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The Linux Naming Controversy

I'm going to push some buttons with this post, and as such, I'm sure I'm going to get a lot of comments and people coming out of the woodwork telling me I'm wrong, my arguments are weak, or I just plain don't have a clue what I'm talking about. Whatever the case, this has been something that's been on my mind for a while, so I'm blogging about it.

The controversy, for those who are unaware, is that Free Software Elitists are pushing that Linux should be called "GNU/Linux" due to the fact that the Linux kernel and GNU tools make up the whole of the operating system, not just the kernel itself. While not necessarily true, there's also a hole in that argument that I'm going to exploit. But first, a little history.

In 1983, Richard Stallman announced plans for an operating system he was calling GNU- a recursive acronym for "GNU is Not UNIX". The idea behind GNU was to build an operating system of entirely Free Software, make it UNIX-like, but contain none of the UNIX code. This meant most of the software had to be written from scratch, thus work on the operating system began.

Several years later, many GNU tools were built, including bash, emacs, screen, Gimp, GNOME, and many others. All licensed under the GPL. The only thing that was really missing from this wonderful operating system was the kernel. Well, the HURD kernel was in fact being developed, but progress was too slow, and it was not stable enough to run these tools. So, here we sit. A GNU operating system without a functional kernel. In other words, no operating system.

Then, in 1991, the gap was filled with the Linux monolithic kernel. While radically different from the GNU kernel in design, it also was mimicking a UNIX-like philosophy and implementation. The creation of Linus Torvalds as a hobby project while in college, it took off. Within 3 years, it reached a stable 1.0 release, and had already seen the merging of these GNU tools and the Linux kernel creating this much anticipated operating system. Forwarding us to today, we see the GNU tools and the Linux kernel happily married into one operating system, and receiving much success both in the corporate and home market.

Due to the large success of the Linux kernel, as I mentioned prior, Free Software Elitists have been telling people to call it "GNU/Linux" rather than just "Linux", due to the fact that the GNU tools are every much a part of the operating system as the kernel is. The problem I have with this argument, is the GNU tools only make up for about 300 packages on my system. Last I checked, I have over 15,000 packages available to me. Are all 15,000 packages GNU tools? Hardly. Let's take a look at which ones are, and then which ones aren't.

First, here is the list of official GNU software. These are the tools that were built to make this Free operating system. Here are the packages that are available to me running Debian Sid on my laptop. That list is of considerable size larger. Is it fair to say that the majority of software available to me is NOT GNU software? The GNU tools are in that list, however, they only make up for 2% of the total packages. So surely, there has to be another reason why Free Software Elitists want me to call it "GNU/Linux".

Well, the argument could be taken that once you license your software under the GPL, it becomes, unofficially, a GNU tool. I don't have any statistics, but certainly, much more than 2% of the Debian Sid packages available to me are licensed under the GPL. However, I would imagine that a large portion of those packages are licensed differently, such as BSD, MIT, Apache, CDDL, and more. At any case, even if the GPL software packages were the majority in the list, should I still call my operating system "GNU/Linux"? No. With the simple reason that I am running to power most of these tools, and is not licensed under the GPL. My Linux experience would be quite different if it weren't for, and I'm sure many of use would agree. If it were not for powering all these graphical front end tools, Linux would not be where it is today. So, that means I must call my system the "X/GNU/Linux" operating system. There are also a number of tools that I rely on, such as hardware drivers, that are not GPL. Following this argument, we can see very quickly that my Linux name is going to get very long. Continuing with a play on names, we're seeing GNU software on Macs, Windows and UNIX. Does this mean that it's GNU/Windows, GNU/Macintosh and GNU/UNIX? Heh. GNU/UNIX. There's an oxymoron.

Frankly, I think this is just silly. Linux is the heart and soul of any Linux distribution. If it weren't for the Linux kernel, there would be no GNU operating system, as the HURD is just vaporware (if it hasn't been stable in nearly 20 years of development, it's vaporware). So there exists no GNU operating system as we know it, and yet, Richard Stallman tells us that if we value our freedom, we won't be using Linux.

