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

Alexandre Oliva aoliva at redhat.com
Mon Jul 28 01:21:57 UTC 2008

On Jul 27, 2008, Marko Vojinovic <vvmarko at panet.co.yu> wrote:

> Memtest runs under the bios operating system.

Nope.  It does rely on probing and some BIOS configuration tables to
find out what it's running on, but that's about it.  No operating
system involved.

> No program runs without some sort of kernel, except the kernel
> itself.

That's just not true.  Have a look at all of the *-elf or *-coff
configurations available in the GNU toolchain.  Those are aimed at
creating applications for embedded targets without any operating
system whatsoever.  They run on bare hardware, *sometimes* with a
loader that enables arbitrary files to be loaded over say a serial
line or over NFS, *sometimes* configured to just start the program
stored on (P)ROM.

> And I hope we all agree that giving the name to a distro based on
> the bootloader is plain silly.

And why wouldn't naming the distro after the kernel be just as 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.

Most hypervisors are microkernels of their own (the exceptions being
full-fledged kernels).  Xen is slightly different from most in that,
even though it is a microkernel, it depends on and redirects to
another kernel that runs under it a lot of interaction with the
hardware.  All the kernels running under xen are under constraints
determined by xen, so they're not as special as they were before, but
this one kernel (called domain 0) is not as constrained, so it remains
a bit more special than the others.  But it definitely isn't just a

> As I said above, grub [...]  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).

Ok, this is a new criterion you've introduced.  It's a good one.

So, if we take out the kernel Linux, and put on another kernel, like
some have done, if you still get the same operating system, then Linux
also has "nothing specifically to do with the os or distro (except
that it is convenient to include it there and that it is GPL'ed)".

What other artifical exceptions and work-arounds are you going to have
to invent to make it seem like Linux deserves to be more relevant than
GNU in a distro?  Isn't that an indication of something about both
your intent and about the truth of what you're trying to dispute?

> 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,

Agreed.  Just like, if you remove all but Linux, you're left with a
different OS from this one we're talking about.  In fact, I said so
myself in the first message under this new subject, and you agreed
this wasn't a good measuring stick.

> So grub simply does not deserve its name in the name of the distro
> or the os.



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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