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GNU is Not Unix

FSF Issues GNU/Linux Name FAQ 1360

Posted by michael
from the died-dead-horse-die dept.
jdavidb writes "The FSF has issued a FAQ about why they believe you should say "GNU/Linux." Surprisingly long." They're certainly... thorough.
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FSF Issues GNU/Linux Name FAQ

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  • GNU: Get over it (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Neil Watson (60859) on Wednesday September 25, 2002 @12:02PM (#4327864) Homepage
    Wah! wah! wah! call it by my name or I'm taking my toys and going home.

    No one is denying the great tools that GNU provides. I always install various GNU tools on the Sun boxes I work on to keep me from going crazy. Stop acting so childish. It's this kind of behavior that can give Open Source a reputation of being a bunch of "childish geeks."

  • Moral standard? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mcg1969 (237263) on Wednesday September 25, 2002 @12:04PM (#4327889)
    From the FAQ:
    To care only about what's convenient or who's winning is an amoral approach to life. Non-free software is an example of that amoral approach and thrives on it.
    I'd certainly like to know where the FSF gets its moral absolutes from. If I say that non-free software is amoral, what gives FSF the authority to say that I'm wrong? Does the FSF believe in God? Do they believe moral absolutes can be created in a vacuum?
  • Hmmm.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Quill_28 (553921) on Wednesday September 25, 2002 @12:07PM (#4327940) Journal
    I must not understand these FSF folks very much.
    Am i correct in saying that feel charging money for any software in evil?

    Do they hate the BSD license?
  • lignux (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sfraggle (212671) on Wednesday September 25, 2002 @12:08PM (#4327941)
    Amusingly if you look in the GNU emacs ChangeLog, RMS changed the OS identifier for Linux in Emacs to "lignux" in 1996:

    1996-03-26 Richard Stallman

    * Use lignux instead of linux as value of opsys.

    Several months later he changed it again:

    1996-06-21 Richard Stallman

    * Rename lignux to linux-gnu in configuration names.
    Use gnu-linux as the opsys value (s/ file name).
  • Efficient? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Schmelter (563031) on Wednesday September 25, 2002 @12:13PM (#4328020)
    Question: "Wouldn't it be better to call the system "Linux" and teach people its real origin with a ten-minute explanation?"

    Answer: "It is not as effective as calling the system "GNU/Linux", and uses your time inefficiently."

    This from people who think writing a 27 question FAQ about the name GNU/Linux is an efficient use of their time.
  • by bill.sheehan (93856) on Wednesday September 25, 2002 @12:16PM (#4328058) Homepage
    "Linux is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds."

    'nuff said.

  • by Sloppy (14984) on Wednesday September 25, 2002 @12:17PM (#4328069) Homepage Journal
    Why are they so desperate for taking some of the fame and credit for Linux ?

    If the people who work on Linux want to, they will rename it to GNU/Linux
    You've missed their point. They consider "the people who work on Linux" to just be the people who work on the kernel -- that one tiny part of your system that you download from

    They aren't trying to take fame and credit for that. They are trying to take fame and credit for the stuff that Red Hat, Mandrake, Gentoo, etc distribute: Linux plus a shitload of GNU programs Everybody (we're talking, like, about 100.00%) of the people who use Red Hat's product, uses a lot more code from the GNU project, than the Linux project.

    Suppose you were building a computer from parts. And let's say you bought a Zapitron-manufactured motherboard, a Zapitron video card, a Zapitron case, a Zapitron power supply, a Zapitron hard disk, Zapitron RAM, Zapitron InterContinental Ballistic Modem, Zapitron Firewire Hardware-Accelerated Null Device (much faster than software-emulated null devices), Zapitron armor plating and Zapitron snorkel for underwater use, etc. Everything was manufactured by Zapitron, except one part: you plug an AMD processor into it instead of using Zapitron's 27-trit or 81-trit offerings.

    Then someone asks, "Hey, what kind of computer you got there?" and you answer "AMD!" The guys at Zapitron are going to be upset by that.

  • by DrSkwid (118965) on Wednesday September 25, 2002 @12:22PM (#4328126) Homepage Journal
    I've heard Linus say Gnu/Linux

  • by evilpenguin (18720) on Wednesday September 25, 2002 @12:28PM (#4328205)
    While I agree with you about the lack of a working "Hurd," I totally disagree with you about them "contributing little." They contributed most of the systems software, compilers, and libraries that are used to build everything on your Linux (er, GNU/Linux) system. They created the license that guarantees that a programmer who gives away his code will be paid in kind. Some people are definitely hostile to the GPL, but an awful lot of us write Free Software (meaning GPL'd software) becuase we derive a lot of benefit from everyone else's Free Software and we want to keep that going.

