Sunday, August 19, 2007

Why I refuse to call it GNU/Linux

When listening to others talk about GNU/Linux it always strikes me as odd the argument that is used. That the Linux kernel was made usable by the marriage of the GNU tool set to it so therefor it should be called GNU/Linux as it is a blending of the two and Linux is only the kernel. On the face of it this argument makes sense ... if one doesn't think about it too deeply.

There are however a few things I would like to point out. The GNU tools are released under the GPL, which does not carry a branding clause. This means in effect I can take those tools, do nothing at all to them, and rename them. Henceforth I can call them the 'Azerthoth Tool set and Compiling modules' and there is not a thing that can be done about it legally. Making that change stick in the eyes of the public, odds probably arent that good. As long as I don't change the license though, all I really have to worry about are the purists and Stallmanites flaming me into oblivion.

The next reason, and in my mind the compelling reason I refuse the GNU/Linux name, my car. Did that stop you for a second making you ask yourself where THAT connection came from? Let me explain then. Lets take my Mercury Cougar for example. Thats easy, Mercury makes a car that I bought, and the model name for that car is Cougar. I have never, and neither have you called it a John/Cougar, even though John might be the name of the guy who designed it. How about a Delco/Cougar because I have a Delco alternator in it that supplies power for the electrical system. A Chevron/Cougar because of the gas I use to give it motive force? Do you see what I am getting at? All of these things are part of a complex and integrated system, however they are NEVER named specifically. The same holds true with nearly every item you have ever acquired.

But, but, but, the GPL is what makes Linux ... well ... Linux, shouldn't we acknowledge that? Um, NO, we should not have to, nor should we be forced to tolerate those who would make us think so. If contribution to the underlying abilities of Linux made that sort of branding logical then should we not also be correct in calling it Morton/Linux or Tridgell/Linux perhaps Ingo/Linux or Stallman/Linux. It is all about a whole bunch of complex pieces coming together in one place at one time to make something that just works. All the pieces are needed to make it happen, and picking out just one single piece to give additional credit to in the complex amalgam that is otherwise known as Linux is just plain silly. Kind of like Frankenstein's monster, a bit from here and a bit from there and a bit from somewhere else. Stuff it into a case, apply electricity, and viola.

I have said my piece on the matter, coherently I hope. All that remains now is to bid you all ado for the moment and await the flaming that I am sure is coming. I did knowingly and willingly step on Saint Stallman, and in the community that surrounds Linux, that is one of the “Shall Not's”. Let's hope that my new asbestos undies are up to the challenge.

have fun till next time.


Dani said...

By your reasoning, the whole system should be called GNU system, because Linux is only the kernel. Isn't logical to give the whole system the name of a small part of it.

Patrick said...

I have to agree...with Dani.

I believe I understand your reasoning, and my Toyota Camry is just called 'the Camry', and the Toyota Corolla is just called 'the Corolla'.

However, they also have badges on them, and the company is called Toyota.

I have sympathy for Richard Stallman's argument, I just think that it's a lost cause.

Until recently in Australia, 'fulsome praise' was damning praise. A year or two ago the Prime Minister and others began using it to mean something positive. Now, in the general community, the meaning has stuck.

I don't the fact that the real meaning has been distorted.

RMS is fighting a losing battle, but good on him for keeping up the fight.

JeffH0821 said...

I think the previous posters did not correctly follow the logic of the argument. The article is specifically arguing AGAINST branding a system with the tags of the individual parts. Calling distributions by their developed name (ie. Ubuntu Feisty, Debian Etch, Fedora Core #, RHEL #, etc...) makes much more sense than naming them by their individual package names and licenses. Could you imagine calling Ubuntu the Ubuntu GNU GNOME Ekiga GIMP BitTorrent Mozilla OpenOffice ... ... Linux - Feisty distribution? Take note that not all those packages are licensed under the GPL either - so the GNU system would not work in this case.

Good article. This is what the open source community needs. Less evangelism and more common sense.

BSS said...

When people ask me what I'm running, I always respond with "Linux"...why is this. Simple. I'm running a Linux kernel. What version it is doesn't matter (Debian, Ubuntu, Slackware, etc.). What utilities make it a user friendly system don't matter (GNU). If i'm running Microsoft Windows XP...i say "Windows"...doesn't matter what version (vista, 98, etc.). It's a windows kernel. I think this is pretty self explanatory. I'm not even going to go into Apple's stuff. Why? Because I have some self respect and I know how to work a computer. Hahaha tools hahaha

larrydag said...

I have to agree with bss. Branding is very ingrained in our culture today. We should not lose sight of the original designer as Az pointed out in the article.

Great post Az. Continue on with the common sense.

C. Conrad said...

I run GNOME on my computer. What is GNU? What is Linux?

If you had to pick one moniker based on the lines of code involved, wouldn't the system be called GNU?

Azerthoth said...

Thanks guys, a better response so far than I had hoped for. I think dani actually got the point to, after reading that comment a few times it seems more intentionally obtuse.

However to answer, GNU extends beyond Linux, Linux on the other hand only includes the parts that are specifically specifically desired.

James said...

> By your reasoning, the whole system should be called GNU system, because Linux is only the kernel. Isn't logical to give the whole system the name of a small part of it.

I believe that the X11 code is far larger than the GNU code in most Linux systems, so by your argument, it should be called MIT/GNU/Linux.

The kernel is the most important part of any Linux system, and defines it as a "Linux" system.

No one with any sense ignores the contribution that RMS and the GNU code has made, but calling the system GNU/Linux is simply silly when calling it Linux will suffice.

As for the car analogy: My car (a Toyota Yaris) is called simply Ruby. My Linux system is called simply Tanelorn (, fot those interested).

Bojan Sudarević said...


Please, do talk about Apple. You don't call their OS by the name of its kernel (XNU), don't you?