The fact that Torvalds says “open source” instead of “free software” shows where he is coming from. I wrote the GNU GPL to defend freedom for all users of all versions of a program…. Torvalds says he rejects this goal; that’s probably why he doesn’t appreciate GPL version 3. I respect his right to express his views, even though I think they are foolish. However, if you don’t want to lose your freedom, you had better not follow him. --Richard Stallman

Please tell me, Mr. Stallman, who should we follow? You? I don't see any other viable solutions on the table that your offering, other than politics and philosophy.

Now, with all this said, I am certainly not arguing that GNU contributers don't deserve the respect they do, because they have been fundamental with building the Linux operating system. Their contribution has been fundamental. One could simply flip the argument and call the operating system GNU rather than Linux. I'm okay with that argument. However, Linux just rolls off the tongue better, and requires less when telling people why it's named what it is rather than GNU.

Would there be Free Software tools without GNU? Maybe. Maybe not. We know there would be no GNU operating system without the Linux kernel, that's for sure. So, I stand behind the Linux name and it's arguments. It's very apparent that every other Linux distribution does the same, minus Debian. It seems to be the naming standard amongst the world, so fighting it seems futile and catty. My point is, when it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, looks like a duck, and people are calling it a duck, then it must be "a duck".

{ 50 } Comments

  1. Pavel | September 26, 2007 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    your rationale does not make sense. your arguments apply to both sides so you can easily just swap linux and gnu.

    but then it will be much more in favour of GNU since 300 GNU packages >> 1 Linux Kernel. 😀

    seriously, I would call it Ubuntu/GNU, since Ubuntu is the Distribution and GNU is the flavour/ spirit/ whatever. Just like you call it FreeBSD, while it still contains the MIT

  2. Jim | September 26, 2007 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Being somewhat of an outsider (I don't work in the free/open software world or any software world for that matter) I have always felt that Linux was the name that people will recognize if they are going to recognize it all. From a philosophical perspective, I think Stallman has a lot of good things to say. However, most users don't care about philosophy. They just want a computer that works and they want short, easy to remember names. Many don't even realize their computer is a windows box. They say they have a Dell or an HP. Linux has some brand recognition and it has some momentum. Fighting over the name is only going to make F/OSS appear less mature. Besides, in the free software world anyone can take anything and rebrand it (e.g. a fork) and go whatever direction they want. In the end, the consumers will decide what they will "buy".

  3. Jim | September 26, 2007 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Hey, why does it say I'm on XP? I'm proxied through my Ubuntu box at home. That should count for something.

  4. Aaron | September 26, 2007 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    @Jim- It says your using Firefox on XP, because you are. It looks at the browser user agent string submitting the comment, not whether or not you're tunneling your connection. 🙂

  5. mr troll | September 26, 2007 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Bullseye. Software and politics do not mix. Software and philosophies do not mix. Just apply the trash that you've got, get craploads of money out of it and screw everything else.

  6. Yavor Doganov | September 26, 2007 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    I suggest that you read as well as the GNU/Linux FAQ. Most of your questions are answered there.

    What we ask is equal mention, which is quite fair. The reasons for this are much deeper than you seem to think.

  7. Jonah | September 26, 2007 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    I mostly agree with your sentiments, but I do have a quibble with this: "We know there would be no GNU operating system without the Linux kernel". Actually, there are people out there who are happily using the GNU tools with another open source kernel, such as FreeBSD. If the Linux kernel was somehow removed from the picture, one of the other open source Unix-like kernels out there would quickly take its place. (Replacing GCC would arguably be more difficult than replacing the Linux kernel.) Still, I will continue to refer to operating systems that use the Linux kernel as "Linux", because that is the name that most people recognize.

  8. Vadim P. | September 26, 2007 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    I appreciate what GNU does, was educated by this article as to how much it does, and will continue to appreciate it.

    ... but I'll just be calling it Linux, thanks.

  9. Nate | September 26, 2007 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Well put, Aaron. But there is another flaw with the "call it GNU/Linux" argument, and I think it is a more fundamental one. The argument is based on the assumption (or assertion) that an operating system's name is equivalent to its genealogy or its CREDITS. And while proponents of the GNU/Linux name clearly have something to gain from this assumption, it simply isn't true -- not for operating systems in general, and especially not for Unix-like systems.

