Creating an operating system with Linux but without GNU (was: Re: that old GNU/Linux argument)

Alexandre Oliva aoliva at
Tue Jul 29 17:28:46 UTC 2008

On Jul 28, 2008, Marko Vojinovic <vvmarko at> wrote:

> In the following paragraphs of that post, I used it to draw a silent 
> parallel to the whole Linux vs GNU/Linux discussion.

FWIW, classical/information doesn't make for such a parallel.  It's
not the classical on top of the information; classical is not a noun,
it's an adjective to information.  You'd just say "classical
information" and be done with it.  That's how the English language

Now, GNU/Linux or GNU+Linux is GNU on top of Linux, or GNU with Linux.
It's not the GNU version of Linux.  No such thing exists, although I
guess Linux-libre might be thought of as such.

To make the point clear, let's try a thought experiment.  Imagine that
some people are so fed up with "these threads" that they set out to
create an operating system built exclusively out of Free (Libre) and
Open Source software, but without any GNU software, to avoid any
claims GNUdists might have on it.

They're fond of Linux, for they helped write it, so they decide to use
it as a kernel.

They look around and see there are a number of BSD operating systems
out there, so they decide to use the BSD userland to complete the
operating system, taking bits and pieces from FreeBSD, OpenBSD and

It takes some effort to port the lower-level libraries, init scripts
and stuff, but eventually the thing boots up, runs a shell and it's
announced to the world, with pointers to BSD ports systems and many
pre-built ports of applications and servers that most people have come
to expect from typical distros.  Lucky for them, most of the ports
build without change.

Now, of course they can use whatever name they like to name the
distribution (they picked cRocks), but what term would you use to best
describe the operating system on which it is based?

a) non-GNU/Linux, because *that* will show those FSF bastards!

b) BSD/Linux, because that's what it is: BSD userland with Linux

c) cRocks, because that's the (funny) name of the distro, and this
makes for a great recursive definition: cRocks is a cRocks-based

d) BSD, because that's where most of the software came from, and it's
the most user-visible component

e) Linux, because I like this name so much, and I don't care that
Linux is just a kernel, a small piece of the puzzle.  I just want it
to be Linux, dammit, and you BSD people are full of sh*t, shut up and
go preach to your own choir, we're only interested in your software,
and it's your own fault that you expected us to be reasonable and
fair, rather than demanding in your license that we give you the due
credit!  :-)

f) Other, please specify: 

>> I do not see how not using GNU/Linux is a social injustice.  I disagree.

> Neither do I, but Alexandre is talking about it in a number of
> posts.

This is conflating two issues that are related, but not the same.

One thing is the social injustice promoted by non-Free Software.
That's what the Free Software movement, started along with the GNU
project, fights, with its ethical, moral and social values and its
approach in educating users to value their freedom and reject software
that doesn't respect it.

Another thing is the name.  Linux doesn't promote or endorse this
philosophy.  GNU does.  By naming the GNU system combined with Linux
as Linux, you promote only the philosophy that wants to hide the GNU
philosophy.  You do nothing to address the social injustice that the
GNU software was created to oppose, and you instead promote values
that accept and often go even as far as endorsing and recommending
software that is at the root of this social injustice.

OTOH, by referring to the OS as GNU/Linux, you help spread the Free
Software philosophy, such that more people become aware of it.  At
least some of them will identify themselves with these values, which
will ultimately help correct the social injustice.

Now, maybe there's some resemblance to this to your suggestion about
clearly labeling "classical information", but I don't see it.

Alexandre Oliva
Free Software Evangelist  oliva@{,}
FSFLA Board Member       ¡Sé Libre! =>
Red Hat Compiler Engineer   aoliva@{,}

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