Inhibit said...

I've gotta agree with the post on this one. I tend to call items by their commercial name because it's a convenient point of reference.

In this case, referring to a handful of branded distributions collectively as "Linux" gets the job done and is accepted by the majority of people I talk to. Hence it gets my meaning across better.

I'd no more call it "GNU/Linux" than I would "KDE/Linux". Linux is the popular name for the OS release as a whole, therefore that's what I'll use.

------------------------------------- said...

The problem is simply that it's inaccurate and makes it easier for certain people to spread FUD.

For instance, to say "linux is an alternative operating system to Windows" is, aside from being technically wrong, unhelpful for a user considering making the switch.

Or, when Microsoft did some test and found that Windows did better on old hardware than Linux. Such statements are meaningless, but because we all rally around this completely fictional operating system called "Linux" it leaves the community open to such easy shots.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying we have to call it GNU/Linux because that doesn't really help either. But Ubuntu, Fedora and Suse are operating systems in the way that is commonly understood. These can be described as being Linux and GNU based, but that information is generally useless to the average user.

So, if anything, I say "drop the GNU" AND "drop the Linux" because neither are relevant to the average user.

Wilder Konschak said...

If your object is to communicate and reach people, you will call something by whatever name the largest number of listeners will recognize. To continue the car example, if you have a Toyota Yaris, and someone asks what car you have, you might start by saying "a Yaris," and then, if they don't recognize that, say, "It's a Toyota." You might then go so far as to say, "It's a foreign car. A compact sedan."

On a computer, you might say, "I run Vista," or "OSX," and might clarify by saying "Windows," or "Mac." You might even go further and say, "Microsoft" or "Apple." That's the way that marketing and tradition has branded these objects, and they are the way people communicate -- they add clarity by going from specific to general, hoping to reach a common reference.

GNU/Linux doesn't help because GNU is an inside-baseball phrase. In reality, you would say, "Red Hat" or "Ubuntu" and then clarify with "Linux." At the worst, you might further clarify by saying "Open Source" or "Free." But not GNU. Because no one outside the GNU/Linux world knows what that is! It's bad branding, it's bad communication. It keeps people out, instead of bringing them in. Linux is familiar. It has penetrated. Non-computer people have heard of it, even if they don't know what it is. It's bad strategy and frankly, kind of pretentious, to muck it up.

Laika said...

"But, but, but, the GPL is what makes Linux ... well ... Linux, shouldn't we acknowledge that?"

Actually, I think we should. The GPL is the guiding spirit behind the open source technology, it defines this technology and keeps it protected. Just ask Linus Torvalds why Linux is better than FreeBSD. He'll tell you that the main advantage of Linux is that GPL (v2) encourages developers to contribute back in a way that the BSD license doesn't. Sometimes people talk about the "open source development model" while, in fact, it's the GPL that defined the rules of that development model in the first place and it's also what keeps that development model still relevant.

And what does GPL stand for? Quite right, it stands for the GNU General Public License. The GPL alone is a good enough reason for me to call the operating system "GNU/Linux" rather than just plain "Linux".

Zane said...

I call my OPERATING SYSTEM, Ubuntu. Why? What is an OS any way? An Operating System is a platform or infrastructure for software to develop on top of. That includes the kernel, basic utilities, X, GTK, Icons, every thing else needed for making a program like Firefox.
If my only choices were to call it Linux or GNU/Linux, i would call it Linux. Here's why, the Linux kernel provides an infrastructure to develop drivers for, the GNU Utilities on the other hand can't be build on top of.

Ronald said...


"the GNU Utilities on the other hand can't be build on top of."

GCC. Nuff said.

Steve said...


I just call mine "Ubuntu".

I'd no more call it GNU/Linux than I'd call Microsoft's Operating System NT/Windows.

Jason said...

"But, but, but, the GPL is what makes Linux"

As the previous poster also pointed out, no, it was GCC and other GPL release software.

And yeah, people don't just call it a Focus. They call it a Ford Focus.

While I really don't care what you call it, who are you to pass judgement on what to name things? Nobody, that's who.

RonH said...

Well I think that Linus's kernel (linux) is one way to make the GNU userland and toolchain useable.. therefore you must call it LINUX/GNU or just Linux for short.


foss4mylang said...

At the end of the day, what matters is which name do people easily recognize when said, and the answer in this case is Linux, just Linux. When you ask some one what OS they are using in their computer, it is Windows, sometimes accompanied by XP or Vista, or Linux sometimes along with Fedora, Ubuntu or Debian.

When we call it GNU/Linux, people might think it is a variation of Linux OS rather than understand the GNU/ part of it, because they are least knowledged about it. Though the argument can be that we can explain them what the GNU is, but most times they are least bothered to hear explanations.

Coming to the argument that GNU/Linux signifies that the OS is under GPL license, but is the Linux OS under any other license ? Linux is under GPL and there is no second thought. So, when we say Linux it means GPL and nothing else.
This doesn't mean that we are neglecting the benefits we obtained out of GPL or GNU, but rather this means that GNU GPL and Linux are inseparable that we call it simply as Linux.

Justin said...

How about this... everyone call it whatever they want as long as everyone realizes that a modern Linux system is the result of many years of work done by thousands of people for many different projects. I think that's the only reason it is sometimes referred to as GNU/Linux anyway, to give a tip of the hat to the GNU guys for their work to help create a usable operating system using the Linux kernel.

Hank said...

"Kind of like Frankenstein's monster, a bit from here and a bit from there and a bit from somewhere else. Stuff it into a case, apply electricity, and viola."

Frankenstein had a viola?

Maybe you meant voila...

wajiw said...

this blog is awesome!

after reading this you made me realize that instead of calling this Azerblog. since it's not copyrighted, I can copy it and call it Douche Blog and you can't do a legal thing about it. Woo hoo.

