that old GNU/Linux argument

Patrick O'Callaghan pocallaghan at
Thu Jul 17 23:45:20 UTC 2008

On Thu, 2008-07-17 at 23:38 +0200, Björn Persson wrote:
> Patrick O'Callaghan wrote:
> > On Wed, 2008-07-16 at 23:33 +0200, Björn Persson wrote:
> > > Patrick O'Callaghan wrote:
> > > > I can't help but point out that your
> > > > definition of "operating system" does not include GNU, since GNU does
> > > > not have a kernel.
> > >
> > > Ever heard of the Hurd?
> >
> > Ever since it was first mooted. Has anyone ever seen one? Are there any
> > in production use anywhere in the world?
> That's irrelevant. Production use wasn't part of Alexandre's definition 
> of "operating system". GNU does have a kernel. Its name is the Hurd. You can 
> install the Hurd on a computer together with libraries and programs from the 
> GNU project to form a basic operating system. You can boot it, log in and run 
> programs. Therefore, contrary to what you wrote, GNU does fit Alexandre's 
> definition of "operating system".

Better tell him that, because he's not using the term in the way you
describe. This isn't a question of right or wrong, it's one of
consistency. If you check back on this thread you'll see that Alexandre
repeatedly refers to GNU/Linux as (paraphrasing here) "the GNU Operating
System plus the Linux kernel", which IIRC is in line with what the FSF
says when promoting GNU/Linux as a name. If "the GNU Operating System"
is complete, i.e. already has a kernel, then where does Linux fit in
this scheme? By this token, you should be referring to the Operating
System as GNU/Hurd, not as GNU.

> > However that's not my point. You can't claim that GNU={libraries+apps}
> > and also GNU={libraries+apps+kernel}. In this discussion even the
> > pro-GNU people are using the first definition, not the second.
> So what *is* your point? Are you claiming that the Hurd isn't part of the GNU 
> project? Or are you arguing that instead of "GNU/Linux" people should 
> say "GNU-except-the-Hurd/Linux"?

Neither. I have no prescription for what people "should" say.

OTOH (and this is something I haven't raised before), what people in the
great majority *do* say is Linux, not GNU/Linux. You have every right to
object to that on principle, but forgive my scepticism that it will
actually change anything. Once a term becomes sufficiently rooted in the
public perception it's almost impossible to change, which is why we have
things words like "hacker" (for cracker), DRM, "piracy", "intellectual
property" etc., all of which are objectionable on better-founded grounds
than GNU/Linux (better-founded because these terms sneakily try to
exploit a cultural tradition of what the original words mean, rather
than being simply arbitrary names).

I'm reminded of something similar in a completely different context: a
great many Latin Americans wince whenever citizens of the US call their
country America and themselves "American". "But America is a continent,
and we're American too" they say, and of course they're right.

But it's not going to change.


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