GNU/Linux (Was:Re: The Hurd / Stupid Diskussion / Difference between OS + Operating Environement)

Frank Heckenbach frank at
Thu Mar 21 04:49:52 UTC 2002

Georg Jakob wrote:

> On Wed, 20 Mar 2002, Frank Heckenbach kindly wrote:
> --snip--
> > > This statement is rather old. I do not think it is to the point, anyway:
> > > The Linux Kernel was and is compiled with gcc.
> > 
> > That's exactly M E Leypold's point #3, and I agree with him that
> > this would be silly. I haven't seen any case where a program was
> > named after the tools used to create it. What if I write a
> > completely protable C program, should I call it
> > GNU/Sun/Borland/Microsoft/<insert other C compiler makers>/HelloWorld? ;-)
> Linus created Linux because he couldn't afford a propritary Unix. That 
> aside:
> It is not just about tools. It is about feedom. It is not about having 
> a compiler. It is about having a free (beer & speech) compiler.
> It is about running a free shell (bash) on top of the kernel you created 
> with that compiler. An editor. A start, from which you can continue (at 
> least theoretically) without Minix.
> It is about the GPL - to make the kernel as free as the tools you created 
> it with.
> Oh wait - I am wrong - those are all tools. And the many things provided 
> by GNU the Linux kernel comes with today to create an operating system. 
> Logically, you can reduce them as being "just tools".

In this context they are "tools" indeed. I.e., Linux is no derived
work of them, but they are *used* to create Linux.

Of course, in another context, when dividing programs in (usually
small) "tools" and (large) "applications" and whatever else, most of
the programs mentioned would not fall in the category "tools". I
didn't mean the word "tools" this way.

(Jargon file, entry "tools", meaning 1 vs. 2. ;-)

The mentioning of the GPL above seems unrelated -- I think it's
clear that not every GPL'd program is a GNU program.

> And even the awareness that has been created by GNU and the HURD Project,
> the awareness that it would be good to have a free OS that made developers 
> join Linus. Just another tool.

That's probably a valid point, but it also applies the other way
around. E.g., I'm a GNU developer now, and I got acquainted to GNU
mostly via Linux (leaving aside some small exposure to GNU programs
on Solaris at university and on DJGPP at home before I started with
Linux). It's hard to tell what would have happened if Linux wouldn't
have been there when I was desparately looking for a working OS for
my PC -- maybe I'd have switched to the Hurd some years later, but
maybe (more likely it seems to me) I'd be using BSD or some
proprietary system and not use or develop GNU programs much at all.

You might say I started, coming from proprietary systems, as an open
source guy (though this term didn't exist then, and I don't like it
today), and turned to free software later. I guess I'm not the only
one who first valued the practical advantages and later the freedom.
(Maybe for a very simple reason: To make use of the most important
freedoms, to modify things, you first need a good development
environment and get familiar with it. Providing this environment is
one of the practical advantages, as propagated by the open source
people. Of course, a stable OS kernel is a very important part of
the environment, since rebooting isn't very productive, -- maybe
even the most important part initially, whereas I later discovered
the advantages of the GNU programs like portability and lack of many
restrictions present in the proprietary programs I knew.)

Seen from this point of view, Linux enabled some people (including
myself) to make use of the freedoms practically (not legally --
that's, of course, the merit of the FSF) and therefore to get
involved with GNU. Still I haven't heard anyone requesting GNU to be
called Linux/GNU for this reason.

> But you should *know* that's not the whole truth. 

Of course, I do. But I was replying to one specific argument (i.e.,
that the fact that "The Linux Kernel was and is compiled with gcc"
should have any influence on whether or not to call it GNU/Linux),
so I was only mentioning points related to that argument. I didn't
mean to go though all the other potential reasons for or against
calling it so in my last mail (but since you've brought up some of
them, I'm replying to them now ...).


Frank Heckenbach, frank at
GnuPG and PGP keys: (7977168E)

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