I'm sick of people trying to draw attention to themselves because they want to be anti-something. You don't have an argument. The Linux kernel gives hardware access to the GNU tool set, and the GNU tool set gives the user-space access to the kernel and hardware.

Yeah you can copy it and say it's yours, but you didn't make it. And the people that did make it called it GNU.

Why do you have to bash something that someone worked so you can have have it for free? People that have no respect for what other people have done for them make me sick.

bmartin said...

"Actually, I think we should. The GPL is the guiding spirit behind the open source technology."

That's ridiculous. The GPL is not a spirit. It's nothing more than a license. Now go sit in a corner and cry.

"I call my OPERATING SYSTEM, Ubuntu."

Case in point: TiVo runs on the Linux kernel. No one ever complains about the fact that TiVo doesn't broadcast this information to the point where everyone knows about it. Who cares? It's not referred to as a DVR/Linux.

A truly enlightened user calls their OS by its name (in this case, Ubuntu). Anyone who really wants to know about Ubuntu can easily find out it's a "kind of Linux", and anyone who really wants to know about how Linux works will inevitably come across GNU. Try looking up Linux in Wikipedia.

Anonymous said...

I have been asked a zillion times, "I want to learn linux", "do you know how to install on linux".

Not once have I been able to give a satisfactory answer.

My point is simple. Call it Ubuntu, call it Suse. Call it Gentoo. Call is LFS. If you really are worrying about end users, then do not call it Linux, it makes no sense.

And by the way, GNU toolchain is FAR more important. Just look at the number of systems it is used on (Hint: 49).

When someone asks you what you are running, when you say "Linux" you are not only RMS-wrong, you are factually wrong. It helps no one except make you look like a überleet who "knows linux".

And comparison with Windows is dead wrong. Linux kernel does not follow a similar release cycle. When some one asks you which Windows, you say, XP, or 95 or Vista. When some one asks you which Linux are you running, do you say 2.6.11 vanilla? If not then you are factually wrong. If by god's grace someday Hurd is released, who knows your favorite distro will replace it with Linux? Will your answer change then? (Hint: no)

It is just a matter of being correct.

Now you may go ahead and call it Linux whole your life. I have no problem with that. The world is not "correct" or something, and majority people ARE not correct most of the time anyway. Just don't give false logic. You do not need to have any logic for what you should call it. Leave it for those to whom it matters.

And by the way, adding GNU is nothing important, as already said. It is a marketing issue from RMS, and he is not good at marketing.

Sean said...

Honestly, who gives a flying fuck?

Bling Blogger said...

This is the stupist thing to argue about.

Just call it GNU/Linux because that's what the two guys who made it wanted to call their programs which make up GNU/Linux. We call Windows Windows because that's what Bill Gates wanted to call it and we get Mac Os X Tiger because that's what Steve Jobs want's to call it.

And to who gives a flying fuck. Richard Stallman gives a flying fuck or two. I've personally had him explain why he demands it becalled GNU/Linux. And he does mind Linux taking all the intellectual property credit that is behind the GNU/Linux project since most people know Linux, but they don't know GNU and therefore never hear about GPL.

Preston said...

@ wajiw:

You obviously know very little about copyright protection.

From Wikipedia:
"In the United States, copyright has been made automatic (in the style of the Berne Convention) since March 1, 1989, which has had the effect of making it appear to be more like a property right. Thus, as with some forms of personal property, a copyright need not be granted or obtained through official registration with any government office. Once an idea has been reduced to tangible form, for example by securing it in a fixed medium (such as a drawing, sheet music, photograph, a videotape or a letter), the copyright holder is entitled to enforce his or her exclusive rights."

So just... don't speak ever again.

Christopher said...

I believe you're maybe misunderstanding the main point behind calling it GNU/Linux. It's because the GNU OS is still being built, and that includes the GNU kernel, which is called Herd (not Linux). GNU/Linux is used to specify that the kernel is *not* part of the GNU OS, but rather a conveniently used kernel made by a third party.

Put it this way, when GNU/Herd is finally a stable and mature release, would it make much sense to call it Linux? Sure, you could probably technically call it linux, but aside from the unix-like similarities in filesystem organization, you'd be pretty far off base in calilng it what it is.

And anyway, you really should just refer to OS's on a specific level. Distros like Ubuntu, gentoo, and OpenSolaris are drastically different enough, aside from an underlying kernel, that umbrella-ing them all as "Linux" is kinda like believing "I use a GUI" is a specific and accurate description. And anyway, when talking to your average person, they won't know what linux is anyway and "gentoo" or "symphony" sound sexier.

Chris Carter said...

He wants you to call it GNU/Linux because he still thinks the Hurd might come....after 19 years.

kwilliam said...

Arguing about the name is stupid. You might as well argue that America should be renamed Columbus/America, because all Amerigo Vespucci did was recognized the land as a "new" continent; he couldn't have done that if Columbus hadn't discovered it first. And then, true history buffs will complain that it's not called Ericson/America because Leif Ericson discovered America long before Christopher Columbus did. (And Linux was inspired by Minix.)

Face it, only a small few think "Linux" refers only to a kernel. To the rest of us, "Linux" is the catch-all posterchild word for "open source operating system and software".

Regarding "Hurd": Linux distros call themselves "Linux". BSD distros call themselves "BSD". Hurd distros can call themselves "Hurd". That has nothing to do with the GNU/Linux argument.

wajiw said...

Preston good job proving me wrong. I'm sure my credibility is crushed because I was wrong mocking someone. Oh damn!

Thanks for your post, even though you trying to be an ass you helped to prove my point. That part of what I wrote doesn't matter. It's a stupid argument, and I meant it to be. I didn't do my research on it the same as anyone else in this blog. Call GNU/Linux whatever you want, but it is what it is and calling it something else doesn't change where it came from. Just stop using this as a way to draw attention to yourself because you want to be 'that guy'. It's all just bullshit.

ryanm2215 said...

i don't find common sense or logical reasoning/conclusions in this blog posting, sorry.

