that old GNU/Linux argument

Alexandre Oliva aoliva at
Tue Jul 22 05:53:56 UTC 2008

On Jul 21, 2008, Timothy Murphy <gayleard at> wrote:

> which was intended to run under Linux (or GNU/Linux, if you prefer).

Under Linux I'd say there's only firmware.  On Linux I'd say there's
pretty much only GNU libc.  On top of GNU libc, there are all those
applications intended to run on the GNU operating system, that some
people mistakenly refer to using the name of the kernel Linux.

> This was that the term "GNU operating system" which you used
> _is_ ambiguous to me.

This is an unfortunate effect of a very successful campaign of some
fanatics that wanted to push the goals of software freedom promoted by
the FSF to a back seat.  If they hadn't renamed the GNU operating
system after the kernel they ran it with, today you'd not only know
what it is, but you'd also know know far more about the history of
Free Software, its philosophy, and why you should care about your 4
essential freedoms.

> I genuinely do not know what you mean.

I'll take this is as a request for me to explain what it means.

Look at  You'll find a lot of software
there, that is all part of the GNU Operating System.  Follow the link
to The GNU System, in the README.  That page describes what the GNU
Operating System is.

Now look at the release annoucement of Linux.  See how Linux is
described as a kernel.  See how, up to this date, linux tarballs
published by its creator still amount to no more than a kernel.

The GNU project was started to create a complete Free operating
system.  The software written as part of the GNU project, as well as
the pre-existing software it was designed to work with, amounts to the
GNU operating system.

Linux, the kernel that Linus Torvalds announced back in 1991, and
released under a Free Software license in 1992, is one of the various
kernels that today can be used along with the GNU operating system,
but the variant of the GNU operating system in which Linux replaced
Hurd was the first complete Free operating system.

Some fanatics seem to think that it is appropriate to rename someone
else's project when they combine it with a comparatively much smaller
amount of code they wrote, but take offense when this someone else
asks his projects' name to be given at least equal mention, to spread
awareness about the reasons why he started it.

So, you see, the GNU operating system is what some people today call
Linux, including the fanatics mentioned above.

Linux is what many people, including its developers, some of which are
the fanatics above, feel the need to qualify as Linux kernel.

The combination of the GNU operating system with various different
kernels (instead of its own) forms various other complete operating
systems such as GNU/Linux, GNU/kFreeBSD, GNU/kOpenSolaris.  In all
cases, GNU is at least an order of magnitude larger than the kernel
combined with it, and it's the core that supports all applications,
both those that are part of the operating system and those that
aren't, and interfaces them with the kernel when needed.

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

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