Linux, GNU, and you


The GNU project started as an attempt to provide a free and open UNIX system to replace the expensive proprietary UNIXes of the day.

The GNU project took a long time to finish the most important part: the kernel. Explaining what a kernel is accurately would be too technical for this article, but it’s enough to say that it’s really important.

While GNU was working on its kernel, Linux popped up and started making waves. The trouble? Linux was just a kernel. While the kernel is a big deal, you need some tools around that kernel to make an operating system.

That’s where GNU came in. The Linux community took the kernel-deficient mass of GNU tools and merged them with Linux to make a full operating system.

But the GNU project wasn’t happy about this. That someone found value in their tools was great, but they were calling it “Linux.” GNU was nowhere to be found in the name.

“Linux? Who does this Finnish upstart think he is? Jerk.”

But GNU was born of the desire to open the world of UNIX to the masses, and forcing the Linux community to put GNU in the name would go against the GNU project’s principles.

So a compromise was reached: GNU would request inclusion in the name. Politely.

But very few people listened. People took issue with the form of inclusion GNU wanted.

“GNU/Linux”

You don’t need to be a marketing wizard to know why only the most die-hard GNU supporter goes along with this. It’s hideous.

What GNU misses is that Linux is a brand far more than it is a collection of code. Linux as a brand is about having the right tools for the job. It’s close to Windows in that respect.

People use Windows because it works. People use Linux, the software under the brand, because they can open their software center and get just about any tool they need in moments.

When most people say “Linux,” they’re referring to that brand and all it encompasses, not just the kernel. Linux works. Ubuntu Linux works. Fedora Linux works.

Even “Ubuntu Linux with GNU” sounds fine. I think most people could get behind that. It’s like “Intel inside.” It’s easy to put in marketing material. The average user won’t know (or care) what GNU is, but it’ll be there.

If GNU wants people to attribute its contribution in the name, it needs a better approach.

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