Call your system what you want, it's your right.

If your appreciative of your ability to use the linux kernel as many do, call it gnu/linux, since without the gnu project and the snowball of free software culture stallman started rolling with his own two hands decades ago, we wouldn't have the epcot dome sized runaway success high level katamari ball of freedom we do today, and hopefully will for years to come.

anonymous coward said...

would not hurt to learn by reading about why there is a gnu/linux and a gnu/hurd, but I will make the effort to show you why reading is better than just socializing:

"The GNU Project was launched in 1984 to develop a complete Unix-like operating system which is free software: the GNU system. Variants of the GNU operating system, which use the kernel called Linux, are now widely used; though these systems are often referred to as “Linux”, they are more accurately called GNU/Linux systems."

Now, show me an operating system called "Linux" and I bow and worship you.
Tell me Ubuntu, Gentoo, Debian, are not what they are but they are just Linux Operating Systems with disguised names.. and I will give up.

Ian said...

I just call it Linux because it's faster to say...

Ian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Clint Brothers said...

We should just call it UBUNTU since thats the highest on distrowatch, or just call it by Distro, no wait maybe by the package management since that's an even larger part of a whole system.

T D said...

"I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!" - Mugatu
Did anyone actually read the proposed connections? Mercury Cougar becomes John/Cougar? Did I miss something or was he discussing calling it Stallman/Linux or Fox/Linux, no looks like thats later on. Next up was Delco/Cougar which is sort of near the point except when did Linux become a model name? Isn't it just a core component of the whole OS? More like the engine or the chassis then the whole car, like how Dodge does with the Cummins diesel engines? What's Linux without bash or X? When it comes down to it the Linux kernel isn't really an OS the way Mac OS X or Windows is and maybe thats why Linus didn't call it Linux OS when he released it, because it was the mating of these that created the original OS. Yes "all of these items are part of a complex and integrated system" and when Linux was first released, less so now, there were TWO major parts to that system: the GNU software library and the Linux kernel. Car comparison doesn't really work with the problem at hand because none of these represent the combing of two products or more a suite of products and a product. But I've got one that I think more or less covers things: Shelby Mustang. But moving on it seems the author of this piece is still missing the point by talking about individual contributions and not looking at the bigger picture. The linux by itself that Linus created was more or less useless and you would never have heard of it had it not been for it's ability to run the GNU tools. That was the difference between it being a kernel and an OS is when it could actually do something for the user. And that is why you should call it either >Insert Flavor< Linux or more generally GNU/Linux because at this point most of us are running a specific Linux, put out by a specific group of people. So to say I'm running Debian Linux would be accurate as saying I drive a Mercury Cougar, because if I said I drive a Cougar and that name was used by every automaker on the planet it would be about as accurate as saying I drive a car rather then a motorcycle. But me I'm no stickler, if you just call it Linux I'll know what you're talking about (I'll know that it's got a Linux kernel in there) and won't even notice, because I definitely won't blog about reasons not to call it GNU/Linux when there aren't any good ones.

Rick Miller said...

I'm one of the "pioneers of Linux" (see /usr/src/linux/CREDITS for "Rick Miller").

There are a few reason that I don't call it GNU/Linux.

1.) The FSF/GNU folk didn't invent the GNU utilities. "cat", "grep", "find", etc. were all UNIX(tm) utilities, which the GNU tools were cloned from to give us a freely distributable version. That's good, but it's not like the GNU people invented them.

2.) The FSF/GNU team had their own "operating system", the GNU Hurd. It was based on a non-free microkernel, it took for-friggin-ever before it was even bootable, and even today nobody uses it. They were too snobby for Linux. The Hurd was going to be so much better, someday they said.

3.) Richard Stallman is an egomaniac. All information of any kind, according to him, should be free... but you can't have the stuff unless you pay homage to him.

I didn't volunteer to help the FSF. They were doing their own thing.

I volunteered to help out with "Linux", and that's what I call it.

nxt said...

I agree - trying to call it GNU/Linux is more of ego question that Richard Stallman has. I can't really blame him - most of the system is GNU and Linux is just a kernel - yet it is called "Linux" a name derived from Linus Torvalds kernel (Linus + Unix = Linux).

However this all comes down to the fact, that GNU is really wierd brand name, while linux goes down quite smooth. At the end it always comes down to the one, people feel more comfortable using - and there's very little any one can do about that.

Andrew Muller said...

Branding denotes the title given by the current entitled owner for the purpose of identity, marketting and such matters. It has no deep meaning or purpose.

Microsoft for example did not develop MS-DOS. It was acquired by Microsoft from Seattle Computers and licensed to IBM. Windows itself was a GUI up until NT when they started to implement the underlying OS themselves.

Car Manufacturer often license products. We had Nissan designed and Manufactured cars in Australia sold as Fords. The only real contribution Ford had was the badge and Points of Sale.

While it may be 'nice' or 'politically correct' to use the term GNU/Linux, the branding is totally meaningless. So get over it!

The core (kernel) of the product is most relevant to identifying it. The distribution/variant clarifies that further.

Their no more point in dragging along GNU than there is putting Seattle Computers on Windows. Seems very unlikely Linux based software would function on a GNU OS. Pointless !

Phillip said...

Amen bother! This has loong been a grind with me, and has turned me off big time away from much of the GNU zomboids. I have thought if I ever did get an opens software project going, I *would not* use the gnu license/tools because of the fact that if it ever did get peopular I would be forced into calling it GNU/whatever.

Stallman and his cult have really gotten off the rails with this one.

ryanm2215 said...

