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Thread: Why do so many people mistake Linux for GNU?

  1. #1
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    Why do so many people mistake Linux for GNU?

    I have found that many users of GNU/Linux often mistake the Linux kernel for the whole GNU free software spectrum. Let me clear things up for people.

    In 1983 Richard M. Stallman (or RMS), at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (or MIT) was majorly hacked off with the advent of proprietary closed-source software, and decided to trigger off a completely new operating system consisting of totally free software that respects the user's right to view the source code, copy the code, edit the copy and then redistribute the copy whilst letting the users of the copy redistribute and install the new operating system onto as many computers as they wish. This operating system was called "GNU"; many would think of that animal from Africa but is actually an anogram for "GNU is Not Unix" because this operating system may act like Unix but really it is not. This operating system was going pretty well for RMS and the newly-founded Free Software Foundation, but they lacked an important piece, the last piece: the kernel. It was not until 1991 when Linus Torvalds, a computer science student at the University of Helsinki, created the Linux kernel to install the last piece into the new GNU Operating System.

    Although there is only one GNU Operating System. Many computer programmers have followed the idea and created many GNU/Linux operating systems (e.g. Ubuntu) but because it does not consist of totally free software and web applications, it cannot be labelled "Free software" but is named "Open Source" instead. Remember that when you use a Linux operating system, you are not; there is no such thing as a Linux operating system as it is only the kernel - a component of the GNU/Linux operating system.

    I am writing this message using GNU/Linux right now. I hope I have cleared things up.

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    Re: Why do so many people mistake Linux for GNU?

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    Re: Why do so many people mistake Linux for GNU?

    Because most people who use Linux don't really care much about the politics of the Free Software Foundation and are not going to call it "GNU/Linux" just because Richard Stallman wishes that they did.

    Windows consists of a kernel and a lot of additional software when it ships on a PC. Do people call just the kernel "Windows?" Of course not.
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    Re: Why do so many people mistake Linux for GNU?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jonathan Andrew Upton View Post
    ...Torvalds, a computer science student at the University of Helsinki, created the Linux kernel to install the last piece into the new GNU Operating System.
    That's putting a spin on it that I don't think stands up to scrutiny. It suggests Torvalds specifically created the kernel to fill that gap in GNU. That's not the case.

    The GNU folks, as well as the BSD folks, did port/create what today we usually broadly brush as the Unix userland tools. I.e., those character-based tools we all use in the shell. Any number of operating systems, some Unix-like and some not, have used them.

    The name game obviously matters to RMS, but, whether he likes it or not, everyone else is going to continue calling it "Linux". (Except for the ideological followers of RMS, but they are, frankly, of little relevance outside their cloisters.)

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    Re: Why do so many people mistake Linux for GNU?

    Isn't calling it gnu/linux just as big a misconception though?

    I utilize many things such as closed-source drivers, which fly in the face of the gnu philosophy.

    And even though the kernel was "last", the other parts are useless without it.
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    Re: Why do so many people mistake Linux for GNU?

    Well, in all furriness I think the term GNU/Linux can be applicable without necessarily adhering in part or in full to RMS's views on stuff, which broadly speaking I do.

    Debian is officially described as Debian GNU/Linux and Ubuntu is a derivative of Debian. Indeed, Ubuntu is really just Debian rendered more easily useable to the lay person, hence the former slogan "Linux for Human Beings". Use a different distribution like Fedora for a while and you will see that Ubuntu and Debian really only differ in terms of release cycle and presentation layer.

    To lend credence to all this, whip open a terminal in Ubuntu and type cat /etc/debian_version and then uname -o and all will become clear.

    We can argue about names until the cows roll in at 3am in the morning, smelling of cheap booze and telling you that they love you. However, as far as I'm concerned as long as the distribution I use namechecks GNU/Linux, use of the term is legitimate.

