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GNU/Linux Is Important After All

I always got the GNU/Linux thing. I had to.

If I were the type to have heroes, Richard Stallman would be near the top of my list, not far below John Lennon and Abbie Hoffman, and way out ahead of Tom Hayden or the several-times-over reinvented Bob Dylan, though the freewheeling Bob Dylan who took it down Highway 61 will always be near the top of the list.

But I digress. I was talking about RMS and GNU/Linux.

RMS is one of those people with whom I’m often in complete agreement–in theory. I just have trouble putting his ideas into practice. For example, RMS says I should always use free software, never anything proprietary. Honestly, I’d like to do just that, but I have a bank that requires I run some of their crapware on Windows if I want to stay PCI compliant. Indeed, if I had the strengths of my convictions, I’d tell the bank where to shove their proprietary junk–but I like to eat and homelessness doesn’t look like an attractive option at this stage in my life.

So RMS makes me feel guilty about nearly everything I do on a computer unless I’m doing it with free software. This is a good thing. It keeps me looking for free and open source answers for all of my computing needs. Heck, even the single Windows machine at the office is loaded with Linux software, like Bluefish and GnuCash.

Well, that’s another thing–did I say “Linux” programs? Excuse me, I probably should’ve said “GNU” programs. That’s another point RMS has been trying to drive home for years.

gnu logo for gnu/linuxI used to think it was perfectly acceptable to freely use the word “Linux” to describe any part of the GNU/Linux environment. Like everybody else, I’d say things like “I run Linux,” “that’s a Linux program,” or “what a cool Linux distro.” Never did the word “GNU” spring from my lips. And never ever, ever, ever did I say “GNU/Linux.”

I knew better. I got it that calling the Mandrake distribution I used “Linux” short shrifted the hardworking folks with the GNU Project. I even understood that when I had “Linux” up and running on my screen, I was basically seeing and interacting with the GNU part of GNU/Linux, because Linux itself was doing it’s work quietly in the background, mainly unseen by me. The “Linux” part of GNU/Linux was the part that gave me the quickness and the stability I appreciated. But the “GNU” part was what I saw and understood to be “Linux.”

I knew all that, but I didn’t care. I thought RMS was nitpicking when he jumped up and down, throwing tantrums and whining because we insisted on calling it “Linux” instead of GNU/Linux. It didn’t matter that I left the GNU Project out of the name. Everybody knew what I was talking about. Linux. The operating system that ran KDE or Gnome and a cool slate of mostly free and open source software.

Of course, that was then. This is now. RMS was right, as is usual. Now I have to say GNU/Linux if I want you to know what the heck I’m talking about.

This poll is closed! Poll activity:
start_date 20/05/2013 01:18:32
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What Linux distro would you be most likely to recommend to a new Linux user?

These days, when I’m out and about in the “real” world where most people think that computers come in two flavors, Apple and Windows, when I say “Linux” a lot of people will automatically assume I’m talking about Android. It hasn’t happened yet, but I know that soon, when I tell someone I run Linux on my computer, I’ll get the reply, “I didn’t know you could run Android on a computer.”

That’s going to get worse. Already another “Linux,” Chrome OS, is coming out of the gate strong, with OEMs tripping all over each other trying to get their implementation on store shelves.

When I think of Linux, I don’t think of Android or Chromebooks. Certainly I understand that these make use of the Linux kernel–which is a positive because it means they should be stable and that they’ll have to conform to the GPL. But they’re lacking the GNU DNA. Debian, RHEL, PCLOS, Slackware, Ubuntu – these are all full brothers and sisters. Android, Chrome OS and the like are only half siblings. Linux may be their mother, but they have a different daddy.

If I was going to purchase a smartphone right now, this minute, or a tablet, I’d choose something running Android–mostly because of the Linux kernel and the GPL. But wait until the Ubuntu phone comes out–then it’ll be a whole ‘nother ballgame. What I really want is GNU/Linux on my phone, on my tablet and on every single computing device I own–even on the damned Windows machine running crapware insisted upon by the bank.

There is one good thing about having to occasionally run Windows, however. It makes me appreciate how great I have it with Linux…er, GNU/Linux.

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux.

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8 comments to GNU/Linux Is Important After All

  • Gustav

    Well said, learned a few things and i do agree :)

  • B.Ross Ashley

    None of my banks – not the Bank of Montreal, not the TD Canada Trust, not – bless them – Alterna Savings, my credit union – care even one little bit which OS I am running Firefox on.

  • [...] GNU/Linux Is Important After All If I was the type to have heroes, Richard Stallman would be near the top of my list, not far below John Lennon and Abbie Hoffman, and way out ahead of Tom Hayden or the several-times-over reinvented Bob Dylan, though the freewheeling Bob Dylan who took it down Highway 61 will always be near the top of the list. [...]

  • I’m agree with you, for people who knows the history it’s not important to say “GNU/Linux” or just “Linux”. Me too said only “Linux”. We know that GNU is a big part of Linux. But the others? Who don’t sees the sun and lives behind a “window”?
    Someone have to say them the truth and tell all the history.

  • @Paolo You said that very well. I especially like he image evoked with your words, “Who don’t see the sun and live behind a ‘window’?” Thanks for your contribution. :-D

  • RMS is awesome and we do need someone like him but come on, the vast majority of the planet doesn’t know Android is Linux based so there is absolutely no danger of confusion.

    There are a ton of tools on my Linux desktop that have nothing to do with GNU so if I wanted to go down that route I would have to call it my GNU/LibreOffice/Lotus/Mozilla Linux system, sorry no I’ll stick to Linux

  • Fair enough, Alan. However, I’ll remind you that LibreOffice, Lotus and Mozilla are all programs, not part of the operating system. While GNU does contain a lot of programs and applications, it also contains a lot of aspects that look an awful lot like part of the OS. Take Bash for instance… :-D

  • Ah well that begs the question doesn’t it – where do you draw the line between what is part of the OS and what is an application ;-)

    (I have to admit Bash is a good one to cite!)