August 27th, 2007

GNU with Linux… Plus KDE, Gnome, etc

Free Software purists spend/waste a lot of time explaining why GNU/Linux is the right name for the operating system and why just “Linux” is wrong, so these are my thoughts…

Alright, if I use the GNU operating system with Linux running as its kernel, then I’d be using GNU/Linux. But wait a second! Isn’t KDE or Gnome one of the most important parts of my system? After all, I wouldn’t use my computer with the command line interface. Also, out of all of the applications I use, how many of them are KDE-based or Gnome-based? Much more than those applications from the GNU project.

So, my desktop environment also deserves to be appended to the name of the system I use and therefore I’m actually using GNU/Linux/KDE. Although… If they say GNU/Linux instead of Linux because the kernel without GNU is useless, then I shouldn’t just append my desktop environment but also its widget toolkit, so I’m afraid the right name of the system I use is GNU/Linux/Qt/KDE. And now I wonder whether I should also append the X Windows System.

This is a mess and I think there are many more important things to do instead of trying to find out what’s the accurate name of my system (I just care about it being freedom-respectful). To sum up, GNU is the base of the operating system and thus my operating system should be called just “GNU”, but it’s unfortunately best known as “Linux” (which is not that bad, after all, it’s the core of the base sub-system)… Also, a drawback of using GNU is that it’s an acronym, which would lead to a hard-to-remember name for a highly important operating system (what’s its name? GUN? UNG? NGU?), specially for non-English speaking people (who won’t remember what GNU stands for).

For the above reasons Linux has always worked, while I’d still prefer to refer to it as GNU (although I often use GNU/Linux to avoid ambiguity). In the end, the name is not so important to me, as long as it isn’t ambiguous.


  1. The Big Failure of the FSF on 27 Aug 2007 at 11:05 am #

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  2. Iestyn Pryce // dylunio on 27 Aug 2007 at 1:24 pm #

    From what I recall in a LUGRadio interview with someone from, “GNU” stands for a few different things. It stands for the project; that is all the tools such as binutils, bash and make. But it also apparently the name of the operating system, which includes things which are not a part of the project such as X Windows. The many meanings of ‘GNU’ seem to me a further complication of a divisive issue.

    I do agree with you however that there is more to free software than a name, and it can become very annoying and unproductive to get hung up about it.

  3. libervisco on 27 Aug 2007 at 4:24 pm #

    It’s an old argument, but as you acknowledge the GNU, along with Linux makes up for a system that can practically run all the other stuff on top, including X, KDE, GNOME etc.

    Linux isn’t really useful without GNU and GNU can’t run without a kernel. And KDE can only run when both are put together.

    Correct me if I’m wrong and if anyone actually managed to get a GUI on Linux kernel alone. ;)

    But I agree that there are more important issues. I tend to use “GNU/Linux” as a name mostly to refer to the philosophy that started with “GNU”. That’s I think the most compelling reason.



  4. Ellis Gibson on 20 May 2010 at 6:04 pm #

    For me, the best operating system is Linux because it rarely hangs.;-`

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    You're visiting the technical blog of Gustavo Narea, a Software Developer based in Oxford.