@rick miller:

linux is not an os

herd is not an os

i don't understand why people can't seem to make the distinction between a kernel and an operating system.

if you were an engineer for toyota and helped design engines, would you refuse to refer to the make of the vehicle because of disagreements with the company's ceo?

you are disrespecting many more people than just rms when you refuse them credit for their contributions.

I challenge someone to create a freely distributable working linux system using zero gnu/fsf assigned copyrights. until that happens i think everyone should just give it a rest.

it wasn't done 15 years ago, and it would be darn awkward to do today.

Garrick Anson said...

Gee, I run Apple Mac BSD UNIX OSX and Debian Ubuntu GNU/Linux (gnome/kde/E17/etc..)

I agree, it is long winded, and there is little point in including GNU in all Linux references.
It is a very important part of Linux, but so are the Goodyear tires on my truck.

Patrick said...

BSS has an interesting sub-argument here.

He says windows because it's a "windows kernel", but what he should be saying, then, is nt4.

So where'd the argument go? :/

O said...

Then we should call our systems "Gnome", "KDE" or "LAMP", not Linux.

Mike said...

I continue to think the main argument for calling it "Linux" is because if you call it "GNU/Linux", why? What about the X11 guys? Isn't the GUI a very important aspect of the system?

Perhaps I'm an audiophile? Maybe the most important thing for me is mpg123 or xmms?

For KDE users, QT is pretty important, isn't it?

Finally, think about it... what would someone say to you, who doesn't use Linux, if you told them you use "GNU LINUX"? I know I'd ask, or at least think, "I wonder what happened to the old version..."

Yes, GNU is good, GNU is great. But GNU's name is about as good as telling someone about this techblog... h t t p collon slash slash slash dot dot org -> http:/// ? huh?

Andrew Muller said...

I differ in the belief that the Linux Kernel isn't an Operating System. It's the System that keeps the hardware Operating. Pure and simple.

The kernel handles the low level hardware interfacing, memory allocation, processor scheduling, etc. It manages all these things within itself as well as on behalf of additional software.

Simply because that system is extensible and other software can become part of that system doesn't stop the kernel being the base Operating System. Not highly interactive, or reactive, but an Operating System none the less.

And before people quote the BIOS as being the therefore base system. Consider the Amiga. A circa 1985 Multitasking, memory allocated, device driver using, GUI using computer. Quite along current trends.

The Amiga didn't have a BIOS. It had a system ROM containing all the software required to provide good functionally. It could boot a GUI (Workbench) utilizing the underlying Operating System to provide a Graphical 'Desktop' environment. Yada Yada

Or, it could boot software without loading the Workbench, and that software would still have full access to the underlying Operating System. From managed interrupts, to file systems, to managed graphical windows.

I think the term 'Operating System' has been corrupted over time. To the point where even browsers can be claimed as being part of the Operating System. Maybe 'Extended Operating System' would be more accurate???

Sure, GNU stuff may help build Linux, extend it's functionality, and all wonders of stuff. But what is it really sitting on top of? One of the many extended forms of the Linux Operating System!

Edward Lester said...

I like the Car analogy and I think it works well.
Just as one would say something like (feel free to insert car make model of your choice, I am going to go with sports cars) "I drive a Chevrolet Corvette with a 6 speed manual V8 engine, Heads up display, 6 cd changer,...."
one can also say " I use Debian Lenny with SMP i686 Linux 2.6, Beryl, Iceweasel, GIMP, GNU,...."

You really do have a branding already like you would in a car. Instead of Lenny (Corvette), I could get Etch (Camaro). Instead of Debian (Chevrolet) I could get Gentoo (Subaru). Instead of i686 Linux (V8) I could run sparc (V6) or a 64bit verision (V12). Instead of Metacity (normal view of gauges) I have Beryl (Heads up display)....and the analogy keeps going...

I have not heard this one before but I like it. I might swipe this analogy for use later on...

Allan "Goldfish" Clark said...

I agree with the original poster. When I say "Linux" to techs or Luddites, they know what I mean. If I tried to say "GNU/Linux", I would get the "wha? Canoe?" response.

...and it's utterly stupid to say one thing, and write another.

I refuse to call my system the sum of its parts, the Linux/RMS/Apache/Mozilla/BSD/etc/etc server. I don't subscribe to many of RMS's slanted diatribes, this one included. It's just dumb.

In an article I read today: "don't just talk about something, do it; if you just talk, everyone knows that you're just trying to claim ownership on the technology" (I think it was Coding Horror). Same thing: RMS trying to ride coattails, and putting ("Canoe?") potholes in our speech. Stupid arrogant vanity, and so many volunteer ministers for that faith.

cafino said...

Dude! I totally agree with you. I am sick and tired of people whining about how linux is the only operating system that is named after the kernel.

M.J. said...

Dude, highly agree'd w/ ya... one more thing, each distro has their own name, they can get rid of Linux from everywhere you can see... I would love Ubuntu, and I would like people only call it Ubuntu instead of Ubuntu Linux

Rami said...

There exists other operating systems built on GNU.

There's GNU/Solaris. There's GNU/BSD. There's GNU/Windows (by name of Cygwin).

Solaris is called only Solaris because it runs Sun Solaris toolset on top of a Linux kernel. Same thing applies for the BSDs.

In reality, GNU and Linux can live without each other. That's why embedded Linux is called just Linux. And that's how most desktop distributions are based on the GNU/Linux OS.

Marketing is a whole different issue though. It's much easier to talk about a Linux OS without having to mention RedHat, Ubuntu, SuSE, or GNU. But that doesn't make it right.

gmahan said...'s "bid adieu" not "bid ado" :)

People tend to pick simple all-encompassing monikers for things There's not even always a logical reason for the moniker chosen.
We run Windows, we run Linux. But we work on "a Mac"...named after the machine, and not the OS. No matter what martial arts style you do (Silat, one of the couple-hundred Kung Fu styles, BJJ, etc), the average person's gonna call it Karate. If someone breaks into computer systems, nobody cares that nerds call them "crackers" not "hackers". They could care less about the distinction between "phreakers" and hackers. They're all hackers.

