that old GNU/Linux argument

Tim ignored_mailbox at
Mon Jul 21 08:32:07 UTC 2008

On Sun, 2008-07-20 at 23:28 -0700, Gordon Messmer wrote:
> Language doesn't work that way.  If you speak, and your listener doesn't 
> understand you, then *you* are the one at fault.  There's no point in 
> speaking to others except for them to understand your meaning.  That is 
> why it is essential for us all to use words whose meanings are 
> consistent and specific.  Therefore, it is detrimental to refer to the 
> Linux kernel as "Linux", and the GNU+Linux operating sytem as "Linux", 
> and distributions of Free Software which run the GNU operating system as 
> "Linux".  How will anyone understand what you mean?

If you want to talk about understanding a term, you're arguing at
crossed purposes.

The majority will understand "Linux" as being an OS, the whole thing,
one of the many OS distros that are similar to each other (*), but not
understand it as referring to just the kernel.  If you said Linux
kernel, you might get them to understand you're referring to that small
part of the system.  It'll be a minority that understand what GNU/Linux
means (and even they can't agree with each other).

* Fedora, Ubuntu, Debian, CentOS, Red Hat, etc., which either
incorporate the word Linux into their name, or into the description of
themselves (whether that be as a "Linux-based" thing, or simply calling
themselves a Linux OS).  

Just try Googling Ubuntu Linux, or other distros, and you'll get pages
back from their own sites that describe themselves that way.  Or even
just Google "Linux", the first site listed ( describes it as
an OS, not a kernel.  Heck, even the kernel in Fedora isn't called
"linux" but "linuz" (ls /boot) or "kernel" (the RPM it comes from).

The distributions have been described as "Linux" for many years, it's
how the general public know of it.  There's no lack of understanding
when one person says to another that they use Linux.  They mean they use
an OS which has Linux at it's heart.  They only question they'll have is
"Which one?"

Programmers, on the other hand, have a different set of circumstances,
where terms mean specific things.  What programmers call things, and the
general public call the same thing, are often very different.  And,
quite frankly, if they're talking about something which is specific to a
specific kernel, then they're going to name it explicitly, right down to
version numbers.  Likewise, if it's specific to a release, they're going
to name that unambiguously, too.

The whole GNU/* thing smacks of sour grapes, though.  They're pissed
that someone else beat them to the punch in getting a working whole
system out and branding recognised before they did.

FSF, Stallman, et all, remind me of Greenpeace:  Appalling tactics for a
worthy cause.

If you want to make people call "Ubuntu," "Ubuntu GNU/Linux" instead of
"Ubuntu Linux," likewise for the rest of them, they need to go harass
the distributors, not the users.  Yes, various distributions do refer to
themselves as <something> Linux as well as just <something>.  One or two
people need to open their eyes.

[tim at localhost ~]$ uname -r

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