    Now, I have called it "Linux," and will continue to call it "Linux" simply because I think "GNU/Linux" is the antithesis of euphony (how's that for a pompous phrase?). Also, as an aside, do they insist that it be called GNU/FreeBSD? Don't the BSDs come with a bunch of GNU software? Or am I missing something? And do they insist that it be called GNU/Solaris when people install gcc and bash on the box? In other words, I don't agree with the FSF on this.

    But to suggest that they have contributed litte is either displaying surprising malice or surprising ignorance. The FSF is one of the key reasons we have the goods today. I'd be more than willing to bet the by lines of code alone, the FSF's contribution to the average distribution dwarfs that of the Linux kernel. The FSF is based around a philosophy; an ideology in fact. And they evangelize that ideology. They want to persude you that their beliefs are right. The regard code politically. I think very few people do right now. But with DRM, Palladium, the DMCA, and many other developments, I think it is going to be more and more common.

    In other words, I think the FSF's greatest contribution may turn out to be their ideology, and not their code at all. Time will tell on that point. In the meantime, even though I buy into their philosophy, I still will call it "Linux." Guess I'm not a True Believer, but rather a true believer.
  • By Joe Ottinger (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Real World Stuff (561780) <> on Wednesday September 25, 2002 @12:30PM (#4328225) Journal
    Why I Can't Stand the FSF I like open source. I use open source software when it's appropriate. I write open source software, at that, and I'm happy to do so.

    That said, I really, really dislike the Free Software Foundation. When I have a choice between their offerings and someone else's, I nearly always go with the alternatives. I don't use their licenses. I don't defend them, or even their goals, really. In many ways, I'm actively antagonistic.


    It's pretty simple. I thought the FSF rocked until I had to deal with them directly, and the repercussions of that interaction made me reconsider all my assumptions.

    Starting Down the Slippery Slope I was working as a consultant for IBM in 1997, on their ProductManager suite. ProductManager needed a little language, for which I designed a grammar and lexer. When you need a compiler compiler and a lexer, you look at packages in the yacc and lex family... and the best of those, for C, remain the FSF's bison and Vern Paxson's flex. Not only was I trying to do well for IBM, but I was also aiming at using the best products available.

    IBM, understandably, wanted to cover its pockets in the case of liability, so they had me talk to the respective authors to make sure that their code was actually theirs to give away. The reasoning was, as I understand it, that if (say) flex incorporated some copyrighted Microsoft code, and Microsoft discovered that IBM was using that code, Microsoft could sue both the author of flex and IBM. However, if IBM had a signed affadavit from the respective authors that asserted their right to distribute code, then IBM would have done due diligence to protect itself and other companies from illegal activity. It wouldn't have been a full defense, but would be enough to mitigate most damage in court. (The realisation that IBM didn't expect due diligence to be a complete shield was a blow to my faith in civil courts, too, even though that faith was pretty weak to begin with.)

    So I wrote Vern Paxson and the FSF (because Richard Stallman was listed as the author of bison, which surprised me.) Vern got back with me after a few hours, and said he'd be happy to sign a form for us. When I talked to him on the phone and explained the exact situation, he reversed his position, saying that he simply couldn't honestly say that flex had no copyrighted code in it. He didn't think it did, but he wasn't able to get such an assertion from each author.

    That eliminated flex for our project. I didn't mind, for a few reasons: one was that lexers are fairly trivial, and we could replace lex with something feature-comparable; another reason was that Vern was very straightforward about the situation. I got the feeling that he actually considered the needs of his potential userbase.

    A few hours after Vern's initial reply came back, the FSF responded, too. (I was genuinely surprised at how rapid both responses were made.) They said that Richard Stallman was, indeed, the author of bison, and soon we managed to strike up a dialog with him directly.

    Eventually, we were in a conference call with him. I was a little awed, considering that I'd been using some of RMS's tools (like Emacs) for quite some time even then. Basically, we had in mind a sort of quid pro quo, in that we wanted an affadavit signed and he wanted a monetary grant. It was also a chance for the FSF to score points in the courts, since the GPL hadn't been challenged. Our reasoning was that if IBM was using the code, and was challenged, then the FSF would be piggybacking a defense of the LGPL from IBM's defense team.