These Stallmanites need to realize that not everyone follows the One True Religion (tm) :)

Stix213 said...

The operating system should be called "Linux" because the Linux kernel is the defining point. If you replace X11... it is still Linux. If you replace any of the GNU tools... you still have Linux. If you replace any part of a Linux system you still have Linux... Except... If you replace the Linux kernel with any other kernel then you DON'T HAVE LINUX.

Also, Stallman waited 3 years after the combined GNU/Linux OS was in use to decide to change the popular name from just Linux to GNU/Linux. 3 years!!!! You can't just decide 3 years later that you want credit now! Stallman probably wanted the Hurd kernel to simply overtake the Linux kernel and solve the problem of these Linux folks messing up his OS, but when it was obvious that Hurd would never.....

Sorry, its just called Linux no matter what anyone with an ego problem says.

kuriharu said...

Most people call it "GNU/Linux" to sound more intelligent. It's kind of elitist, if you asked me.

We all know what is meant when we say "Linux". Instead, some people force the distinction of "GNU/Linux" to show they know the difference in the origin and lisence. Big whoop. Call it Linux. It doesn't make you sound more informed calling it "GNU/Linx", it makes you sound elitist.

...or we could demand everyone call Windows "Microsoft Windows" every time they say it. Anybody game? Good, I hope not..

Henry said...

> If by god's grace someday Hurd is released, who knows your favorite distro will replace it with Linux? Will your answer change then? (Hint: no)

I assume you mean that if Suse replaced the kernel with Hurd, would my answer change. That is a resounding YES! I would never again say that I use Linux. I'd say that I use Turd...I mean Hurd.

Actually, I think the Hurd argument is pretty stupid. We should call it GNU/Linux because the kernel is replaceable? Well I claim that the GNU tools chain is replaceable too.

Henry said...

Stix213 said...

The operating system should be called "Linux" because the Linux kernel is the defining point. If you replace X11... it is still Linux. If you replace any of the GNU tools... you still have Linux. If you replace any part of a Linux system you still have Linux... Except... If you replace the Linux kernel with any other kernel then you DON'T HAVE LINUX.


Thank you! That is the the best explanation I have heard. I think it is what we have all been trying to vocalize.

johnw said...

I like to call it linux . . . my friends like to call it linux . . . the press like to call it linux . . . someone likes to call it GNU/linux . . . no one but the l33t few knows what that guy's talkin' about . . . the rest of the world like to call it linux . . . the commercial world, gettin' into linux in a big way, like to calll it linux . . . linux be big soon, GNU/linux simply be a head-scratcher

Igor said...

Wait it suppose to be GNU + Linux right?

But guess what?... Linux does not have only GNU project software it also have MIT X11 software, Apache Software Foundation software, Python software, Perl... all of this are not part of the GNU project, that's why you and anyone should call Linux GNU/Linux.

But being fair Linux is not a good name but it is popular and that's the reason why we call it "Linux".

Gordon Messmer said...

I often see arguments like yours, against using the term GNU/Linux, but none ever address the real reason that the GNU/Linux is the proper name.

POSIX is the written standard that defines the operating system interface that GNU/Linux implements. It defines a C API, as well as user space tools, and the behavior of the system.

Linux, by itself, is not a POSIX operating system. GNU/Linux is.

If I adopt your car metaphor: Linux is an engine, and GNU/Linux is a car. Your Cougar may share an engine model with other Ford cars, but you don't refer to your car by its engine model, you refer to it as a Cougar. The Cougar is the whole package.

The other argument I see often -- and I see it here -- takes the proper argument to an extreme that's unjustified. Arguing that the system should be called Gnome/X11/GNU/Linux is not supported by a written OS specification such as POSIX defining a system implemented by those projects.

So there you have it: "Why I call it GNU/Linux"

Enderandrew said...

Quite frankly, I don't think the logic of the argument stands very well. However, people call it Linux because everyone else does, and it is hard to enact change.

I'm not opposed to giving credit to Stallman and GNU, however I find it odd that he insists GNU be first, and that the dual-logos he designed have a very large GNU logo, and a small Linux/Tux logo. It isn't enough to be mentioned in the same breath, he thinks GNU deserves the lion's share of the praise.

Many geeks don't care about the politics so much as the tools, or at the very least some geeks thing that way. Linus never demanded the system be named after him, nor did he push for naming scheme, nor praise. He is just interested in the best tools, where it seems like the GNU foundation spends all their time and efforts on publicity and changing the way people think.

Linux is the core, and around that you can run anything you want. BSD uses GNU tools as well, and you don't hear the arguement so much about GNU/BSD, because Stallman is focused primarily on the group that will give him the most publicity.

I have little interest in placating publicity hounds.

Jesse said...

I think maybe people missed this one but its the best goddamn quote I've ever heard on the subject:

"If your appreciative of your ability to use the linux kernel as many do, call it gnu/linux, since without the gnu project and the snowball of free software culture stallman started rolling with his own two hands decades ago, we wouldn't have the epcot dome sized runaway success high level katamari ball of freedom we do today, and hopefully will for years to come."

For the record I say "I use Debian" when people ask me what I use, and if they give me a puzzled look I say "It's a distribution of GNU/Linux." And if that fails (the person has only ever known windows or mac), I say "It's just a PC with open source software." And if that fails I open a terminal and say "Can you leave, I'm going to hack the Gibson now"

maybe I made the last part up... maybe I didn't...

Kevin said...

I run Debian. Simple as that.

audio said...

Its all about respect to these people. Call it as you wish, the choice is yours. I will call it GNU/Linux because I respect people behind GNU.

Gnuosphere said...

