Ubuntu. Mint has a lively community and large userbase. Plus: You can always look into ubuntu fora as well if you need to troubleshoot, as the base system is the same (incl. package management). Linux Mint you also get in different flavors. Particularly for users coming from Windows, the Cinnamon desktop might feel quite familiar.

To sum up: When I switched to Linux, Mint made it quite easy for me to get to know a unix system. After a short time I felt confident to switch to Debian testing, which offers a rolling release with up to date software, which I feel is stable enough for a production system.

For whatever distro you will decide in the end: Have fun and enjoy working on Linux!

Thanks for that hint. Wasn’t on my radar before, but their products look pretty interesting!
If to buy a new notebook (I usually buy 2 or 3 year old, pretty cheap which still last for some years), then this would be a quite interesting choice.


Yup, Debian Testing it is. I used Stretch-testing until Stretch-stable was released. Since then I’m in stable, but plan to upgrade again to testing in a few months (I thinks this is a reasonable stable upgrade pattern).
Anyway, I still think of Debian as a GNU/Linux distro for a non-newbie, so Ubuntu (or Mint, I’ve never tried it) should make you familiar with some stuff before.

Edit: BTW, I’ve found completely by chance the manufacturer of Why! and System76 laptops. It arrived to my RSS reader, I wasn’t even looking for it. Although this is offtopic, I’ll put it here for now because I don’t know yet where to share it. The name is Clevo and seems to be a Taiwanese company: http://www.clevo.com.tw/clevo_pro.asp?lang=en (those N240xx laptops match with my Why! N240JU and System76 Lemur)

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Paula can have both.
There is LMDE (Linux Mint Debian Edition) which uses Debian’s (testing) package base instead of Ubuntu.
Can be a good compromise.


and: LMDE is a rolling release.

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