    Personally, though, I don't use it because I find "Linux" to be a catchier name although I do respect Richard Stallman's contribution to the history of whatever-it-is. In any case, Linus Torvalds had attended talks on GNU at the University of Helsinki prior to his creation of whatever-it-was and was certainly aware of the GNU project.
    Last edited by iamkuriouspurpleoranj; April 8th, 2013 at 06:53 PM.

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    Re: Why do so many people mistake Linux for GNU?

    Quote Originally Posted by SeijiSensei View Post
    Because most people who use Linux don't really care much about the politics of the Free Software Foundation and are not going to call it "GNU/Linux" just because Richard Stallman wishes that they did.

    Windows consists of a kernel and a lot of additional software when it ships on a PC. Do people call just the kernel "Windows?" Of course not.
    To be perfectly honest, I really cannot grasp why Microsoft had to call the kernel "Windows"; it is a barmy name for a barmy operating system. However it is only fair that both GNU and Linux get equal representation because GNU was the original concept whilst Linux was the final piece. If RMS and MIT created the kernel, perhaps they could have called it GNU as well...

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    Re: Why do so many people mistake Linux for GNU?

    Quote Originally Posted by buzzingrobot View Post
    That's putting a spin on it that I don't think stands up to scrutiny. It suggests Torvalds specifically created the kernel to fill that gap in GNU. That's not the case.

    The GNU folks, as well as the BSD folks, did port/create what today we usually broadly brush as the Unix userland tools. I.e., those character-based tools we all use in the shell. Any number of operating systems, some Unix-like and some not, have used them.

    The name game obviously matters to RMS, but, whether he likes it or not, everyone else is going to continue calling it "Linux". (Except for the ideological followers of RMS, but they are, frankly, of little relevance outside their cloisters.)
    Well no, Torvalds created it originally as something to do as a student, like how Zuckerberg set up Facebook whilst studying at Harvard. I would class myself as a follower of the whole free and open source software game along with the Linux kernel but it is clearly a case of mistaken identity. It was strange how I found out about Linux before anything of GNU.

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    Re: Why do so many people mistake Linux for GNU?

    Quote Originally Posted by deadflowr View Post
    Isn't calling it gnu/linux just as big a misconception though?

    I utilize many things such as closed-source drivers, which fly in the face of the gnu philosophy.

    And even though the kernel was "last", the other parts are useless without it.
    GNU/Linux: An operating system based on the Linux kernel that runs totally free software.
    Open Source: An operating system based on the Linux kernel that runs open source software; open source is sometimes free and sometimes not because that is up to the writer.

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    Re: Why do so many people mistake Linux for GNU?

    Quote Originally Posted by iamkuriouspurpleoranj View Post
    Well, in all furriness I think the term GNU/Linux can be applicable without necessarily adhering in part or in full to RMS's views on stuff, which broadly speaking I do.

    Debian is officially described as Debian GNU/Linux and Ubuntu is a derivative of Debian. Indeed, Ubuntu is really just Debian rendered more easily useable to the lay person, hence the former slogan "Linux for Human Beings". Use a different distribution like Fedora for a while and you will see that Ubuntu and Debian really only differ in terms of release cycle and presentation layer.

    To lend credence to all this, whip open a terminal in Ubuntu and type cat /etc/debian_version and then uname -o and all will become clear.

    We can argue about names until the cows roll in at 3am in the morning, smelling of cheap booze and telling you that they love you. However, as far as I'm concerned as long as the distribution I use namechecks GNU/Linux, use of the term is legitimate.

    Personally, though, I don't use it because I find "Linux" to be a catchier name although I do respect Richard Stallman's contribution to the history of whatever-it-is. In any case, Linus Torvalds had attended talks on GNU at the University of Helsinki prior to his creation of whatever-it-was and was certainly aware of the GNU project.
    To be honest, the whole concept of "Linux for human beings" tries to move Ubuntu away from the technical and programming side of Linux and attempts to make Ubuntu more of an open source alternative to Windows. As Ubuntu incorporates some free and some open source software and perhaps one or two closed source moves, Ubuntu, really, incorporates all three schools of thought here. Ubuntu was devised by Canonical to be for general use rather than for geeky and technical use.

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