that old GNU/Linux argument

Marko Vojinovic vvmarko at
Thu Jul 24 21:50:42 UTC 2008

On Thursday 24 July 2008 20:11, Alexandre Oliva wrote:
> On Jul 24, 2008, Marko Vojinovic <vvmarko at> wrote:
> > Under the hood there is the Linux engine,
> >
> > But tell me, what is in principle The Single Most Important element
> > of the car? There is only one answer --- the engine.
> So, what remains to be justified is why you decided Linux is the
> engine rather than say one of the tires.  You present no evidence
> whatsoever to support this decision, and it seems entirely arbitrary,
> bordering circular logic.  IOW, you arbitrarily chose the elements in
> the analogy, without any backing whatsoever, in such a way that they
> would support the conclusion you wanted to arrive at.  That's called a
> false analogy.  It's caused by circular reasoning.  Unless you have
> reasons to support the parallel, that is.  Please share.

Ok, well... :-)

As far as I know, the purpose of a kernel is to abstract the hardware layer 
from the userspace software (this is of course an oversimplification, but I 
believe it is sufficient for making the parallel). In other words, userspace 
program communicates to the kernel, and the kernel "does the essential 
work" (actually, it communicates further to the hardware that does the actual 
work, but that is abstracted out). The parallel is simple --- the car engine 
is also the one "doing the essential work" (converting fuel to mechanical --- 
ie. usable --- energy).

But just to make sure that you do not misinterpret the above parallel, let me 
elaborate a bit on the importance of the kernel itself. Consider a simple 
situation --- take a Fedora distro, and remove all GNU utilities. The system 
will lose much of its functionality, but not all. Some hypothetical userspace 
program could still be able to communicate to the kernel and do some useful 
work. However minimal, *some* functionality still remains (at least I expect 
it to). Next take a Fedora distro, and remove the kernel. The system becomes 
completely unusable. Its functionality is *strictly equal* to zero. No 
userspace program can work. This means that the kernel is qualitatively more 
essential piece of the os than the GNU utilities. The same is with the car 
engine --- given a car, remove the transmission, clutch, wheels, whatever. 
The car is broken, but you can still turn the engine on and convert fuel to 
mechanical energy, ie. do some work that can in principle be used (for 
example, to feed the alternator to produce electric current for the Amarok 
radio receiver). But then take the car and remove the engine --- the whole 
car becomes completely useless, you have no way of converting fuel to 
anything useful. Thus, the engine is conceptually more important than any 
other part of the car. That is the motive for the parallel between the kernel 
and the engine --- level of essentiallity and purpose of both are the same.

Without the engine, the car loses its *meaning*, its purpose is undefined, 
while without any other part it is broken, but still makes sense.

Without the kernel, the distro loses its *meaning*, ceases to exist, while 
without any other part it is broken, but still makes sense.

That is why I consider the kernel to be more important than other pieces of an 
os or a distro in general.

Best, :-)

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