    Ever since AT&T pulled the original Unix out of freedom, the Unix-like OSes have primarily been distinguishable from one another by their kernel. Sure, sure, not 100%, there were always different filesystems and so on, but since the POSIX APIs were the same, what made one different from another was the kernel. Calling Linux Linux is just a part of that heritage.

    Yavor's call for "equal mention" above betrays this distinction -- the GNU/Linux argument is about credit. But credit is not why people assign names to things, particularly operating systems. It's a lost cause.

  10. Will Smith | September 26, 2007 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Bruce Perens said that when he (who "coined" the phrase) says open source he means free software. I think that Linus Torvalds means the same thing when he says it. Besides, the GNU GPL says "referring to freedom not price". The term free software is misleading.

    The truth is that the operating system wouldn't exist without the kernel. So, if not just Linux, it should be Linux/GNU.

    Long story short: I couldn't agree more with your post/point.

  11. Aaron | September 26, 2007 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    @Jonah- Good call. I agree that other free operating systems, such as Net/Free/OpenBSD would step up to the plate, had Linux not filled that void.

  12. Seth | September 26, 2007 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    It's because many of the core system libraries and other programs are GNU. Taken as a whole, it's a ton of software that makes booting (or compiling) Linux possible. Of the 300 GNU packages you mentioned you have installed, how many are essential for using the system?

    Here's a quote from the Linux 0.01 release notes:

    Sadly, a kernel by itself gets you nowhere. To get a working system you need a shell, compilers, a library etc.

  13. Thiago | September 26, 2007 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Good post, but I disagree in some points... seems like you adopted a mathematical way of analysis just looking at numbers, what don't make any sense to me... Ok you have only 300 packages of GNU software on your 15k total, but take out those 300 packages and you will not be able even to boot 😛 So is not a question of QUANTITY but a question of NECESSITY. GNU software is necessary and critical to this OS, as the kernel is. In any distribution will be present GNU software and the Linux kernel, and a bunch of other tools and softwares chose by the distro. Seems to me fair enough to call this OS GNU/Linux. Like Ubuntu GNU/Linux distribution.

    Would be no Linux without GCC and glibc (GNU Tools), historically speaking.
    Linux is just the kernel, witch is THE building block for an OS, but not the only thing.
    I think that people and distributions should pay more credit to GNU, and maybe fallow the example of Debian adding GNU to the name.
    But on other hand, we can't call everything Linux as GNU/Linux, because that is just wrong. Many embedded devices, mobile phones, etc don't use any (or not many) GNU tools, but use Linux kernel.

    So my point is... Linux is the kernel, GNU are the basic tools... together with a lot of other software we have a distribution, an Operating System, that we can call simply Ubuntu or Slackware, Debian, Fedora, Gentoo, Arch... but distributions like to pay credit to this great kernel, so they say: Arch Linux, Slackware Linux... why can't we pay credit to this also great set of tools that make our OS possible, and say like Debian GNU/Linux?

    That is just my point of view... what do you folks think?


  14. Aaron | September 26, 2007 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    @Seth- Good call. The kernel on its own goes no where. However, not all of the libraries, tools, etc. are GNU tools. That's my point. There are just as many non-GNU tools that are Free Software, if not more. To call a system after what it relies on, and what makes it possible is silly, imho.

  15. redchuck | September 26, 2007 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Who would anyone want a / in a name? That's just inconsiderate.

  16. Mike | September 26, 2007 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    The short history at the beginning of the post could be cited and more carefully researched/articulated. I realize that's not the norm for blog posts ;). But wouldn't it be nice if it was?

  17. Mike | September 26, 2007 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    were, rather. nice if it were. 🙂

  18. phoenyx | September 26, 2007 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Here's what I propose: fork all of the GNU tools to "free yourself from GNU trying to control your OS". To be really confusing, I think you should call them "GNU-free" tools.

