In the Free Software Foundation's May 2013 review of single board computers, the Raspberry Pi was found to have fatal flaws for use in a free (libre) software environment:

The Raspberry Pi requires nonfree software to start up. It can't reach the point of executing free software unless this nonfree program is part of the installed system software. ... This nonfree startup program affects both models of the Raspberry Pi.

The Raspberry Pi Zero was also not usable without proprietary (nonfree) software.

Is the new Raspberry Pi 3 usable without the need for any proprietary (nonfree) software?

  • it's a bit drastic to call that flaws imho... MPEG-2 and VC-1 is just possible on hardware chips if you buy the super cheap licenses, in the very exotic case where you need this. I think the same GPU was used for the pi3 so, nothing changed I guess, but don't quote me on that last bit. – Havnar Mar 3 '16 at 14:31
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    Yes, you are free to use any other SBC you want. – joan Mar 3 '16 at 14:48
  • As a clarification, I'd like to know if Raspbian (Debian) is nonfree software. As I understand it, although the Debian GNU-Linux is totally free in it's default configuration, Raspbian adds some nonfree extras. Is that correct? – user12711 Mar 7 '16 at 22:53
  • The foundations Raspbian images contain non-free stuff. If you use raspbian-ua-netinst you might be able to create a mostly free system (except the neccessary GPU firmware). – flakeshake Mar 14 '16 at 9:15


The RPi3 is still based on the VC4, which requires the loading of the closed-source BLOB before the Linux kernel is ran.

But is this really any different from a low-level closed source BIOS that many of the other SBC use?

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Since it's still using the VideoCore IV, but with a higher frequency - 400 MHz instead of 250 MHz - it suffers the same problems regarding free/libre software that uses MPEG-2 and VC-1, just as Havnar says.

There's effort in coding free/libre drivers for the GPU which doesn't make use of these two licensed codecs.

Take a look at the Linux Kernel 4.4, which has added some more support for the VideoCore IV GPU, but also lacks the two aforementioned codecs in hardware, as you need the keys for that.

EDIT: still no 3D-acceleration in hardware.
SOURCE: https://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=article&item=linux-44-features&num=1

EDIT2: Kernel 4.5 is out and according to this articel http://www.heise.de/open/meldung/Linux-4-5-freigegeben-3D-Performance-fuer-AMD-Raspi-Treiber-und-UEFI-Schutz-3132918.html [ger], the last third is now fully open, too. 3D-Support was added.
Redditpost for RC2 (a month old) https://www.reddit.com/r/raspberry_pi/comments/44frge/review_of_kernel_45rc2_on_raspberry_pi_2_my/

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  • So you're saying it's bootable with fully free software? – sampablokuper Mar 3 '16 at 19:15
  • Since Kernel 4.4 it should be afaik. – alsternerd Mar 5 '16 at 17:31
  • Great news if true! Please can you link to sources confirming this? – sampablokuper Mar 6 '16 at 19:06
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    The work on VC4 in the kernel/mesa only replaces one third of the functionality of the BLOB (3D/2D graphics) , it's still needed to boot. – flakeshake Mar 7 '16 at 14:58
  • @flakeshake, ah, as I feared. Thanks for clarifying. – sampablokuper Mar 8 '16 at 23:02

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