Open Source Linux without Bloatware and non-free

I recently had a power issue with a Librem 14, which is likely going to require me to send back the laptop. I plan on keeping my data, which means me getting an interim notebook in the meantime.

There is a particular struggle that linux machines have with drivers, but I am considering a Lenovo Thinkpad or an Asus Zenbook.

After that, I’d like a fully open sourced linux distro, but I have not ventured out from Kali and Ubuntu. I’d prefer a debian based distro with these characteristics:

  1. Extremely reliable, stable - I am a set it and forget it kind of guy and I’d like a notebook to last for years and years without having to do any tinkering.
  2. Free of bloatware or spyware. This is particularly aimed at ubuntu as awhile ago, they had an integration with Amazon (I think they have since done away with that). I’d like the code to be published somewhere and the distro to be relevant enough where people actually look at the code and comment on it.
  3. Be very efficient. On relatively low spec notebooks, I used to get great performance because of the lack of unnecessary apps. I travel a lot and battery life is important.
  4. Ideally Debian based because I am most familiar with that…and ideally with ufw (I’ve played with some distros that were debian based with ufw replaced with another type of firewall)
  5. A nice to have is that it looks good…not a must, but nice to have

I am considering Kali Linux (because I work in infosec, but less technical these days) and Zorin OS. But, I have no experience with Zorin and it has been years since I have used Kali and things might have changed.

What are my options? What are the pros/cons of those options?

It sounds to me like you would do well With Debian itself. It’ basically open source unless you install stuff that is not. IE drivers,ETC. It’s rock solid stable for years. and once set up needs little care.
Only thing and it’s a hardware issue is that you will have to have non-free drivers unless your machine’s hardware is open source also. I use refurbish Lenovo thinkpads here. and make sure they have intel graphics and wifi cards. That seems to work best. I’m not sure about the Idea pads how compatible they are with linux. Seems I remember hearing that the touchpads maybe problematic. But others may know more about that and I have no experience with Asus Zenbook.
Good luck in your search. I’m sure you’ll get lots of input.
This list may be of help. GNU/Linux


Linux Mint XFCE Edition, Ulyssa based on Ubuntu 20.04.1 point one being the first point release. It comes with battery saving power, just turn the brightness down on the display. I have this version on my Lenovo Thinkpad. The only tinkering to do is sort out the screen tearing, when scrolling on the Internet or watching films.

On Intel
Copy and paste into terminal the 2nd command beginning with echo is all one line.

sudo mkdir -v /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d

echo -e 'Section "Device"\n Identifier "Intel Graphics"\n Driver "Intel"\n Option "AccelMethod" "sna"\n Option "TearFree" "true"\nEndSection' | sudo tee /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/20-intel.conf

I second that.
Do a base Debian install, and only add what you want. That gets rid of bloat.

A much newer distro that seems to be well setup for laptops is Solus. It even has touchscreen packages. It is not Debian based. It does use systemd.


1 Like

Slim and Neville offer you premium advice. When I go walkabout through the distro forest. I come back, over and over, to Mint. It’s like the plain girl next door–she doesn’t need you to be happy, but she knows what you want and provides it with a minimum of fuss. She doesn’t care how much you wander through the ‘look and feel’ showroom, but when you come back, she’s the old pair of shoes that just fits. Just don’t forget to store every scrap of data on external storage. Every day.


Why storing everything externally?

External backups are vital. Hard disks can fail. You need your personal data to be second copied to somewhere outside the computer.
Most people use an external disk for backup. Some ipuse cloud storage.

I know that. But, why the comment like every day? Was that a joke or for real?

I don’t think you need to back up every day. If do a timeshift backup of your system files once a week or so and I back up my personal data as I need to. I use sd cards and usb stick for some of my back ups. I just keep important files back up ones that if they were lost I could not replace.
How often is up to you :slight_smile:

For real.
People forget backups, or just never learn.
Sorry for teaching you to suck eggs.
Tell us what you decide on the software.

I used to run disaster recovery for DCs. Backing up in daily in that case makes sense. In most day to day personal stuff, it does not. Weekly backups have been fine. The data I was transferring before were music, videos, etc which are still accessible if the m.2 drive is taken out and booted from a USB. So nothing is really lost.

More than likely, I will go with debian.

I’m a recent (4 months) convert to Zorin. I now have three computers on ZorinOS-16.1 Core; one is on the “Lite” version. The Core versions are free. The Pro versions cost $35 ( per major release); the Pro versions come with support by the developers, not just by the community, plus more apps. The community support is quite good. In the past I have used extensively Ubuntu and Mint. Now I think I’ll be with Zorin indefinitely. I have been prone to switch distributions if I get the “itch for something new”. We shall see. Zorin works well and looks good. Only issue I have had (peculiar to Zorin) is that on one computer (a Lenovo desktop) I have to use the mechanical button to completely power down.