  19. Aaron | September 26, 2007 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    @Mike- Good call. I suck at writing research papers, and it shows. However, everything is consistent with Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge and truth 🙂 , where I grabbed the dates from this morning.

  20. waleed | September 26, 2007 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    the reasoning you mention is secondary the main reasons are first is the concept of free as in freedom when you write gnu/linux and when others read it they will ask what is gnu and what is linux when they search for the gnu site they will find the meaning of free as in freedom and the four freedoms explaning it witch are:

    * The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
    * The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
    * The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
    * The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

    And the second reason is and I will quote richard stallman "But we don't think that is the right way to consider the question. The GNU Project was not, is not, a project to develop specific software packages. It was not a project to develop a C compiler, although we did that. It was not a project to develop a text editor, although we developed one. The GNU Project's aim was to develop a complete free Unix-like system: GNU.

    Many people have made major contributions to the free software in the system, and they all deserve credit. But the reason it is an integrated system—and not just a collection of useful programs—is because the GNU Project set out to make it one. We made a list of the programs needed to make a complete free system, and we systematically found, wrote, or found people to write everything on the list. We wrote essential but unexciting components because you can't have a system without them. Some of our system components, the programming tools, became popular on their own among programmers, but we wrote many components that are not tools. We even developed a chess game, GNU Chess, because a complete system needs good games too."end quote.

    To more explane read the articles in these sites:


    And to end it free as in freedom .

  21. Tristan Rhodes | September 26, 2007 at 11:05 am | Permalink


    I agree with your conclusion. From a marketing perspeective, we should not name a system based on its history. Linux is a widely recognized term, but if you insert a recursive acronym (GNU) and a "/" then you are significantly reducing the power of the brand.


  22. Victor Bogado | September 26, 2007 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    I agree, I aways hate that argument that linux should be "GNU/Linux". Stallman argues against using trademarks, as he does consider "firefox" non-free because of a few pngs and strings and yet he tries to convince that we should use some naming scheme out of his head.

    I usually agree with a lot of what Stallman says, to be truthfully I usually don't agree on how those things are being said, but this is one point that I don't agree. All linux distributions are using the packages with their official names, all the due credit is given, so why creating more noise and make the community more fragmented then it already is?

  23. shermann | September 26, 2007 at 11:31 am | Permalink


    yes, a duck is a duck is a duck, but GNU'sn'tUnix and Unix isn't Linux and a fried duck with chinese spices is not a duck but a "fried/duck"

    Stallmann is right, when he wants a mentioning of the GNU tools as Prefix to Linux, just because there would be no Linux kernel like this one without the GNU toolchain. Well, if there would be a MS Compiler these past days, it could be called MS /Linux or what 😉

    But today, noone cares a sh*t about the past, just because most people want to "consume" today. Linux is Linux, what the hell I'm interessted in Novell, SCO, Sun, or whatever.
    In Germany, there was a time, when Linux was named SuSE..
    And even the press was mixing up the version numbers of SuSE distros and the brand "Linux".
    E.g. linux 7.0 or SuSE 2.4 ... no joke. People don't care.

    It's good when Stallmann wants to name "GNU/Linux" "GNU/Linux", but I don't suppose that he really knows what Linus means when Linus referes to opensource and not free software.

    Because Linux is not Linux is not Linux. That's why we call Ubuntu not Ubuntu Linux, but we name Ubuntu Ubuntu and we describe it as a "Ubuntu is a community developed, linux-based operating system that is perfect for laptops, desktops and servers."

    No mentioning of GNU or Linux as a know why?



  24. Jon | September 26, 2007 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Nice article. I agree that we should call Linux... Linux. when telling new users about Linux (Ubuntu specifically), GNU is hard to describe, and even harder to pronounce. Heck, Ubuntu is hard enough to explain!

  25. Hoàng Đức Hiếu | September 26, 2007 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    I don't think your argument about work in your favor, because the C library that sits between the kernel and every software is GNU's tool

    $ /lib/
    GNU C Library stable release version 2.6.1, by Roland McGrath et al.
    Copyright (C) 2007 Free Software Foundation, Inc.

    And Linux wasn't free sw initially, Torvalds used the GPL for it only from 1992-02 onwards.

