Last updated on May 24, 2013
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.
I 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.
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.