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Old 05-02-2008, 04:48 AM   #1
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Is it really called Linux?

I read this on the web at

Many users do not understand the difference between the kernel, which is Linux, and the whole system, which they also call “Linux”. The ambiguous use of the name doesn't help people understand. These users often think that Linus Torvalds developed the whole operating system in 1991, with a bit of help.

Programmers generally know that Linux is a kernel. But since they have generally heard the whole system called “Linux” as well, they often envisage a history that would justify naming the whole system after the kernel. For example, many believe that once Linus Torvalds finished writing Linux, the kernel, its users looked around for other free software to go with it, and found that (for no particular reason) most everything necessary to make a Unix-like system was already available.

What they found was no accident—it was the not-quite-complete GNU system. The available free software added up to a complete system because the GNU Project had been working since 1984 to make one. In the The GNU Manifesto we set forth the goal of developing a free Unix-like system, called GNU. The Initial Announcement of the GNU Project also outlines some of the original plans for the GNU system. By the time Linux was started, GNU was almost finished.

Most free software projects have the goal of developing a particular program for a particular job. For example, Linus Torvalds set out to write a Unix-like kernel (Linux); Donald Knuth set out to write a text formatter (TeX); Bob Scheifler set out to develop a window system (the X Window System). It's natural to measure the contribution of this kind of project by specific programs that came from the project.
There is another part on their web that has me confused. I thought it was Linux. They say it is "GNU". They say that Linus Torvalds did not create "Linux" and that they started it long before he did.

What does GNU stand for? Am I running a Linux system? It has a Linux kernel. The desktop says Linux. People call it Linux. They say that it is a GNU system with a Linux kernel. I am totally confused now. I thought that I was starting to get the hang of some things about Linux. Now I think that I do not know anything about Linux. Or GNU? Who is right? Does Linus Torvalds have a web that explains it?
Old 05-02-2008, 05:22 AM   #2
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First, I suggest you get your elbow off the panic button--it sounds like you are about to have a nervous breakdown on this issue....

Indeed, GNU came first. The free Software foundation, started by Richard Stallman, is arguably where Open-Source started. GNU is maybe the first "recursive acronym"--Gnu's Not Unix. It is a collection of Open-source clones of the Unix utilities. The Gnu project was (still is?) working on a kernel (Gnu Hurd).

Then came the Linux kernel.

Then came Linux distributions, which packaged the Linux kernel with the Gnu utilities.

A common argument is that the correct name for a "Linux" distribution should be "Gnu Linux", but it is also arguable that it should be "Linux Gnu" (there is no OS without the kernel.) Regardless of your stand on all this, the fact is that "Linux" is now the commonly recognized name. If you want, you can dodge the bullet and just say "Fedora" or "Ubuntu".
Old 05-02-2008, 06:12 AM   #3
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The Linux, GNU/Linux argument (debate?) has been going on for some time. As pixellany says there's no OS without the kernel, but at the same time a Kernel isn't an OS without all the extra stuff.

I think a lot of this stems from the fact that GNU had set off down the path of making a free UNIX like operating system. They had got most of the job done but still hadn't finished on the kernel. Then someone comes along and adds their kernel to the existing tools and 15 years later everyone is calling it Linux. It's got to sting a bit. Note that no one did anything wrong here; that's what the spirit of free software is about. You adapt and absorb and borrow. As long as the copyright and license terms are correct it's fine.

So for some people GNU/Linux is an attempt to recognise the importance of both parties. It's a Linux kernel, but if you look at the contents of /bin and /sbin the majority of the binaries in there are GNU.

Or course pixellany's comment about 'dodging the bullet' is more true than it initially seems. Each distribution tends to differ slightly in the way they set up their systems. So it actually makes a lot more sense if you say "I can't install Second Life on Ubuntu" then if you say "I can't install Second Life on Linux". Because without knowing whether you're using Ubuntu or Slackware it's hard to give you a straight answer.

As a side example (and not wanting to confuse you even more ), take a look at the Debian distribution. The Debian project generally calls it's self GNU/Linux. That's their decision. But if you look further into their site, they also produce a version of Debian with other kernel types. You can see that they also do GNU/Hurd and GNU/BSD. These are version of Debian that are free of the Linux kernel, yet they are administered and operated just like any other Debian version. So in this sense the distribution name make more sense.

Anyway, these are just my bored ramblings (killing time until lunch). You can read up more at;

But then you could call it what ever you like. As they say 'A rose by any other name ...'.
Old 05-02-2008, 07:10 AM   #4
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...and, don't forget, Solaris (Sun Microsystems' version of SVR4 with Berkeley enhancements), BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution, originally System 3 with student enhancements, nowadays who knows), SCO (Santa Cruz Operation, SVR4 with Berkeley enhancements) and so on. Oh, yeah, System 3 and SVR4 (System V, release 4) are the AT&T Bell Laboratories' originals, called UNIX (and, no, UNIX is not an acronym).

As above, the kernel is what counts; all the rest just makes the kernel useful for something ('cause otherwise all you've got a nice, expensive boat anchor or room warming device). The Free Software Foundation has done a magnificent job of building, distributing and maintaining the utilities, compilers and functions that make "Linux," by whatever name, useful.

And the credit should go where it belongs -- to the people at Bell Laboratories that conceived and made all this possible to begin with.
Old 05-02-2008, 07:31 AM   #5
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GNU/Linux wouldn't be what it is without GNU OR Linux. So, both are (equally) essential. Yes, kernel is 'the core of the OS', but everything you use, from cd to chmod, from g++ to gcc is GNU. There's no argument that GNU/Linux systems use both GNU software and Linux kernel, so the name should include both.

Now, wether it's GNU/Linux or Linux/GNU, doesn't really matter. GNU is older, so it could go first. Also GNU/Linux sounds better
Old 05-02-2008, 08:34 AM   #6
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GNU stands for Gnu's Not Unix!

to have an operating system you need to have alots of things for example a compiler, a kernel, debugger,etc.
Kernel is just 1 part in GNU System, where as GNU is a complete system, but the kernel developed by linus trovolds was very nice, since it can resolve things nicely and faster.
just remember when ever you talk about a system just refer gnu system and when you talk about the kernel then obviously its linux....

also make sure you watch this movie. DIRECTED by J.T.S. Moore.
much of your confusion will vanished after watching this movie.
Old 05-02-2008, 09:06 AM   #7
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I call the OS that I use "Linux" and I even pronounce it wrong! And I don't care.. I really don't....

I deal with way more people on a daily basis who wouldn't know a Linux Kernel from a kernel of corn and it's wAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAy easier to just say I use Linux, if I HAVE to get more involved.. I just say.. You know.. RED HAT! Most of them have at least heard of the company Red Hat..

I know deep down there is a difference between the kernel and the modules and all that other crap that separates the different Non-Windows.. But at the end of the day.. It's all the same to me.. I'm not a kernel level programmer and and I lump all the *nix/etc in the same boat. And it irritates me when some wanna be egghead wants to argue.. "No it's GNU/Linux. its blah blah blah.." I DONT CARE!! And you're NOT going to change my mind. STFU about it.(not directed at the OP)


gnu, linus

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