  26. Jonathan | September 26, 2007 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Even though those other licensed software is not licensed under a GPL license, they are built for a GNU system.

    Linux is Linux, and GNU/Linux is GNU/Linux, imho.

  27. Gerald E. Butler | September 26, 2007 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    You do realize that Debian is the official GNU Operating System and is part of the GNU Foundation.

    Quote from Debian website:

    What is Debian?

    Debian is a free operating system (OS) for your computer. An operating system is the set of basic programs and utilities that make your computer run. Debian uses the Linux kernel (the core of an operating system), but most of the basic OS tools come from the GNU project; hence the name GNU/Linux.

    Debian GNU/Linux provides more than a pure OS: it comes with over 18733 packages, precompiled software bundled up in a nice format for easy installation on your machine.


  28. Alex | September 26, 2007 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    (Debian isn't part of or recommended by GNU)

    I think the thing you're missing is a bit deeper than the actual code: GNU was the first project to attempt to together a complete, free, OS.

    That doesn't mean they wrote all the code - no point rewriting stuff that already exists - but GNU was the first project to try to get it to work together, to form a coherent whole.

    The point about the BSDs seems to slightly get history mixed up. The GNU project started before any free OS was available, and it was a fair time after BSD was made available that the licensing was finally sorted.

  29. Wolfger | September 26, 2007 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Excellent post, and way too many comments already for me to read them all, though there are many thoughtful ones. I did get as far as comment #8 by Jonah, and he brings up (yet fails to make) and excellent point:

    "Actually, there are people out there who are happily using the GNU tools with another open source kernel, such as FreeBSD"

    Right. So why are the GNU people not trying to get everybody to call it GNU/FreeBSD? Simple. FreeBSD doesn't have as large of coattails as Linux does. Linux has the notoriety, and that's what they want. I find it to be rather pathetic, this grasping for fame. It's seems so petty.

    Take all the GNU software away, and people will just fork it (it's GPL'd) and call them Linux tools instead of GNU tools.

    If Linux and GNU parted ways, Linux would have a new set of tools far faster than GNU would have HURD Even with HURD having a 20 year head start. Even without forking the GPL'd GNU code.

  30. Michael | September 26, 2007 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    In my opinion, the whole issue is a non-issue from a logical standpoint. The name of the kernel is Linux, and operating systems using this kernel are also called Linux. There may be a specific instance where this is not technically correct, but it's a name.

    If I had a conversation like this (pedantic wording for illustration purposes):
    "I installed Linux today. It is a free OS."
    "If you call it Linux, then it is not truly free. What you are referring to is GNU/Linux."

    After exercising my right under Rhetorical Bullshit to punch that person in the face, I would kindly point out that a name does not require that it be technically and literally correct. I'm not literally typing this from a hole in the wall covered with a thin sheet of glass (no security jokes, please), but the OS I am on is Windows. It is not called NTOS/GUI/32, formerly known as MS-DOS/GUI/32.

    As I always hear people say, "if you want to download the source and call it something else, go right ahead."

  31. randomwalker | September 26, 2007 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    This is why I just call my operating system Ubuntu. Sidestep the whole nerd pissing contest.

  32. Seth | September 26, 2007 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    @Aaron - Sorry if I overlooked your point! You are, of course, correct that there are more non-GNU libs, tools, etc. on a Linux system. But, as Thiago points out, how many of the packages that are absolutely critical to the system are GNU tools? And of those, how many have quality non-GNU replacements?

    I don't know the answer to that question, but I'd like to. 🙂

    I read a book called Rebel Code a few years back which detailed the history of Linux and GNU (a really fun read, btw -- I'll bring it to the next OALUG). I got the impression that Linux would not have had the impetus to be birthed without GNU software already being freely available. Whereas the reverse didn't seem true, any kernel could've completed the GNU Project (Stallman even tried to get the Minix kernel "donated" to the project at one point).

    I wonder if, for the sake of argument, GNU was essential to Linux' birth in '91, is it still essential today? How many GNU packages have a BSD (or other) alternative now?