    RMS would have none of it. What we were asking for, to be clear, was an assertion that the FSF had the right to apply their license to the software they made available. A denial of that assertion undermines their whole reason for being, after all, and we were certainly going to recompense the FSF for making good software available. Instead, RMS refused outright to sign the affadavit, and suggested quite bluntly that ProductManager (which costed IBM millions to develop, and was a pretty vertical product) should be open source, and we could send a check to him at this address, etc.

    I was not impressed. It wasn't so much the open source spiel that bothered me, but the refusal of the assertion. If it was my code, I'd have been happy to say it was mine, as long as I knew (a la Vern Paxson's response). RMS, however, didn't even entertain the thought from the impression he gave us. Instead, he came across as a complete hypocrite, an impression confirmed with further investigation of the FSF's policies and approach. He was effectively implying that he'd stolen the code, and released it as open source just to further his personal views on software source code availability.

    The Air Over There I think the FSF is on crack. They want software to be open-sourced, as a statement of ethics, and yet they advocate strong-arming companies in order to get what they want. They don't want the code, even - they just want all code to be open source, and they're willing to act like brown-shirts to do it.

    If you go to their home page, for example, you see this announcement at the end of the first paragraph:

    Variants of the GNU operating system, which use the kernel Linux, are now widely used; though these systems are often referred to as ``Linux'', they are more accurately called GNU/Linux systems. The opening sentence for the paragraph is "Welcome to the GNU Project web server."


    Not only is the sentence about Linux inappropriate for the paragraph's subject matter, it's retarded. Their justification is something like this: "Linux is just the kernel, and GNU provides the rest of the system that makes the kernel useful, so the name should be GNU/Linux instead of just Linux."

    That's idiotic. For one thing, they're targeting Linux in this, for reasons of publicity only. (Yes, that's right, I just said the FSF was a bunch of publicity whores.) If they were going to be fair about this, they'd apply that reasoning to a lot of software: "GNU/Cygwin," et cetera. To my knowledge, they don't do this. For another, they presume that GNU is central to Linux... and it's not. I know of developers who've created Linux distributions with BSD tools instead of GNU, for example, and the mere fact that it's doable suggests that maybe GNU isn't as critical to Linux as the FSF seems to suggest. Sure, maybe Linus used GNU tools to generate the kernel. Does that mean that every Visual Basic app needs to trumpet "MS/Whatever" as part of its name, too?

    It gets worse. The FSF not only demands recognition (which, by the way, it got plenty of already), but it actively supports piracy, offering this newspeak as a replacement. "Use neutral terms to describe piracy," they suggest, offering "unauthorized copying" as well as "sharing information with your neighbor." Pardon me, fellows, for actually setting the price I want as recompense for my effort. The freedoms the FSF supposedly tries to work for include the rights to say "No, I wrote this with my blood, sweat, and tears, I want $100 for it or you don't have to use it."

    And that brings up another annoyance with the FSF - the GPL. The GPL is a viral license, requiring programs that use GPLed code to be under the GPL themselves. In a way, that makes sense, although most other similar licenses are less militaristic;most of them respect the right of authors to keep their code proprietary, usually requesting links to the source of licensed software. The GPL, on the other hand, says that it's all open, and they choose licenses accordingly.

    To wit, they have a "Lesser GPL," the LGPL, which doesn't have the same viral effect that the GPL does. The FSF has a document, called Why you shouldn't use the Library GPL for your next library (written before the LGPL was renamed to "Lesser GPL"), which explains that the LGPL is used where there's no real reason to rely on the GNU offering. In other words, all the truly useful stuff they have (and there's a good bit of it) is basically bait for the GPL; "use GetOpt, and we have you!"

    That's cowardly, in my opinion, arguing from a position of weakness.

    And that's the FSF for you.
  • Re:Say It! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by (87560) on Wednesday September 25, 2002 @12:30PM (#4328226) Homepage
    The benefits of the FSF agenda, on the other hand, are not so clear. Wasting time on trival things like renaming Linux ensures that they remain that way.

    While I continue to use Linux in preference over GNU/Linux, I don't agree that FSF agenda is in any way either irrational or trivial. Linux is a stepping stone for learning about the free software ideology. While an ideology of free sharing to form a commonwealth is beyond what many are willing to contemplate, I am always quite happy to explain those ideals to someone who asks me: 'Hey, I just heard that some guy named Stallman wants everyone to change the name of Linux to GNU/Linux.'

    The effort to rename Linux is valuable in itself. It doesn't ever need to succeed because its value is in education of those who hear of the naming conflict. We still need Linux as the stepping stone, so GNU/Linux can't really replace Linux in the public mind; and once it has then the GNU prefix will no longer be needed anyway.

    Building a software commons from nothing is an incredible achievement for the FSF to have completed. I'm sorry you don't value that acheivement enough to donate to them, but hopefully there will always be enough people who do take the time to understand and value their contribution.

  • by quigonn (80360) on Wednesday September 25, 2002 @12:41PM (#4328365) Homepage
    The FSF is always arguing that without their GNU utilities, Linux (or "GNU/Linux" as they call) wouldn't be a complete operating system. If they had read "Operating Systems - Design And Implementation" by Andrew S. Tanenbaum (of Minix fame), they'd know that the operating system is the kernel itself. To quote from the book: "On top of the operating system is the rest of the system software. Here we find the command interpreter (shell), window systems, compilers, editors, and similar application-independent programs. It is important to realize that these programs are definitely not part of the operating system, even though they are typically supplied by the computer manufacturer. This is a crucial, but subtle, point."
  • by theLOUDroom (556455) on Wednesday September 25, 2002 @12:41PM (#4328369)
    You know, I usually agree with Stalmann.
    I'm a pretty avid linux supporter and think that the GPL is great. But I really think he needs to come off it. Linux is named for Linus. Deal with it.
    Every piece of GPLed software doesn't need it's name to begin with G dammit! If I decided to write a program and call it "Foobareng" and I GPLed it and gave the copyright to the FSF, it would be nice if they kept the name. Adding GN to the front of everything is getting a little stupid. If there is a non-free eqivalent for the program that has the same name, by all means add GN or GNU to the front of the name. If not, the author's orignal name should be respected, when possible.
    Linus wrote linux, he named and and he owns the trademark. Stallman should show some respect for the wishes of those besides himself. He really should acknowledge and respect to contributions of those besides himself, to the very minmal point where that author of a piece of software gets to name it. If anyone can decide to change the name of linux, it should be Linus.

    Also, as another poster points out, not all versions of linux include gnu utilities.
  • by gosand (234100) on Wednesday September 25, 2002 @12:42PM (#4328379)
    I was really expecting to see this question in the FAQ:

    How come you haven't talked to Red Hat and other companies about changing their references?

    Surely posting a FAQ on a website may get a few people to change, but getting Red Hat to call it Red Hat GNU/Linux would be HUGE.

  • by dh003i (203189) <dh003i&gmail,com> on Wednesday September 25, 2002 @12:45PM (#4328410) Homepage Journal
    Here's something that many here seem to have overlooked, in their zeal to label Richard Stallman a speech-nazi:

    Why not sue people who call the whole system "Linux"?

    There are no legal grounds to sue them, but since we believe in freedom of speech, we wouldn't want to do that anyway. We ask people to call the system "GNU/Linux" because that is the right thing to do.

    Though I don't think that Linux in general as a reference to all the distributions of Linux should be called GNU/Linux (because some Linux distributions do not use GNU software), I do think that any distribution which uses primarily GNU software along with the Linux kernel should call itself "Distribution GNU/Linux".

    This is really an issue of academic credit and a kind of plaguarism. Due credit should be given to those who created/wrote something. This is the basis of the academic world.
  • Actually... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by robbo (4388) <> on Wednesday September 25, 2002 @12:50PM (#4328479)
    Most of the chips and cards in my machine are ASUS (motherboard, video, etc), but I don't call it an ASUS machine, I call it a P4 system..
  • debian (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bassthang (78064) on Wednesday September 25, 2002 @12:53PM (#4328511) Homepage
    To be honest, "GNU/Linux" has become interchangable in my mind with "Debian". I know that this is factually incorrect, but thats just how I think of it.
  • by Wee (17189) on Wednesday September 25, 2002 @12:56PM (#4328541)
    Hey, thanks for asking a question that is specifically answered in the FAQ.

    Hey, thanks for the personal attack without providing anything meaningful to the discussion. My question isn't answered in the FAQ (which I did read). It's mentioned, but it's not answered.

    The FAQ says: "Since a long name such as GNU/X11/Apache/Linux/TeX/Perl/Python/FreeCiv becomes absurd, at some point, you will have to set a threshold and omit the names of the many other secondary contributions. There is no one obvious right place to set the threshold, so wherever you set it, we won't argue against it."

    OK? You read that too before bitching at me, right? So my questions (which were to Perens specifically, BTW) remain asked: Where does one stop? Is there really a compelling reason to advocate ignoring many groups in favor of one? Do people use GNU stuff more than KDE or X or even Perl?

    The FAQ merely says "GNU is the most important secondary component, so we should include it" and Perens advocates using it as well. My point was that the threshold shouldn't be there, so why bother using it?

    My day isn't complete until I read a post that took longer to write that it would have taken to actually read the linked article, and never would have been written if the poster had done so.

    My day's not complete until someone takes the time out of their busy day to whine about how a discussion board shouldn't be used for a discussion.

    Thanks again.

    Blow me.


  • Too pedantic.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by robbo (4388) <> on Wednesday September 25, 2002 @01:03PM (#4328621)
    I have no illusions about the contribution that the FSF has made to free software, and I'm grateful for tools like gcc, make, and even emacs.

    However, I find this whole naming fiasco to be far too pedantic and divisive. While the FSF has been around far longer, Linux, and to some extent Apache are what launched GNU into the mainstream spotlight. The best thing that ever happened to GNU has been the success of these apps (I don't see Fortune magazine writing up articles on Emacs, the next generation word processor). Almost everyone who uses Linux knows about GNU and the casual users who don't are of little consequence to the promotion of free-as-in-speech software.

    One last thing, the only other party that I've ever seen use the term "operating system" to refer to every package that comes with the distribution was Microsoft in their anti-trust defence. I'm willing to concede that binutils might be an essential part of the Linux OS, but I don't think the entire collection of GNU packages is OS-worthy.

    Ok, flame away. I still think the FSF is a great thing, but there are bigger and better battles to fight than promoting linguistic conformance.
  • Re:CP/M (Score:2, Interesting)

    by user32.ExitWindowsEx (250475) on Wednesday September 25, 2002 @01:05PM (#4328650)
    I thought that an OS was always classically defined as the kernel-mode code....and that the stuff GNU puts out was nothing more than userland utilities.
  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Wednesday September 25, 2002 @01:12PM (#4328723) Journal
    Someone less likely to dig firearms than RMS it would be hard to imagine. ESR, however, is bald as a coot which explains his need for penis proxies...

    Actually, Freud had a bit to say about that issue: In particular, that it was people with a pathological fear of guns who confused them with penises.

    Real "gun nuts" find this amusing. What does it say about the hoplophobes' penises when they claim a human would consider something under a half-inch in diameter to be an improvement? B-)
  • by mjh (57755) <<moc.nalcnroh> <ta> <kram>> on Wednesday September 25, 2002 @01:48PM (#4329110) Homepage Journal
    The FAQ merely says "GNU is the most important secondary component, so we should include it" and Perens advocates using it as well. My point was that the threshold shouldn't be there, so why bother using it?

    Actually the FAQ says that "The principal developer is the GNU Project" implying that Linux is the secondary component. So, according to GNU/Stallman, you need to give the principle developer recognition. You're free to cut off any secondary developers at any point you choose. Call it GNU, or GNU/Linux, or GNU/Linux/perl, etc.

    I disagree with this assessment. I think that GNU will still be a nice set of free utilities for Solaris if Linux didn't come along. If you ask me the principle project is on Linux distros and it's Linux.

    Now, that's just an opinion. Maybe we should measure somehow. How about lines of code? Check out this []. Top project is the kernel.

    Well maybe it's overall contribution? The top 3 pieces of code, are not the GNU project. The first GNU project's contribution is only 15% of the contribution of the top three. 6 of the next 7 projects are GNU projects. Combined they still only account for 69% of the top three projects.

    Ok. Well maybe it should be measured in terms of which code is more frequently resident in memory. Glibc runs a lot, that's for sure. But not as much as the kernel!

    By what measure, other than "we were here first", can GNU make the claim that they're the principle developer?

    I am a supporter of GNU and I agree with almost all of the things that they stand for... including the differentiation of open source from free software. But this silly demand is the stark exception. And it drives me crazy. I wish that they would have simplified the FAQ and put the real reason: "Because we want to ride on the PR coat tails of Linux".

  • by sdo1 (213835) on Wednesday September 25, 2002 @04:24PM (#4330587) Journal
    My First, Last, and Only Word on this subject...

    Actually, you've commented on this subject before [].

    (sorry... your subject sounded like a challenge to me). :-)


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