that old GNU/Linux argument

Gordon Messmer yinyang at
Fri Jul 25 07:56:31 UTC 2008

Marko Vojinovic wrote:
> On Thursday 24 July 2008 18:03, Gordon Messmer wrote:
>> but did you just say that you have an 
>> entirely uninformed opinion that you'd like to contribute?
> No no no, I said that I am uninformed about the *history* of the two projects 
> (except some rudimentary information, most of which I actually read in this 
> very thread). I did not say that I am completely uninformed. The point is 
> that my argument is independent of knowledge of that history, so I claim to 
> have a legitimate opinion regardless of my ignorance for history of GNU and 
> Linux. I presented it in a form of analogy because it is the easiest way for 
> others to understand the essence of the argument.

I think that some knowledge of history would probably change your 
perspective, and is certainly relevant to the conversation.

>>> Long version. Let me describe a simplified analogy.
>> Because the only thing better than an uninformed opinion is one argued
>> by analogy!
> I don't understand your comment. Are you saying that using an analogy is a bad 
> way to present an opinion? Why?

An analogy is a fine way to clarify subject matter that someone doesn't 
understand, but it's an illustration, not an argument.  You're free to 
*use* an analogy as an argument, but it's very weak grounds.

>>> But tell me, what is in principle
>>> The Single Most Important element of the car? There is only one answer
>>> --- the engine. That is why the Fedora factory included the name Linux in
>>> the full name of the model.
>> Here's what I want you to do:  Go out to your nearest Harley Davidson
>> dealer and take a good look at the new Rocker C.  It's beautiful.  Then
>> turn around and look at the Buell bikes across the isle.  The engine is
>> largely the same, but people don't refer to Buell bikes as Harleys.
> I am sorry, but I don't live in the part of the world where one can find a 
> Harley Davidson dealer easily, so I have to miss the beauty.

That's a shame. :)

> Nevertheless, I 
> understand that Harley and Buell are two bike manufacturers, like Fedora and 
> SuSE are two distros. If both Harley and Buell use the same engine for their 
> bikes, than I suspect that performances of both are quite similar, and that 
> essentialy it is the same machine, just with different wheels, brakes and 
> design details, along with the name of the brand. But it seems that neither 
> Harley nor Buell give appropriate respect to whoever manufactured the engine 
> for them, which is unfortunate.
> Btw, do both companies really use the same engine for their bikes (off-topic, 
> but now that you have mentioned it, I became curious)?

Yes.  Harley Davidson manufactures the engines.  Buell has been using 
them for years, and eventually became a subsidiary of HD.

You argued that the automotive industry names their cars for their 
engine, but I just don't see it.  GM puts the same engine in Chevy, 
Pontiac, and Saturn cars, but do you know which ones?  I suspect not.

Similarly, Windows is an operating system that people do not call 
kernel32.dll.  Mac OS X is an operating system that people don't call 
XNU.  GNU is an operating system that people inaccurately call Linux. 
The kernel is Linux.  The operating system is GNU.

>>> Automotive industry is not the sole example for the analogy. This is
>>> general in lots of aspects of human society --- the analogy can be pushed
>>> all the way to religions: Christianity is a religion named after its
>>> founder, Jesus Christ.
>> And who began the Free Software movement?
> RMS? (I hope to know at least that much history.) So what about it? I see no 
> point here?

The point is that RMS and GNU began creating an operating system, piece 
by piece, long before Linus began work on his kernel.  It was 
significantly easier to start at the top and work down than to work the 
other way around.  Thus, user applications were written before the kernel.

> Well, from my (freshman's) point of view, it was big and professional, but 
> incompetent to produce the equivalent of 4 months work of a single computer 
> science student in Helsinki.

Engineering is often like that.  Quick and dirty ends up beating out 
better engineered designs.

> Let me make another analogy. Persons A and B are running a marathon on the 
> Olympic games. Incidentally, person B is also professionally involved in 
> athletic shoe design, and also gives those hi-tech shoes to all contestants 
> in a marathon to wear if they like.

This analogy bears even less similarity to the situation than your 
previous one did, and you haven't given any reasonable argument for why 
the OS as a whole should be named after the kernel.

> In other words, kernel is qualitatively more important than all other 
> utilities that are used in conjuction. GNU did make all those utilities, but 
> failed to make the most important part.

Whoa, there.  Is that what you think GNU is, a bunch of utilities? 
Hardly.  The GNU system is developed as separate projects, but the 
operating system isn't a mere aggregation of them.  The operating system 
is a whole that provides the services and interfaces that applications 
require to run.  That's vastly more than a kernel.

More information about the fedora-list mailing list