that old GNU/Linux argument

Björn Persson listor3.rombobeorn at
Sun Jul 20 18:35:40 UTC 2008

Les Mikesell wrote:
> Linux has always been just a kernel.  But what you usually describe is a
> complete distribution.  

And when you talk about a complete distribution, do you call it "Linux" or do 
you call it "Fedora" or "CentOS" or "Slackware"?

> I can't recall ever having any reason to have a 
> name for a subset of a distribution that only included the GNU
> components and the kernel.  Can someone who uses this term explain the
> circumstances where it is useful?  This subset rarely/never exists by
> itself and it doesn't make much sense to name it, although you might
> need to talk about the kernel specifically or the complete distribution
> as a whole.

The application I work on in my job uses some Linux-specific features and some 
GNU-specific ones. It wouldn't be nearly as good if we'd use only POSIX 
interfaces. We could probably port it to one of the BSDs for example, and we 
might achieve similar performance there, but currently it requires GNU and 
Linux so it could be described as a GNU/Linux application.

But I mostly agree. I often make statements about Linux that have nothing to 
do with GNU, and then I say "Linux". I also often make statements about 
various GNU programs, and then I say "Bash" or "GCC" or "Emacs" or whatever. 
When I say something about a whole distribution, it's usually not true for 
all distributions, and then I say "Ubuntu" or "Gentoo" and so on.

But sometimes I want to say something about all distributions that are based 
on GNU and Linux. Then I call them "GNU/Linux-based distributions". If I 
wanted to include Debian GNU/Hurd and Debian GNU/kFreeBSD too, but not 
FreeBSD, NetBSD or OpenBSD, then I'd say "GNU-based distributions".

Björn Persson

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