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Mea Culpa, GNU!

Date/Time Permalink: 03/15/06 07:07:30 am
Category: General

Think of the big names in open software. Linux and BSD, and now
Solaris. Didn't think GNU, did you? Yet GNU programs comprise at least
half of the FOSS platform applications out there. I'm editing this now
in Emacs. Running in a Gnome terminal, courtesy of Gnome desktop, by
GNU. Compiled with gcc, the GNU C compiler. It seems that free
software has been standing on the shoulders of a very tall giant
lately, yet why do we keep giving all the focus to everybody but GNU?

Or, to put it in terms of discussions online, why do we need to be
corrected so often - to be reminded that when we say Linux, we really
mean GNU/Linux? Because Linux is just the kernel - the rest is GNU
apps, or apps founded on GNU, or at least compiled on a GNU compiler
and released under the GNU public license. It seems GNU does all the
grunt labor, everybody else gets the glory. How did it get this way?

Well, there's the name. GNU/Linux is clumsy to type and say. Perhaps
we could call it a new name. "Gnulix" rings a bell. It opens the way
for new puns, anyway. Proponents can associate it with DJ-speak, "The
latest, hottest licks!", while detractors can say "Bend over and take
your new licks!"

There's the kernel. If I'm not mistaken, the HURD *still* isn't ready
for prime time, while the Linux kernel is advancing well through it's
second version. If GNU had it's own kernel up and ready, we could
conceivably start releasing pure GNU distros. But I'm kinda starting
to think the HURD might as well never come. We have Linux, and it
works. Alternative kernels are nice to have, but not mandatory. We
also have the BSD kernel. This puts us at a new conclusion: Linux
wouldn't be Linux without GNU, and GNU couldn't have gotten this far
without Linux.

There's the figure-head. Richard Stallman has gotten himself a
reputation as one wild 'n' wooly, tripped-out dude. Everything about
his is crusading and idealism, where Linux Torvalds just wanted
something that worked now. If you have GNU apps on your system, you
probably have some of Stallman's manifestos on your system lurking in
the documentation folders for Emacs and such. Don't get me wrong,
Stallman has the mind of a fox and the heart of a lion - he just has
the people skills of Urkle. Public relations doth have some strain.

As Stallman himself has put it, a Linux kernel plus GNU programs makes
a useful system. That's an understatement. Linus Torvalds has revealed
that, had he known of the GNU effort when he began his kernel, he
would have joined the them instead of striking out on his own. One
thinks that certainly would have built a fire under the HURD
development, anyway. Regardless, GNU is married to, embedded in, mixed
with, or at the very least compatible with every single last free
operating system on this planet. And acknowledge it or not, it makes
free software what it is today.

Now that I've said that, I will continue to irk all the GNU advocates
by saying "Linux", even when I'm talking about exclusively GNU
programs. Because otherwise, people won't know what I'm *talking*
about!

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