1 Like

What specifically do you like about Zorin? What are those apps that you get for $35? Is that a one time fee or subscription?

What I like: First of all is it meets my expectation that “basic things work” – connections to peripherals, network operations like file sharing, all of the basic things that I do regularly. I don’t want to have to search for drivers or uncomment obscure statements in configuration files. Then there are the “pleasant surprises” – good features that I didn’t even expect, e.g. Zorin Connect keeps my cell phone connected and I see notifications of all incoming texts, and I can send texts from my desktop where it is much easier to type a nice long message. The Zorin “look and feel” is somehow “polished” in a way that gives the feeling that one is working with a quality system. The UX (user experience) can be tuned to your preferences. Even more so if you have the Pro version, which can emulate iOS, Windows, Ubuntu, etc. The Lite version of Zorin works well on my old HP laptop; it’s now about 15 years old. The UX there is not quite as polished. Since Zorin is based on Ubuntu, I have some confidence in the “engine” of the system. I’m an engineer, but not a computer engineer.

1 Like


Your assessment of how things work do not reflect reality.

Nobody wants to use non-free software. There is a reason why they are still in the repositories and part of every sane distribution. The reason is, that non-free software, especially drivers, simply work. And if they don’t they still work a million times better than their open source counterparts. (Anyone who used nouveau with NVIDIA graphics cards knows what I’m talking about.)

Open source drivers most of the time just work for certain PC components, and even then sometimes not even fully.

This big topic becomes even much worse, when talking about laptops. Laptops are very closed-off and pretty proprietary. Not as bad as smartphones, which are the worst kind of digital end-user product, but still very bad compared to a fully fledged desktop PC with all its openness.

This is also the reason why all those Librem and other Laptops, which guarantee Linux and FOSS driver support, exist:

I wouldn’t even try accomplishing your FOSS-only plan with these notebooks, if I were you. The probability that everything will work on these proprietary monsters just by strictly using FOSS drivers, is extremely low. It’d be a waste of time to even try to get it to work.

All things considered, I tried to save you a lot of effort, time and huge headaches, with the reasons above.

If you still however think, it’s a good idea to switch to FOSS-only drivers altogether, especially when using highly proprietary laptops, then go for it. Some people need that punch in their face, to get the point. :grinning:

The best distribution for what you want to achieve is plain and simple Debian. There is no better alternative for your specific plans and wishes.


Last time I tried to set up Linux on a Lenovo Thinkpad, it did not work, at all. I had to use advanced Linux knowledge to hack Linux onto it. Still, it doesn’t work properly on that laptop. Plus, I have non-free drivers installed. Still, Lenovo is as proprietary as it gets.

Do you work for these people or what? At the end of the day, the cold hard fact is that while FOSS is great, it has some pretty huge downfalls as well. One of those being that firmware is particularly untested and prone to issues.

So cool, another competitor to Purism. Looks cool. Does it work for 10+ years? We don’t know and that is the point…

Now back to the topic, which distro do you recommend?

Depends on what you mean by “these people”.

Thank you for confirming absolutely, that you did not read the entire post and yet dare to complain about it. :face_with_head_bandage:

Yes, any work centre needs daily backup
I think I misunderstood , you were worried about daily, not about the need for some backup.

I write software. . If I have been busy I push it to Github. I also do rsync of to an external disk, and about monthly a tarfile. I only do system backups if I am making changes.

Yes Debian is a good safe bet, but avoiding nonfree may be troublesome

Us humans have a tendency to fill our hard drives up with crap collected from the Internet.
I have made the same mistakes over and over again, of installing Linux over the top of stuff I wanted to keep, or stuff that is important. So I now keep stuff away from my Desktop altogether, either in Dropbox or on a separate SSD. Another way of installing Linux is using the Mini ISO that Ubuntu provides, you can pick out Xubuntu 20.04 for example, as a minimal installation and have none of the bloat, can make it your own OS. This way I have done on many an occasion, you can pick out what software you want installed too, straight from the ISO. So many different choices out there in the wild for installing Linux on Laptops and Desktops. Failing that, you could install Linux on a external Hard drive and boot into it externally. That is what I recommend to Windows dual boot users.

1 Like

lowvoltage: backing up every day is the only prevention I can think of for Murphy’s Law. That’s the one that says ‘anything that CAN go wrong WILL go wrong.’ Also, Murphy’s Corollary: ‘When you’re absolutely, positively sure you did it right, you forgot something.’ Listen to the folks who responded to your question. Install Debian. It’s the simplest and most basic distro. Keep an external drive plugged in and back up your stuff. Calendars, email contacts, the obscure script that allows your old Canon printer to work because it’s drivers are obsolete–that’s what’s on mine. You’ve had the best advice possible from the smartest people I can think of. Now it’s up to you and Murphy.

1 Like