gNewSense is a Linux distribution based on Debian, and developed with sponsorship from the Free Software Foundation. Its goal is user-friendliness, but with all proprietary and non-free software removed. The Free Software Foundation considers gNewSense to be composed entirely of free software.
gNewSense takes a relatively strict stance against proprietary software. For example, any documentation that gives instructions on installing proprietary software is excluded.


The project was launched by Brian Brazil and Paul O'Malley in 2006. gNewSense was originally based on Ubuntu. Since the 1.0 release, the Free Software Foundation assists gNewSense.
With no releases in two years, on 8 August 2011, DistroWatch classified gNewSense as "dormant". By September 2012 DistroWatch had changed the status to "active" again, and on 6 August 2013, the first version directly based on Debian, gNewSense 3 "Parkes", was released. Under the few discussions in the Trisquel forums gNewSense was again said to be inactive in 2017, while in 2019 after gNewSense had not had releases in several years, active development was restarted with the merging of the Skeleton GNU/Linux project into it and a new maintainer taking over.

Technical aspects

By default gNewSense uses GNOME. The graphical user interface can be customized with the user's choice of X display manager, window managers, and other desktop environments available to install through its hosted repositories.
The Ubiquity installer allows installing to the hard disk from within the Live CD environment without the need for restarting the computer prior to installation.
Besides standard system tools and other small applications, gNewSense comes installed with the following software: the LibreOffice productivity suite, the GNOME Web internet browser, the Empathy instant messenger, and the GIMP for editing photos and other raster graphics. Common software development tools including the GCC are installed by default.


The Live CD can be used to run the operating system and to install onto disk. CD images are available for download.


gNewSense has made four major releases:
In 2016, gNewSense announced that the next version of gNewSense would be 5.0.

Comparison with other distributions

Non-free software repositories are not provided by the gNewSense project, and most non-free documentation and artwork have been removed. While it was based on Ubuntu, the "Universe" package repository was enabled by default. In order to avoid trademark problems that stem from the modification of Mozilla Firefox, gNewSense 1.1 rebranded it as "BurningDog". BurningDog likewise does not offer to install non-free plugins for various web media, such as Adobe Flash. gNewSense 2.0 abandoned BurningDog and adopted the Epiphany web browser, a component of GNOME, as its default browser application, and came with recommendations and instructions to optionally compile and run GNU IceCat. gNewSense 3.0 retains Web as the default browser, but also comes with a modified version of Debian's Iceweasel that does not offer to access proprietary add-ons.
Debian is another Linux distribution known for strict licensing requirements and adherence to free software principles. While both Debian and gNewSense rigorously exclude non-free software and binary blobs from their official releases, Debian maintains and hosts unofficial repositories of non-free software and firmware binaries, and Debian free software sometimes depends upon or suggests the optional installation of proprietary software, under the theory that users' own informed discretion about the use of such software should be paramount, as expressed in Clause 5 of the Debian Social Contract. gNewSense, by contrast, does not provide any packages which depend on or suggest the use of non-free software, firmware, extensions, or plugins, nor does the gNewSense Project provide convenience-access to proprietary software for any reason, seeing this as an abrogation of the commitment to the development of free software solutions. Similar to Debian, gNewSense policies do not allow including documentation that are licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License with invariant sections. This includes many manuals and documentation released by the GNU Project themselves.
While gNewSense was initially forked from Ubuntu as a result of founding developer Paul O'Malley's prior work with Ubuntu, as of gNewSense 3.0 the distribution has tracked Debian as the base for its software distribution. In part this has been because the Debian Project does carefully disaggregate the free software in its official distribution from the proprietary software it provides courtesy access to. Indeed, many of the packages, including Debian-particular packages ported to gNewSense are simply modified in such a way that they no longer provide such courtesy access to non-free software options.


Since gNewSense's repositories contain only free software, support for hardware which requires firmware and for which no free firmware exists is not available.
By May 1, 2008, 3D graphics and application support had also been removed because of licensing issues with Mesa 3D. After January 13, 2009, those issues had been resolved and 3D support became standard starting with the 2.2 release.


In reviewing gNewSense 3.0 in August 2013, Jesse Smith of DistroWatch noted that many of the applications provided, including 3, Debian's de-blobbed 2.6.32 Linux kernel, Iceweasel 3.5 and GNOME 2.30 were quite out of date. Smith concluded this review with the following words:

Generally speaking, I was happy with gNewSense 3.0. Being based on Debian, the distribution can be counted on to provide both stability and amazing performance. The distribution is lean, fast and uncluttered. The flip side to this is gNewSense's system installer and default package management tools are geared more toward experienced users and will probably provide a steep learning curve to novice Linux users. Not much is automated and there is a minimum of hand holding. The main feature of gNewSense, the lack of proprietary software, is also a double-edged blade. On the one hand, it means the entire operating system can be audited, modified and redistributed. This is great from the perspective of software freedom. The fact that the distribution can play most multimedia formats and handled Flash content fairly well is a testament of the power of free and open source software. The one problem I ran into with gNewSense's software policy was with regards to my wireless network card. Most distributions ship with the non-free Intel firmware, but gNewSense doesn't include it and this means the distribution isn't a good fit with my laptop. It is, on the other hand, a great match with my desktop system.

Richard Stallman said he used gNewSense in January 2010 and he was still using it in April 2014. Since then Stallman has switched to Trisquel.
Serdar Yegulalp reviewed gNewSense for InfoWorld. He is said:
In the post on Network World of gNewSense 3.1 in February 2014, Bryan Lunduke reviewed this Linux distribution with following words: