Tuesday, 24 February 2009


(Column) - This famous controversy is there ever since I became aware of operating systems known as GNU/Linux. The GNU General Public License (GPL), which is used by Linux as well as most GNU software, armors both characters.

GNU/Linux is the term coined by the Free Software Foundation (FSF), Richard Stallman (FSF founder) and people who support FSF, for operating systems composed of the FSF's GNU software and the Linux kernel; such systems are generally called "Linux." In 1985, Stallman published the GNU Manifesto, which outlined his motivation for creating a free operating system called GNU, which would be compatible with UNIX. The name GNU is a recursive acronym for "GNU is Not Unix." Soon after, he incorporated the non-profit Free Software Foundation (FSF) to employ free software programmers and provide a legal infrastructure for the free software community.According to Wikipedia.org, the main argument for "GNU/Linux" is that Linus Torvalds' kernel was only a small, albeit final part of an otherwise complete system, GNU, written and assembled over many years with the explicit goal of creating an integrated free operating system.

This is what Richard Stallman said, "Actually no, that is not what we say. What we say is that this system is basically the GNU operating system, with Linux added."

In fact, one of Richard Stallman’s criteria for giving an interview to a journalist was that the journalist agrees to use his terminology throughout his article. Sometimes he even makes sure that the journalist has read the GNU philosophy before interviewing him, for "efficiency's sake." He has been known to turn down speaking requests over some terminology issues.

He says that the interconnection or coexistence between the GNU project's philosophy and its software is broken when people refer to the combination as merely "Linux." This practice is described as "just ridiculous" by Linus Torvalds (more about this later) in the documentary Revolution OS. Nevertheless, Torvalds is also quoted as saying: "Think of Richard Stallman as the great philosopher and think of me as the engineer."

Now let us see the other side of the coin, i.e. people who say that Linux is more than enough for a name. Linux is by far the most widespread name, and most people therefore simply adopt this usage, while references to the naming controversy appear only infrequently in mainstream sources. "Linux" has the most historical momentum because it is the name Torvalds has used for the combined system since 1991, while Stallman only began asking people to call the system "GNU/Linux" in the mid 1990s, some time after the "Linux" name had already become popular. "Linux" is shorter and easier to say than "GNU/Linux," particularly given Stallman's suggested pronunciation Guh-NÜ-slash-Linux or Guh-NÜ-plus-Linux.

In reply to Stallman, Linus Torvalds stated: "Well, I think it's justified, but it's justified if you actually make a GNU distribution of Linux ... the same way that I think that "Red Hat Linux" is fine, or "SuSE Linux" or "Debian Linux," because if you actually make your own distribution of Linux, you get to name the thing, but calling Linux in general "GNU Linux" I think is just ridiculous."

A person on this side thinks that RMS is taking this controversy to new heights because he is frustrated that he did not get the same recognition as Linus Torvalds.

When I wrote my first article on "Is Linux-like Environment for Windows Really Required?," I received an e-mail from David Kastrup and we had a small discussion. Then he told me that there are few places where GNU/Linux name isn’t applicable. There are actually Linux systems that are not GNU: embedded systems using the Linux kernel, but basically none of the GNU libraries and utilities. Some rescue disks and systems, too.

But the problem is that much of what people have come to associate with "Linux" is in reality rather "GNU" or third-party associations. All this needs maintenance, work, funds, and a lot of work in that area is done, organized and paid for by the FSF. It’s not easy for the FSF to raise funds for that kind of work, since public perception is that they are just leeches on Linux fame and have never been able to come up with a system of their own even though they are, in fact, responsible for keeping much of the services running that people call "Linux."

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- Kernel Panic: Defining System Inconsistencies

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