    FWIW, I don't refer to Linux as GNU/Linux entirely because it's a PITA to say. But I do have two GNU bumper-stickers (and none Linux, so you can see where my heart lies 😉 ). I wish the GNU Project had better marketing (and not such a dumb logo...).

  33. m4v | September 26, 2007 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    I don't like the name controversy, is silly, why it bothers you if some people call it GNU/Linux? Certainly GNU isn't the whole OS, but either is Linux, and none can work without the other.
    I prefer call it GNU/Linux simply because those were the two projects that started it all, Linux alone is like forgetting about the GNU people.

  34. Kevin Mark | September 26, 2007 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    I always try to say 'gnu/linux'. I am not trying to promote a 'product' but freedom and community. While linus is a n engineer and a 'neutral' party, the main thrust of gnu is about freedom and community, this alone made all possible including Ubuntu. The gnu toolchain (only a small number) was what made it all possible to compile any kernel. Debian has 'Debian gnu/freebsd' 'Debian gnu/hurd'. Both are not complete but the bsd version is getting very close to being somewhat releaseable and the hurd version has a basic commandline.

  35. technofreak | September 26, 2007 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    We people often tend to confuse philosophy with reality. Things are nice in philosophical point of view, but are even nicer when it is seen in realistic ways. When we call Linux, we mean an operating system which uses the Linux kernel and other tools which might be Free software under GPL or other Free/Open source software under other licenses. 'Linux' is just a name of an operating system to its fullness, which is completely usable for all requirements, and by using that name we give credit to all those contributing to the operating system as a whole, which includes not only GNU but also Xorg, Apache, Mozilla, KDE and a lot others.

    Secondly, when we want Linux to hit the global market, reach every common mans' computer, we should rather keeps things simple. The world calls it Windows, they know it is from M$ and they know there are flavors like Win98, XP and Vista. But they still prefer to call it just Windows. Similarly, they call it Linux and most people who use Linux would have heard about GNU and RMS for sure. But the reality is a majority of them, heard or unheard of GNU, do not mind a damn about the philosophy behind. What they all mind is the OS should do able to give them what they want. At the end, they prefer to call it simply "Linux" and inherently give credit to all those contributing to make their lives better by giving that wonderful Operating System.

  36. yoshi314 | September 26, 2007 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    stallman talks about freedom but he is more restrictive than linus. he wants everybody to drop interest in proprietary software, while torvalds sees proprietary solutions as yet another way to adopt linux (as long as they follow gplv2 kernel licence), and as a way to expose it to a broader audience.

    i don't belive linux would succeed without somebody like linus. but on the other hand, we would also not be here if it weren't for stallman and his gnu project.

    stallman and torvalds have different views. but that gives us a space to fit everywhere between them with our own opinions.

    stallman is idealistic, and torvalds is practical. that's a great mix, which makes linux (as an operating system) interesting for both types of people.

  37. wonko | September 27, 2007 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    Let's face it: Linux is just more handy. Names have to be handy... it's not DOS/Windows 98 nor Mac OS X/Match or whatever...

  38. Jonas | September 27, 2007 at 1:51 am | Permalink

    It's a shame that you seem not to have understood what Stallman is saying at all: He doesn't want anyone to refer to Linux as "GNU/Linux": on the contrary, what he is asking people to is to please not refer to GNU as "Linux", but as GNU, and use a term like GNU/Linux when discussing both.

    Many people ask, for example, what the command is called to do so and so in Linux, when they are talking about a GNU command.

    Please understand what you are talking about before writing such a long post about it 🙂 If you had, you wouldn't have gotten into such strawman arguments as "anything under the GPL might be considered GNU software", which Stallman & friends NEVER stated -- it's just you speculating on their reasons.

  39. Jonas | September 27, 2007 at 1:59 am | Permalink

    (just like you don't refer to Windows XP as NTKRNL32.EXE or whatever, but as Windows XP, and you don't refer to a chocolate cake with a single strawberry on top as a "strawberry cake". Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, etc. are all GNU distributions.)

