Why is Fedora not a Free GNU/Linux distributions?

John Burton j.c.burton at gats-inc.com
Thu Jul 17 18:49:21 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.
> 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.
You can go back to the "Text Book" definition from Andrew Tennebaum 
(sp?) who wrote the text book on Operating Systems used by most CS 
courses. That definition is pretty close to what John originally 
described. This parallels my original question of what causes people to 
claim the O/S is "GNU/Linux". While I certainly agree that there are 
alot of GNU tools packaged with Linux, those tools are also used by alot 
of other O/Ss that people are not making similar claims about...
>> 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?
I will agree that the GNU stuff provides a rich operating *environment* 
for the user, but an operating *system* is more concerned with the 
underlying hardware. Here *environment* = user space, *system* = system 

As far as GNU developers opinion goes, theirs doesn't matter any more 
than mine or yours. I can claim that my set of tools is an O/S, but that 
doesn't make it an O/S. What matters is where those tools fit in the 
multi-layered "onion" of software that stands between the user and the 
actual hardware that they are using.
>> 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.
What does Plan 9 have to do with anything? Unix was started at AT&T by 
Thompson & Ritchie. It then branched into two "flavors" BSD and SYSV. 
POSIX was a much later attempt to bring the 2 branches back together by 
imposing "standards" on the tools and interfaces. SunOS, Solaris, AIX, 
Irix, Ultrix, are all company specific offshoots with varying degrees of 
adherence to POSIX standards and SYSV or BSD flavors... Thompson & 
Ritchie started the whole thing rolling, and thousands of developers 
have contributed to the evolution of what UNIX (broad category covering 
all systems based on the UNIX concept) is today.

> GNU modeled its operating system after Unix because it was a common 
> system, not because there was any particular sharing of ideals or goals.
My understanding of FSF/GNU development is that HURD was their attempt 
at an O/S - which included the "kernel" plus the next several layers of 
networking / files system / virtual memory / video / security / syslog / 
daemon / etc utilities (next step above the drivers) that are needed by 
the GNU tools to provide a user friendly system. The GNU tools are what 
are used by Linux, *not* the HURD O/S...

The question is, above the hardware driver level, does FSF/GNU provide 
the networking, file system, virtual memory, video, security, etc 
utilities used by Linux? If not, then they have no business claiming the 
status of an O/S.


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