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

Marko Vojinovic vvmarko at panet.co.yu
Sun Jul 27 14:02:55 UTC 2008

On Sunday 27 July 2008 03:40, Alexandre Oliva wrote:
> On Jul 26, 2008, Marko Vojinovic <vvmarko at panet.co.yu> wrote:
> > 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.

I don't understand what you mean by "real mode". Memtest runs under the bios 
operating system. The fact that it is a part of a distro and being invoked by 
grub is just a matter of convenience. No program runs without some sort of 
kernel, except the kernel itself. This kernel might be the Linux one, the 
Windows one, the bios, or other.

Also for grub itself. It is an application that runs under bios. It's main 
purpose is to load some other, more sophisticated kernel, that, once running, 
eliminates the need for both bios and grub. So you cannot exactely consider 
grub to be a part that defines an os. First, it is an application that runs 
under some other os. Second, it can boot multiple operating systems, it is 
not specific to just one. Third, it is just of temporary use, like the bios.

I agree that grub is as essential as the Linux kernel according to my 
measuring stick (that is why I mentioned it in the first place), but it is 
eliminated from the contest on other grounds. And I hope we all agree that 
giving the name to a distro based on the bootloader is plain silly.

> 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?

I am not very familiar with the working of xen, but it looks just like an 
additional step to booting the kernel. Even grub itself has stages. Or is the 
xen also the full kernel (in the sense that it abstracts the hardware from 
the virtual machine)? In that case, it is an alternative to the Linux kernel. 
Like Windows is, for example. Can you run Windows in a virutal machine under 
xen, without even installing the Linux kernel on a machine? If yes, then it 
is just yet another alternative kernel. If no, then I can argue that it is 
not at all essential by my measuring stick, because I can successfully run 
the whole distro without it.

> 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.

As I said above, grub is simply an application running under *another* 
operating system (the bios). It can be considered essential to *any* os 
(except the bios itself). It has nothing specifically to do with the 
[GNU/]Linux os or distro (except that it is convinient to include it there 
and that it is GPL'ed). If you remove the whole distro, including the kernel, 
you are left with the bios and its applications (grub, memtest, etc.). That 
is a *different* os, it has nothing to do with Linux or Fedora (except that 
some apps are included in the package, for convenience). So grub simply does 
not deserve its name in the name of the distro or the os.

Best, :-)

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