  40. oomu | September 27, 2007 at 4:52 am | Permalink

    it's 'gnu/linux" simply because what you know as the operating system is massively GNU.

    glibc, gnu tools, and the chain tools made what is the core of the operating system

    the GNU project is only the project rewritting the unix core utilities and the C library to execute posix unix programs.

    it's only that. nothing more, "gnu is not unix", because GNU is to be exactly unix and more but still without using even one line of original unix source code.

    but, that really thing, is at the _core_ of what we are using now.

    you can go where you want, you always fall on GNU stuff before the kernel. and the gnu libc is so important in the use of the operating system, it even has more influence than the kernel.

    broke the glibc and nothing else works, change a linux kernel system call and still you can manage to just patch some critical package upon it (glibc, hal , udev ... ) and have a working system to start.

    if you removed the gnu stuff and write your own system environnement with your own ideas, the "linux operating" would be VERY different.

    even if you keep the same kernel.

    the api would be different, the way to boot and use the computer would be very different

    in fact, you use a Gnu+linux operating system

    not a kernel linux operating system

    not a flash+apache+kernel operating system

    it's really gnu+linux kernel which made the "personnality", the "feel" of what we call "linux".


    Stallman of course never stated GPL project are gnu. _never_ and hopefully !! else the FSF would be forced to assume copyright and responsibility for thousands of independent project ! so _no_

    they simply tell : "what you call and use is made of the gnu stuff+kernel, it is the core of what is the "operating system". neither apache, neither X, neither kde, neither gimp are making the core "linux" experience. it's gnu+linux kernel " .

    in fact, years before Linux, I already used the "gnu" stuff. it was upon solaris or aix. not sold with it but you could download the whole package. for example the sunfreeware server had packages of gnu tools for solaris and sun os.

    even X11 (the very Xfree86 project) existed _before_ linux.

    many common stuff now on linux ,existed before the linux kernel.

    the linux kernel did not invent "linux operating system" in fact.

    linux could be very different, very "un-unix" if people reinvented a new environnement for linux instead of taking gnu or reinvent unix/bsd things.

    of course, X11 would have been not useable and people forced to invent something else.

    everything is influenced by the choice of using the gnu project upon the kernel.

    Glibc is _very_ central.

    we really use gnu/linux , not gnu/hurd , not bsd/linux , not gdi32/linux , not darwin/linux

    ubuntu is gnome/gnu/linux

    kubuntu is kde/gnu/linux

    but we accept an operating systems is before the graphical interface (and I think it's a sane way of thinking so we stop to the gnu ).

    utopia project (hal, udev, dbus) is new. it's changing linux, it's no more "hey ! we just need to copy unix and be happy with gnu project"

    maybe in a few years, it will be time to think if we still use gnu/linux
    or freedesktop/linux (freedesktop being where utopia project was matured, but, is it really a project? an organisation ? a mere forum ??)

    it would be a Great Debate for the one hundred of geeks in the world being angry with the mistake ?

    the world will be happy enough with the name "ubuntu" !

    but, yes, technically, sometimes in my work, I need to know than, yes, I work with " gnu/linux " system. that knowledge help me tremendously to understand the choice, the design, the way of working and to find great documentations and enlightenment.

    In my home, the name "Ubuntu" is all I need to know.

    I hope my comment will help you why people are sometime adamant (for good reason) about that "linux naming" thing

    and it will help to understand, it's not simply Stallman, and he never stated "haha we invented EVERYTHING and Everything is GNU, we are so great"

  41. James Stansell | September 27, 2007 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    I agree that Linux is both easier and more widely acceptable that GNU/Linux. But frankly I wasn't pleased to see your rant.

    What it comes down to is that all "Linux distros" are an integration project of software from many sources. We need to be sure to keep reminding people that there is no "true linux distro" because there are so many ways to do the integration tasks.


  42. nescio | September 27, 2007 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    go work for microsoft! 😀

  43. This is great! have a look | September 27, 2007 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    GNU is a great way of inspiration, just keep it that way.

  44. Joe Smith | September 27, 2007 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    I actually think that's a valid argument. I mean, I think some respect definitely needs to be paid for what kicked off everything, but I almost feel like the ship has already sailed on this issue. GNU/Linux, although more correct, is not what most people know the operating system as. For me, it's gotten to the point where we should accept the name and start spending time being productive instead of debating the validity of a slash.

