Why is Fedora not a Free GNU/Linux distributions?

John Cornelius jc at hangarpilot.net
Thu Jul 17 18:36:11 UTC 2008

Gordon Messmer wrote:
> John Cornelius wrote:
>> 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.
> Can you cite any consensus based definition of "operating system" 
> other than what you've provided?  I think that the POSIX specification 
> is generally agreed to be the definition of one operating system 
> interface, and it includes the shells, editors, compilers, etc that 
> you've decided aren't part of an operating system.
I suppose that would be because the writers of the POSIX specification 
didn't think it through. Consider that 'bash' does not need Linux, Unix, 
Tops10, VMS or any other specific operating system to provide the 
environment that can be used to launch other programs effectively. It 
can run on virtually any computer that offers the necessary system calls 
and has a C compiler including Windows.

POSIX, in fact, specifies an environment rather than an operating system 
and for its purposes, which is to provide a template for government 
bureaucrats to use when selecting an environment, it is quite satisfactory.
> That's what we're getting at.  GNU/Linux is an operating system.  
> Linux is one of the kernels that GNU *can* use, and one of the most 
> common that it does.
>> 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.
> I think that the GNU developers disagree with you.  What makes your 
> opinion more valid than theirs?
Perhaps they do and they are free to do so but they are incorrect and 
your own argument makes the point. You are trying to separate the kernel 
(and its related facilities) from the operating system and, if you stop 
to think about it, that's both counterproductive and obfuscatory. As for 
what makes my opinion better than theirs, there may be no reason to 
believe that I believe that only that I find the GNU Operating System 
concept illogical and irrational.

It may be an ego thing on the part of GNU that they want to have an 
operating system of their own but they sell themselves short in doing 
so. The creation and purveyance of quality and useful software is in 
itself a noble and admirable thing and they are no less noble and 
admirable for providing necessary tools and applications rather than an 
operating system.
>> 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?
> I think you're giving Ken and Dennis too much credit.  As far as I 
> understand it, Unix was only distributed free of charge because ATT 
> was concerned that its monopoly status prevented it from entering new 
> markets.  Look at Plan 9.  Free Software?  Nope.
Perhaps you should expand your understanding a bit. Unix was distributed 
free of charge to universities for much the same reason that GNU and 
Fedora exist, namely to get participation of skilled programmers and 
architects in making the system useful beyond the way that operating 
systems of the day were useful. Toward that end they gave the product 
away to universities and I was privileged to have the very first 
distribution sent to the University of California. I was required to 
redistribute it within the University and maintain the licenses on 
AT&T's behalf. I shipped UC Berkeley its first copy of Unix sometime in 
the 1970s and the rest is history.

AT&T did indeed sell licenses to commercial entities and they were not 
concerned that it would effect their ongoing monopoly problems with the 
Feds since they did not have a monopoly in the computer business. Unix 
was never intended to be free, unlike Linux, and it was their hope that 
they could challenge IBM with the product.

I do not give Kenny and Denny too much credit, if anything I have not 
given them enough credit. During a conversation with Ken Thompson I 
asked him why they had chosen Interdata as a platform to migrate Unix to 
rather than the VAX and he replied that the VAX wasn't different enough 
(from the PDP-11), that they wanted to prove a point and in order to do 
so they had to port to a radically different machine. The challenge was 
there and they met it but unfortunately Interdata did not, may they rest 
in peace.
> GNU modeled its operating system after Unix because it was a common 
> system, not because there was any particular sharing of ideals or goals.
Even so, the model used by GNU is derivative of the model used by AT&T 
to advance development of and on the Unix platform. Admittedly, that 
does not make it Unix but then Unix isn't GNU.

John Cornelius

More information about the fedora-list mailing list