I sometimes call the operating system I use GNU and sometimes I call it GNU/Linux.

Patrick says he "has sympathy" for Stallman's argument but thinks "it's a lost cause". This misses the point. We don't ask people to call their system "GNU/Linux" because our goal is to get everyone to call it "GNU/Linux". We ask them to do this to help spread the word of our history. When people hear of GNU, they are more likely to read about our views on software freedom. And when people read about our views on software freedom, they may decide that they agree with those views and then help us. The GNU Project wants credit not for credit's sake, but to encourage people to learn about why the movement started in the first place.

cdrworm said...

Even better call it the GNU system featuring the Linux kernel. (and KDE desktop enviroment)

Johannes M said...

It may be true that Linux is only the kernel, but a name with a slash in it is inconvenient.

My suggestion is "GNUX". It's got "GNU" for GNU, "UX" from Linux, and shares the "U".

Anonymous said...

RS should create his own OS and call it Gnux.

Josh said...

I agree with Rick Miller. RMS is just an idealistic egomaniac and the term "GNU/Linux" is nothing but an attempt to resurrect his failed GNU project. If he spent half as much time writing a kernel as he did complaining about the name, he'd be finished his OS by now.

Besides, "GNU" is a stupid name and most people don't know how to pronounce it. There's no room for this uber-geeky nonsense when it comes to branding. Simple is better. Memorable is better.

Anonymous said...

I use GNU. If I'm running Debian GNU/Linux, I've got GNU. If I'm running Nexenta GNU/OpenSolaris, I'm running GNU. If I'm running GNU/Hurd... I've got GNU.

I couldn't give a crap less about the Linux part of some of the systems I use.

I WILL say, however, that most "average" users would be more apt to call their systems by the desktop environment they use. After all, someone who uses a properly configured KDE desktop can use a FreeBSD, gNewSense or Mac OS X just as easily.

Same for Gnome or e17 or whatever.

The point for me isn't about what's "easy" or what's "apparent". The freedom is the only reason I use Linux/*BSD/OpenSolaris based systems. If I didn't care about Freedom, I'd use Mac OS X. It's BECAUSE I care about freedom that I say I use GNU.

Gordon Messmer said...

Enderandrew, it's misleading at best to claim that FreeBSD "uses the GNU tools".

The GNU project isn't seeking a GNU prefix to every piece of software that includes any of theirs; they promote the use of the term GNU/Linux specifically when discussing the operating system composed of Linux and the GNU system. FreeBSD, minus the GNU compilers, is still a complete operating system. Linux, minus GNU, is not.

Furthermore, I think it's baseless and ridiculous to suggest that Stallman "insists" that GNU come first. Do you really believe that if distributions of GNU/Linux were to offer to brand themselves as Linux/GNU, that he'd object? I don't.

You paint Stallman as if he were Paris Hilton, merely a "publicity hound", which is totally unfair to the enormous amount of technical and political work that he has done to provide a Free operating system for the world to use. His contribution, to our lives, to our work, and to our culture, should not be underestimated, and should not be so debased.

Dave said...

So when I run the Cygwin tools set on my work computer which is running Windows XP I should call it GNU/Windows. Hooey!

barbjcook said...

Linux - GNU is still Linux, as an OS. This means that it is either an embedded system or it uses one of the replacements to GNU such as busybox.

Kevin said...

Stallman is one of the supreme meglomaniacs of the last 50 years.

Rhys Adams said...

I have to agree with Azer here. When you speak of an OS you speak of the base software that communicates with the hardware, the very bottom of the pile. Linux does NOT have to contain a compiler and the other GNU tools to be an OS.

Also, I think that the number of lines of code that are running on your computer are totally irrelevant. It's possible for someone to take the Linux kernel and write their own toolkit for it, but is it any less Linux? No.

Just because the kernel is under GPL doesn't mean that the licence is the 'spirit' of the OS. If anyone asked me, I'd say that the community around Linux and the developers is more the spirit of Linux than anything else.

However, I'm not one to push my opinions on someone else. If you wish to call it GNU/Linux, go ahead, I'm not going to stop you. But don't shout your head off if someone doesn't do the same.

Thanks folks.

Anonymous said...

I'm a relative newbie, and for the longest time I was confused as to what GNU/Linux meant. Even now, I'd be at a loss if you asked me to explain what GNU _is_.

Speaking from a newb's point of view, I think the only reason to call it GNU/Linux in front of people who don't already know is to get them to ask why you're calling it that. And personally, I think most would just be confused by the answer.

Although I might have to try to explain when they ask why there are all these GNU programs on their Linux ...

Anonymous said...

It's a disgrace that there are some guys here who refuse to call the Linux kernel as an operating system.

Those who believe Linux kernel is not an operating system, go and read 'Operating System Concepts - 7th edition' by Silberschatz, Galvin, Gagne.

Anonymous said...

I could try and explain the reasons I call the system GNU+Linux and do my best to make people think about this issue, but it's better if I just present you with the arguments of Mr. Stallman himself. This is part of a transcript of a speech he usually gives.

Take the time to read this, he explains the issue in a powerful, clear and humble (yes, HUMBLE) way.

"[...]it still is and always will be "GNU", no matter how many people pronounce it "Linux" by mistake.

So, how did that mistake get started?

During the 1980s, we developed one piece after another of the GNU system. At first it was slow because there was just me and one other person, because, of course, the goal was not to have a system written by me, the goal was to have a Free Software operating system as soon as possible. So of course I recruited other people to help as well as I could. Starting in 1983, before I actually began writing anything, I began asking other people to join in. And over the years, each year, more people joined in and started contributing to GNU.

