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GNU/Linux vs. Linux

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Assigned keywords: Computer, Foreign Language

Another ongoing debate existing in the realm of computer science is whether to call Linux GNU/Linux or just plain Linux. Stallman's Free Software Foundation, who made the GNU tools, surely desires to have Linux called GNU/Linux.

It makes some sense. Torvalds wrote Linux, which is just a kernel. Stallman was up to make a whole new free Unix, powered by Hurd as kernel. Unfortunately, Hurd is not ready as of yet, and it has become a running gag that Hurd will be "complete next year".
So Linux and the existing GNU tools merged into a usable operating system some term as Linux and some as GNU/Linux, taking into consideration that Linux would not be of good use without any tools.

However, Linux and GNU alone would not make me happy - I use a multitude of other programs not included in GNU, like X and Gnome and even vim. So if I should call Linux GNU/Linux, probably I should talk of GNU/X/Gnome/Java/Python/Perl.../Linux too?

The whole issue stems from the fact that Linux isn't a product in the sense of Microsoft Windows or Apple OS X. Whenever I install Windows on a box, I get a predictable amount of functionality, ranging from the W32 API, the shell (Explorer), the Kernel to Solitaire and Minesweeper. Windows is one product, an operating system alone with some applications. Out of the box, it is ready to use after install.

There is no such box when talking of "Linux" in general. There is the Kernel (Linux), there is the Windows System (X), the User Interface (Gnome/KDE), the shell (Bash, among others), Compiler and libraries (GNU) and myriads of servers and applications.
It is possible - and I did it once - to download every single necessary part as source and compile it, until (after some additional work) you have a working system. But many of the components aren't even specific to Linux, Apache runs on BSD and Windows as well and I even compiled software on Cygwin as if running Linux.
That is why there are "distributions" - they essentially select and compile the components for you, add an installer and packet manager and provide that all these different parts will behave. When you download and install Ubuntu, well, then you download and install Ubuntu which happens to consist of Linux, GNU, X, Gnome, Bash and so on.

In the end, what you use is Ubuntu, because it is a specific, unique and thought out collection of tools, and as such is in a usable state. If you want to precise, you should talk about neither Linux not GNU/Linux, but your distro instead, much in the way you eat bread and not Wheat or Salt/Wheat.


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