Why is Fedora not a Free GNU/Linux distributions?

John Cornelius jc at hangarpilot.net
Thu Jul 17 14:53:17 UTC 2008

This discussion is becoming both increasingly religious and somewhat 
oblique in its depictions of the elements under discussion. It may be 
instructive to review the classic definitions of some of these elements 
in order to clarify in the minds of zealots from the several sides of 
the discussion and thereby promote a more rational discussion.

Operating System:

Generally is considered to supply the following features.

1) Management of equipment and process related resources. Among the 
resources managed may be memory, time (scheduler), hardware devices 
(CPU, MMU, clock, device controllers, etc), raw file systems, and a 
means for initiating these controls.

2) Facilities for manipulating these resources and standards for 
providing them. In UnixLand we call these facilities system calls and in 
both Unix and Linux they are documented in section 2 of the manual.

3) Run Level "utilities" that allow the user to observe and control the 
aforementioned facilities and management capabilities. Some examples of 
these utilities might be 'init', 'ps', 'date', 'ifconfig', 'fsck', 
'newfs', 'nice', and any number of related or similar programs that 
control or manipulate the way in which the operating system views, uses, 
or presents the resources managed.

Tools and Applications:

Generally are considered to be external to the operating system and 
include shells, editors, compilers, assemblers, windowing systems, data 
bases, spreadsheets, publishing systems, and so forth. These tools and 
applications are not operating system specific although often they are 
operating system aware or dependent.

In short, an operating system deals with hardware at the most 
fundamental level and provides facilities for making productive use of 
the hardware. Low level tools such as shells provide an environment in 
which higher level tools and applications may operate and these low 
level tools are, in all cases, independent of the operating system and 
represent the demarcation line between the operating system and the 
operating environment.

GNU is not an operating system it is, and as far as I know always has 
been, a tool kit that is platform and operating system independent. On 
the other hand, Linux is not GNU although the distributions packaged by 
various suppliers of the operating system contain GNU software. While 
GNU and Linux can prosper without each other it's certainly more 
charming if they prosper with each other.

As for licensing, the GNU Public License is available for use with any 
software whether it be GNU sponsored or not and Linux can be distributed 
in that way if it was received in that way.

While Linux is the Operating System du jour for those of us who prefer 
clean and elegant exploitation of the hardware available in the 
marketplace it is by no means the first such system nor is it likely to 
be the last. When Dennis Ritchie rewrote the C compiler for the 
Interdata machines he unleashed a movement that has been bucked by only 
one serious competitor (MicroSoft) but has been taken up by virtually 
every serious computer scientist and OS hacker since 1978 and includes 
such luminaries as UC Berkeley (BSD Unix), Whitesmiths (Idris), and 
Linus Torvalds (you know.....).

While MicroSoft prefers to obfuscate the difference between operating 
systems, operating environments, and applications there are those of us 
who have been in the game for quite some time who understand the 
difference and consider these distinctions to be important, which brings 
us to the GNU Public License and other forms of "Free Public Licenses" 
for software.

The form or philosophy of a license agreement is distinct from the thing 
licensed and while each purveyor of a license form or philosophy might 
like one to think that they are related that is not true and should not 
be true. Drivers for Linux, to pick an example, may be licensed in such 
a way that they may be freely redistributed and may only carry the 
condition that they may only be used to operate a specific device or 
device class. When the driver is provided by the manufacturer of the 
device this is a reasonable restriction on the driver's use albeit one 
that leaves a bad taste in the mouths of some. Whether some other 
license under which the surrounding software is distributed has other 
rules about derivative works doesn't impact the license under which the 
driver is distributed. The fact that a driver becomes a part of Linux 
when is installed does not necessarily make that driver subject to the 
same rules as other parts of the Linux Operating System.

Companies such as RedHat represent a new twist on an ancient gestalt for 
creating success, namely FUD. While MicroSoft wields FUD with the 
subtlety of a jackhammer RedHat wields it in a more friendly and 
accommodating manner that I find admirable and believe me when I say 
that this friendship and accommodation are not without cost but they 
have both created and supported a community of volunteers that should be 
applauded by us all.

GNU is not Linux and Linux is not GNU, it's just an evolution of a 
movement started by Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie nearly 40 years ago.

Whoda thunk?

John Cornelius

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