that old GNU/Linux argument

Les Mikesell lesmikesell at
Sun Jul 20 19:36:27 UTC 2008

Björn Persson 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"?

Generally "CentOS", since for the reasons I might have to talk about it, 
the distribution infrastructure and specific content choices are 
important, although I might mention "Fedora" to contrast the infrastructure.

> 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.

The only GNU-specific features that come to the top of my head are the 
-a option to cp (and I usually use rsync anyway where it would be 
useful) and the copious non-standard options to gnutar that sometimes 
turn out to be useful.  Are there others that really matter?  It would 
be nice to have a list to avoid in portable code and scripts.

> 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".

If you aren't distributing copies and thus having to pay attention to 
the associated source distribution obligation imposed by the GNU/GPL 
components there should be little reason to know or care about that 
layer of infrastructure or whether it has original unix roots or a bsd 
or gnu flavored clone.

   Les Mikesell
    lesmikesell at

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