Most of the world calls it Linux. Linux is a short but strong name. It sound’s like a Roman emperor. “All hail Emperor Linux!” But according to Richard Stallman, a powerful figure in the community, you’re wrong. It’s GNU/Linux.
Wait… What? What is Linux then?
Good question! Linux is the fundamental core of the operating system, called the kernel. The kernel is responsible for translating requests from the computer’s software into instructions for the computer’s hardware.
Imagine a car. Without an engine, the car can’t do its job. It needs the engine. However, without all the other parts of your car, the engine is pointless. There is a lot more to a car than its engine, but the engine is fundamental.
Well, the engine is to the kernel, what the car is to the operating system. The kernel is very important. Without it, the rest of the operating system can’t function as intended. But the operating system is a lot more than the kernel.
GNU is most of the rest of the car. In 1983, Richard Stallman initiated the GNU Project. Its aim was creating an entire operating system consisting entirely of free software. By 1989, much of the GNU operating system was complete.
The only missing piece of the puzzle was a kernel. At the time, the GNU Project was working on the GNU Hurd kernel, but didn’t have it finished. In fact, it’s still under development. There hasn’t been a stable release in the more than 20 years since its start.
In the early 1990s, Linus Torvalds released his kernel to the world (it eventually became known as the Linux kernel). Realizing that a kernel, on its own, is not a meaningful operating system, he added the GNU Project’s software to his kernel, and what we call the Linux operating system was born. Linux kernel, GNU software.
What’s Wrong With the Linux Name?
Understandably, the people behind the GNU Project want recognition, both for their contributions to Linux and the underlying philosophy of the GNU Project.
To this end, Richard Stallman, and many others, oppose the name Linux in favor of GNU/Linux (supposedly pronounced “guh new slash len ux“, though pronunciation is its own debate).
Unfortunately for them, the name Linux caught on early, and isn’t going away. Linux, with its two smooth syllables, rolls off the tongue. GNU/Linux does not.
Why Stallman Has a Point:
Calling this wonderful operating system Linux downplays GNU’s importance, and the “free software” philosophy behind it. Linux was not developed and published with the same goals as GNU, and many of today’s Linux distributions operate in stark opposition to those goals. Calling it GNU/Linux at least pays homage to GNU and what it stands for, and, presumably, raises awareness for the cause.
Why Everyone Else Has a Point:
First and foremost, giving name credit to everyone who deserves recognition is hugely impractical. GNU has no graphical user interface. Most distributions of Linux use a user interface built on the X Window System. So why not call it GNU/X/Linux. If you’re like me and live on the Internet, why not give credit to the web browser developers? The Firefox guys are important, so why not GNU/X/Mozilla/Linux. The name is not the place to give credit.
Second, as mentioned earlier, Linux is an easier and catchier name. We humans generally prefer the simpler and better sounding of two alternatives. And since the name Linux has already caught on, why change to a harder name?
So What Do I Do?
Another excellent question! Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer. All I can say is, outside of a few purist circles, nearly everyone calls it Linux. That includes Linux Torvalds and us here at Down To Earth Linux (it’s in the title even!).
You are free to choose whichever name you prefer. Both have merit. Make sure to share your preferred name and why you prefer it in the comments below. We are curious to see how you and the rest of our audience feels.