< Ali Reza Hayati


GNU or Linux? Which One Is the OS?
548 words. A 4 minute read.

Lot of people call the GNU/Linux operating system, Linux. While most of the work is done by the GNU project and the operating system we sue is the GNU operating system, most people even never heard of it. Most of the times I explain to people differences between GNU operating system and the Linux kernel. A Kernel is the central part of an operating system. It manages the operations of the computer and the hardware, most notably memory and CPU time. Kernel is highly important in operating systems but it’s not the operating system itself.

What we’re using is GNU operating system with the Linux kernel.

Why We Should Mention GNU?

While Linux is an important part of GNU/Linux operating system, it’s not an operating system. We should call it GNU/Linux because

  1. We should credit the GNU project for its work.
  2. GNU is the operating system and it’s wrong to call Linux an operating system.
  3. There’s other kernels for GNU operating system and GNU/Linux would be correct term for GNU OS.
  4. GNU will remind people of free software.

Why We Should Mention Linux?

There’s other kernels for GNU operating system too. For example, there’s a kernel developed by the GNU project named Hurd. A GNU operating system using Hurd kernel would be called GNU/Hurd. If we don’t mention the name Linux in GNU/Linux operating system, it may make a confusion for people.

We include Linux in the name because however Linux is not an operating system, it’s an important part of the OS and it will show what kernel your distribution of GNU is using.

Why Not Only GNU?

Calling the GNU/Linux operating system, and other GNU distributions, GNU would be right. As I said, GNU is the operating system so calling distributions GNU OS would be right. However, It won’t give Linux enough credit. Using GNU without the Linux kernel (for now) is almost impossible for most of users so it would be appropriate if we mention Linux.

Is Fedora Linux a Right Term?

I believe it is. GNU operating system is published under GNU General Public license and it will give you the right to name things you develop upon it whatever you want. So calling a distribution of GNU you developed, whatever you want, is right. Fedora Linux would be a right term. I prefer to call it Fedora GNU/Linux because it will give GNU and Linux both credits and will remind people of free software movement.

But calling it Fedora OS, Fedora Linux, or whatever the maintainers want, is not wrong. You get to name the thing you developed and nobody can blame you.

What About Popularity of Linux?

Yes. popularity of Linux will help the GNU/Linux operating system spread. Most of people know Linux (wrongly) as an operating system and it will help GNU/Linux spread but it’s not a good reason to remove GNU and give all credit to Linux. Mentioning GNU will spread the name of Free Software Movement and GNU operating system both. It will be a better term.


Note: Wherever I say “we”, I mean people who are using GNU/Linux operating system or related stuff, not all people. Another thing is I (or other Free Software Movement activists) don’t force anyone to use the GNU/Linux term, we just suggest it.

26 Oct 2019 #software