that old GNU/Linux argument

Alexandre Oliva aoliva at
Sun Jul 20 20:58:43 UTC 2008

On Jul 20, 2008, "Patrick O'Callaghan" <pocallaghan at> wrote:

> On Sat, 2008-07-19 at 17:02 -0300, Alexandre Oliva wrote:
>> On Jul 18, 2008, "Patrick O'Callaghan" <pocallaghan at> wrote:

>> > 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.

Heh.  Quite poor wording on my part, indeed.  I guess Freud would have
something to say about the power of myths.

FTR, I meant "complete" as "whole", and "incomplete" as "still
requiring development".  But it was funny to read it back after you
pointed out the apparent inconsistency :-)

Most components of the GNU operating system were already usable back
when Linux was released.  The whole wasn't, indeed.  What does that
mean to you?  Surely not that Linux is an operating system, right?

>> 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

On what grounds?  IOW, what makes that fair or reasonable?

> I could even call it Watermelon,

Sure, no objection.

> but I do believe language is for communication and a shared
> terminology is helpful in this regard.

So how about we try to find some kind of agreement between all the
people who use Linux to refer to such disparate things as a kernel,
and operating system and a kind of distribution, *and* those who use
Linux to refer to the kernel (like its author), GNU/Linux to refer to
the operating system (which both of their primary authors consider ok
and GNU/Linux-based to refer to distributions containing the GNU/Linux
operating system.

>> I'm sure people who don't care could fit in this description.

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

And if they *really*, *honestly* don't care, there's no legitimate
reason why they should object, right?

>> 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.

Agreed.  My focus is not on those who are violently against it.  I
regard those as lost causes.  My focus is on those who don't have a
mind set against it, that could welcome the notion of promoting
freedom, and that can believe that using a name that brings forth the
project created to bring people freedom can help in that.

> Do not, however, make the mistake of assuming that indifference
> about the name translates to indifference about Free software in
> itself.


>> What criterium do you suggest instead?

> Criterion (it's Greek, not Latin).

Uhh.  Thanks :-) (hey, just the other day I learned that criteria is
plural; thanks for helping me improving my English further.  honest)

> My criterion: wherever possible, use what people understand.

Most people wouuld understand GNU+Linux or GNU/Linux.  And in case
anyone misunderstands GNU+Linux, you can then explain the philosophy
behind the GNU project, and why it's harmful to this goal when all the
credit goes to Linux.  Sounds like a plus to me.

Alexandre Oliva
Free Software Evangelist  oliva@{,}
FSFLA Board Member       ¡Sé Libre! =>
Red Hat Compiler Engineer   aoliva@{,}

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