    Side Tangent: I thought that the Linux kernel wasn't monolithic because you could add/remove modules as needed.

  45. S. Tass | September 27, 2007 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    See, but the real underlying issue here is that the term LINUX should be capitalized.

    LINUX is obviously a portmanteau of Linux, GNU, and x -- it just looked like Li-GNU-X at one point in time, forming the word LiGNUX. Of course, this was unintelligible to the point of being unpronounceable, so people did the smart thing: made the G a silent one, as in 'knight'. This made everyone happy for a time, because the word was a perfect blend of all the obscure parts that only a few people cared about -- that was, until a rogue journalist arrived at an open-source convention, and mistranscribed the name.

    And thus the FOSS world was forever saddled with the monstrosity that is 'Linux'. Only capitalization of the name retains the true spirit of Li(G)NUx.

  46. David Mohring (NZheretic) | September 29, 2007 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    The Problem is that Richard Stallman's original argument, now at Linux and the GNU Project, could also be applied,tongue in cheek, to other operating environments such as Microsoft and the GNU Project.

  47. Francisco Athens | September 29, 2007 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    It's a bit sad to see you refer to people who only want you and everyone else on the planet to enjoy Free software (where there had been none before) as "Free Software Elitists." ("FSE") No one (including your "FSE") is forcing anyone to call what your "FSE" refer to GNU/Linux as such. Even Richard Stallman only *asks* that it be referred to as such. He, GNU and the Free Software Foundation are not putting malware into your operating system to phone home and report your lack of sensitivity, nor is anyone being sued or legaly threatened to call a GNU/Linux OS by such a name (These are practices held by proprietary systems of development).
    You may sit tall and proud in your usage and expertice of a Free operating system, but if you think you would have such options without GNU's vision and determination, it may be you who is the "Elitist" and not the Free Software *Foundation*. You are given the freedom to do what you like with Free Software so long as you extend those freedoms to others , if you wish to waste your time defacating upon the efforts of others who value real freedom (which is in bloody short supply already as of late), that is also your choice.
    That said, I'll thank you for drawing attention to the importance of not just the name, but the ideas, philosophies and goals of GNU and those who embrace it. Your post has strengthened my determination to promote "GNU/Linux" over "Linux".

  48. Luke Maciak | September 30, 2007 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Is it really that much of a controversy though?

    "What OS do you use?"
    "You mean GNU/Linux?"
    "Yeah... Actually, Ubuntu"
    "Ah, ok"

    Most of us use the distribution name (or the release name as in Feisty, Dapper, Gutsy and etc..) when talking amongst each other. Few people really say Gnu/Linux when talking to other Linux enthusiasts.

    The only time that full name would be comming up was when explaining Linux to outsiders. And I guess there is no harm in dropping the Gnu acronym and briefly mentioning their contribution once in a blue moon. For example when I go over operating systems in the classroom I will put Gnu/Linux on the lecture slides and mention Gnu, but then refer to the OS as Linux from that point on because it's shorter.

    And when someone will ask me what systems I'm running I will answer : Kubuntu on Dapper, Ubuntulite on Feisty and XP for gaming. 😛

  49. Walther | October 3, 2007 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Nice post.

    I would still say that GNU/Linux is more correct than Linux although it is a pita to say that every time.

    Personally I care more about Free Software than about Linux. If Ubuntu would start using another kernel, I would be fine with that. That's why I always say I run "Ubuntu" (and not "Linux" or "Ubuntu Linux") or "Free Software".

  50. dom | November 19, 2007 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    I usually write it "GNU/Linux" and pronounce it "Linux"... Although more commonly I use the distro name rather then "Linux" since most (non-F/OSS people) think "Linux" is some sort of curse word, yet "Ubuntu" sounds cute and "RHEL" / "RedHat" sounds professional.

    I think it is a grave disrespect to RMS to refer to GNU/Linux systems as "Linux" alone. He made a significant contribution and asked only attribution in return, you should not take that away from him.

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