a long rebuttal to the Linux-is-the-engine fallacy

Alexandre Oliva aoliva at redhat.com
Sun Jul 27 03:40:20 UTC 2008

On Jul 26, 2008, Marko Vojinovic <vvmarko at panet.co.yu> wrote:

> The bootloader, although completely crucial, is a fairly simple
> piece of code (compared to the kernel or any other serious part of
> the system).

Like Linux is a fairly simple piece of code, compared with GNU.

> (no offence to the grub developers :-) )

> But the system without a kernel has *precisely zero* usability.

Yet you provided and cited the counter-example yourself: the boot
loader required to load the kernel, and that actually provides some
usability, including the ability to load a fully-functional program
such as memtest86+, that runs without a kernel and is also included in
the distribution.  You could get many other useful programs that run
in "real mode" started from grub.  Linux happens to be just one of
them.  Even Fedora includes yet another, called xen.  And then xen
starts Linux.  Why is the xen virtual machine monitor not more
essential than Linux, per your proposed measuring stick?

So we have three programs that work without the kernel Linux, one of
which is essential (in the distro) to get the kernel running.  This
one seems to meet your criterion of "most important component of the
distro" better than Linux, so, going by it, we'd have to say Fedora is
a grub-based distribution, and itis the grub operating system.

But, wait...  Last I looked, its name was GNU grub.

So, even going by your own selected criterion, the one single
component that is most essential to the system is GNU software, part
of the GNU operating system.

And if you can wave it away by claiming it's much smaller and simpler
than Linux and mostly useless by itself, then, again, by the same
criterion you proposed, we can wave Linux away by claiming it's much
smaller and simpler than GNU, and as you recognized yourself, it's
also mostly useless by itself.

> And this measuring stick (although imperfect) works, and as a result gives 
> some notion of "importance level" for the kernel vs the rest.

Just because, just like in the faulty measuring stick for the most
defining component I proposed as an exercise, you stopped applying the
criterion when you found the answer you were looking for, rather than
taking it to its ultimate consequences.  (In all fairness, you did
apply the first criterion to wave grub away as the most essential
component, but then failed to apply it back to Linux)

>> whatever.

> Oh, you forgot the "squirrel in a barrel" type of drive. ;-) And the pedals, 
> (like on a bycicle), or barefooted drive (as in Flinstones). :-)

s/whatever/*/ :-)

> But this conversion is the essential part of the process of "driving to 
> places".

No dispute here.  The dispute is on why that is more essential than
anything else in the process.

> See above. Without the engine, it is completely impossible to do something 
> useful with the car.

How about electrical cars?  Or Flintstones' cars? :-)

>> Now...  Would anyone still recognize that as this system we're talking
>> about, that people mistakenly call Linux?  Would a kid on Jurassic
>> Park, looking at such a system, shout "hey, that's Linux!"?  I doubt
>> it.

> Recognition is irrelevant. It *would be* Linux, because of the kernel used.

Right, such a single-static-program-running-on-Linux scenario could
indeed be qualified as a Linux system.  I said so myself.

And, by the same reasoning, any typical GNU+Linux distro would just as
well be GNU, because of the userland used, right?

> 1) based on the amount of "essentiality" of given components, ie. how much of 
> a working system is left if a component is removed --- the winner here is the 
> kernel (with grub as a side-effect), and the distro name is "Fedora Linux";

Unless you revise your proposed criterion, this would actually lead to
Fedora GNU GRUB.

Alexandre Oliva         http://www.lsd.ic.unicamp.br/~oliva/
Free Software Evangelist  oliva@{lsd.ic.unicamp.br, gnu.org}
FSFLA Board Member       ¡Sé Libre! => http://www.fsfla.org/
Red Hat Compiler Engineer   aoliva@{redhat.com, gcc.gnu.org}

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