that old GNU/Linux argument

Patrick O'Callaghan pocallaghan at
Sun Jul 20 06:09:41 UTC 2008

On Sat, 2008-07-19 at 17:02 -0300, Alexandre Oliva wrote:
> On Jul 18, 2008, "Patrick O'Callaghan" <pocallaghan at> wrote:
> > On Fri, Jul 18, 2008 at 10:33 PM, Alexandre Oliva <aoliva at> wrote:
> >> However common sense kicks in: if you replace or remove any single
> >> component of the large collection of programs that together amount to
> >> an operating system, this won't make enough of a different to make it
> >> a different operating system.  So, GNU-Hurd is still the GNU operating
> >> system.
> > So Operating System - kernel = Operating System?
> Incidentally, this is exactly what happened: there was this complete
> operating system called GNU.  Its kernel Hurd, still incomplete, was
> disregarded, and Linux was used in its stead.  Thus GNU[-Hurd]+Linux,
> or GNU+Linux for short.

So the "complete operating system called GNU" wasn't actually usable
without the added Linux kernel. This is a strange definition of
"complete". We seem to be going round in circles here.

> You can shorten it further to GNU, if you need a single name: just
> choose the name of the most significant component, of the largest
> contributor, which is common practice.

Or I can shorten it to Linux, which is what most people do. I could even
call it Watermelon, but I do believe language is for communication and a
shared terminology is helpful in this regard.

> > (in fact I would characterize the anti-GNU/Linux position being
> > exactly that: people use the terminology they find convenient and
> > aren't too worried about exactness).
> I'm sure people who don't care could fit in this description.

Hello! This is exactly my point. Most people Do Not Care!

> But people who fight violently against GNU/Linux most often have some
> other agenda, and find all sorts of excuses to promote only Linux, in
> detriment of GNU and of the Free Software movement.

Not averyone who can't be bothered saying GNU/Linux is "violently
against" it. In fact I'm convinced the predominant sentiment is one of
indifference. Do not, however, make the mistake of assuming that
indifference about the name translates to indifference about Free
software in itself.

> > Replacing the kernel is not remotely on the same level as replacing
> > some random program,
> Agreed, see above.
> > and counting lines of code is no way to assign importance.
> Agreed as well, it's not the whole story.
> What criterium do you suggest instead?

Criterion (it's Greek, not Latin). My criterion: wherever possible, use
what people understand.


> >> > OTOH (and this is something I haven't raised before), what people in the
> >> > great majority *do* say is Linux, not GNU/Linux.
> >> Ad populum?  The great majority thinks Windows is part of the
> >> computer, but that so many people make this mistake doesn't make it
> >> right.
> > "The majority" means "the majority of people who *do* know what
> > these things are".
> I'm afraid this doesn't make it any less of an argumentum ad populum.

Yes, I have to confess that my argument that the dominant name is the
one that most people use is at root an ad populum one.

> That many people make the same mistake doesn't make it any less of a
> mistake.

And once again I repeat that it's not about being a mistake or not, it's
about what is used. This is like prescriptive arguments about grammer,
such as not splitting infinitives or ending sentences with prepositions.
In the end they always have to concede to descriptive formulae for what
people actually speak. This can take generations but the process is


I snipped the rest of your argument not because I disagree with it, but
because my purpose in making my original comment is getting lost. I am
not arguing the case for or against Free software, or the GPL, or
anything at all except for a) trying (fruitlessly it seems) to get some
consistency in the use of terminology, and b) making a sociological
comment on the dominance of one name over another.

That's all.


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