By 1990, we had almost all of the pieces. But one of the large, essential components was still missing, and that was the kernel. So in 1990, the Free Software Foundation - which I had started at the end of 1985 in order to raise money to contribute to progress in Free Software - hired someone to begin developing a kernel. I chose the design of the kernel, and that was all I was involved with, I didn't write it. I chose a design which I hoped would enable us to get the kernel finished as soon as possible. Namely, I found a microkernel, which had been developed by a government funded project at a university and I said, "well let's use that as the bottom layer, and on top of that we'll develop a collection of user programs, each one to do a particular kernel service, and they'll communicate by message passing" - which is the feature that the microkernel implements for you.

This is the way, also, that people thought was the cleanest possible way to design kernels back in 1990.

Well, it took many many many years to get this kernel to run at all, and it still doesn't run well, and it looks like there may be fundamental problems with this design, which nobody knew about back in 1990.

Fortunately though, we didn't have to wait for it, because, in 1991, a college student in Finland developed another kernel using the monolithic, traditional design, and he got it to barely run in less than a year. This kernel, which was called "Linux", initially was not Free Software. However, in 1992, he changed the licence and adopted a Free Software licence, namely, the GNU General Public License which I had written to use as the licence for the pieces of GNU that we were developing.

Thus, although Linux was not developed for the GNU project, it was Free Software at that point in 1992, and thus the combination of the almost-complete GNU system, and the kernel Linux formed a complete system. A system that you could actually install in a bare PC, and for the first time it was possible to run a PC in freedom. The goal that we had set out for in January 1984 had been achieved.

The development of Linux was an important contribution to the Free Software community. That was the step that carried us accross the finish line. Before that, we had many useful programs that people could install on top of a non-free operating system. Once we had the last missing piece, we had something you could install replacing the non-free operating system.

However, the confusion of thinking that the entire system was Linux, that it had all been developed by the college student in 1991, has been extremely harmful to the Free Software movement ever since, because it broke the connection from our software to our philosophy.

Before that time, there was no complete free operating system, but there were many important parts of one. So people would install them on top of non-free operating systems, because they were not only free but also usually better. And when they did so, they realised they were installing these GNU programs, so they thought of themselves as fans or enthusiasts of GNU, and when they saw the articles that were in some of these packages, explaining the philosophy of Free Software, the same philosophy that I've been telling you today, they would think "Oh, this is the philosophy behind GNU, and I like GNU, I should read this." This didn't mean they would all agree with us, but at least they would pay attention to the arguments. They would give it serious consideration. So we had a chance to convince them, and if we did convince them, then they would feel a motivation to contribute to Free Software, to contribute to GNU. So, the software spread the philosophy, and the philosophy extended the software.

Once people started using more-or-less the entire GNU system, and thinking it was Linux, then, using the GNU system no longer lead people to our philosophy. Instead it lead people to look at the philosophy of the developer of Linux.

He has never agreed with the ideals of the Free Software movement. In fact, he likes to call himself apolitical.

But, as often happens when people say they are apolitical, in fact, they are espousing and promoting a particular political point of view. And his political point of view is that the developer should have total power, the developer can simply decide whether you have freedom or not, and that it's always wrong to disobey the developer. That is, it's always wrong to violate any software licence. That's the view he has stated in the past.

And when people think that the whole system is his work, they tend to look to him for guidance in these ethical questions as well. So we see the unpleasant situation that a system which is mainly our work is leading people to follow views that are the opposite of ours because the system is incorrectly attributed to somebody else. And this is why I pay attention to the issue so much. This is why I ask you, please call the system GNU+Linux, or GNU/Linux. Please don't call it Linux. It's not just unfair to the system's principal developers if you call it by a different name, it also leads people not to think about freedom.

And that's really dangerous, because history shows us that freedom is never guaranteed to be secure. And we don't have to look very far back in history. Just look at the history of the United States in recent years to see how people can lose their freedom. Life always keeps handing you opportunities to lose your freedom. Someone says "give me your freedom, and I'll give you this... or that... I'll protect you..." or "I will take care of you" or whatever. If you don't appreciate your freedom, if you don't appreciate it very strongly, you will lose it. A fool and his freedom are soon parted."

Diego Viola said...

I call it Linux because it's shorter to say and also nicer IMHO.

And I see Linux as an OS because in my opinion an operating system is the low-level code that makes a computer run, and provides an API which lets programmers write other programs... it's also the code that lets you use the hardware and it's the code that makes you run all the GNU and other programs on top of it.

That's what Linux and an operating system is, also, not all the code that you run in Linux distributions is GNU, sure, the core and utilities is... and I love the GNU utilities, but you also run Apache, Mozilla, and other code which is not part of the GNU project itself, that's why I call it Linux.

Octavio Ruiz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Octavio Ruiz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Oh, Octavio... You know, we already got the email showing your original comment, before you deleted it. And it was:

Octavio Ruiz has left a new comment on the post "Why I refuse to call it GNU/Linux":

Linux Not GNU (LNG) is a project aimed to provide a Linux distribution excluding any package hosted in We are happy that Richard Stallman can't call our distribution GNU/Linux.

Let me tell you, that's pathetic. Creating a distribution just because you don't like Stallman is a pretty stupid project.

Let me quote you again:

We are happy that Richard Stallman can't call our distribution GNU/Linux.

Putting together a distribution is HARD WORK... And animosity is not enough of a motivator to carry it on. Your project will be short-lived.

I am not judging your dislike or disagreement with Stallman, you are completely entitled to your own opinion. The problem here is that the very foundation of the project is an inherently negative and petty sentiment.

How about putting together a distribution because you love hacking and you are passionate about operating systems? How about challenging yourself and others to such a demanding task with a drive for making something good, something positive, something great... something you can be proud of?

Sorry, but your project is just sad and immature. Grow up already.

Octavio Ruiz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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IGnatius T Foobar said...

I applaud your refusal to call it GNU. Richard Stallman is a whiny communist who is all butthurt that Linus got the glory for actually completing what RMS failed to complete.

It's called Linux. Just Linux.