The Free Software Foundation is now taking on hardware. The non-profit free software advocacy group today announced new guidelines for the building of what it calls free hardware. The guidelines dictate the use of the GNU operating systems and software, and exclude the use of digital rights management and user-tracking software.

Peter Brown, executive director of the FSF, explained the new guidelines. “The desire to own a computer or device and have full control over it, to know that you are not being spied on or tracked, to run any software you wish without asking permission, and to share with friends without worrying about Digital Restrictions Management (DRM): These are the desires of millions of people who care about the future of technology and our society,” he said.

“Unfortunately, hardware manufacturers have until now relied on close cooperation with proprietary software companies that demanded control over their users. As citizens and their customers, we need to promote our desires for a new class of hardware: Hardware that anyone can support because it respects your freedom.”

FSF license compliance engineer Brett Smith said, “Every software component needed to produce endorsable hardware is now available. We have several GNU/Linux distributions that only include free software and are completely functional on the right hardware. We have the Linux-libre kernel that does not include non-free microcode. And we have cutting-edge mobile platforms like Android and MeeGo that are based on free software.

“In the past, we’ve spoken to manufacturers who were interested in making free software-friendly hardware, but they worried about connecting with customers. With our endorsement mark and the strong criteria that back it, we plan to bridge that gap and demonstrate to manufacturers that they stand to gain plenty by making hardware that respects people’s freedom instead of curtailing it.”

The initial set of guidelines is available on the LibrePlanet wiki. {} The guidelines dictate not only the use of free and open-source software, but also the inclusion of source code, free compilation tools, and the ability for the user to uninstall and replace any component. The stipulations also extend to file types, and disallow “encumbered” technologies, such as MP3 and h.264. Additionally, all manuals and help materials must also be licensed under open-source licenses.

It’s not all free software, though. Vendors are allowed to include their own software in FSF-approved hardware, provided these tools are not described incorrectly or presented as a part of the free stack. Also, software included with FSF-approved hardware must include patent protections for any patented software included.