The GNU/Linux Naming Controversy Quietly Lives On

Posted by jun auza On 12/12/2009
Should we really have to call it GNU/Linux instead of just Linux?

The question lingers in my mind after a recent reader commented and corrected me that I should use the term "GNU/Linux" when referring to the entire operating system. I guess the naming controversy quietly lives on.

If you are not familiar with the GNU/Linux naming dispute, I encourage you to read this Wikipedia article first HERE.

Now if you want my opinion, here's how I look at it:

I believe that the name Linux was immediately and widely accepted because it is catchy and it's easier to pronounce than GNU/Linux, or LiGNUx, or GLiNUx, or whatever you can think of. So like majority of FOSS developers, advocates, and enthusiasts from the past and present, I don’t think it’s a sin to simply use the word "Linux".

Richard M. Stallman wrote a FAQ page where he answered many questions regarding this issue. You can read it all HERE.

If you sum up RMS's statements from there, you'll notice that they are mostly about giving "credit" to GNU.

Though I'm very much "thankful" for all those who are behind GNU (most especially to RMS), I'm still comfortable using just the term "Linux", as probably nearly all of you do. It's like I'm grateful for Mozilla because of the Firefox web browser, but nowadays I just call Firefox "Firefox" instead of "Mozilla Firefox", and I don’t feel guilty about it.

From that FAQ page, Stallman sort of admitted that they made a mistake of not correcting people early on when Linux was still in its infancy or when the Linux name was not yet popular. He said, "Calling the system “Linux” is a confusion that has spread faster than the corrective information. The people who combined Linux with the GNU system were not aware that that's what their activity amounted to. They focused their attention on the piece that was Linux and did not realize that more of the combination was GNU. They started calling it “Linux” even though that name did not fit what they had. It took a few years for us to realize what a problem this was and ask people to correct the practice. By that time, the confusion had a big head start."

RMS also had an interesting answer to this question: Why did you wait so long before asking people to use the name GNU/Linux?

His response was: "Actually we didn't. We began talking privately with developers and distributors about this in 1994, and made a more public campaign in 1996. We will continue for as long as it's necessary."

It's almost 2010 already so I think it's really too late to change that "name" thing. It's like teaching me to use the word photocopier instead of "xerox" when referring to a photocopy machine. However, I salute those people who are tirelessly telling us to use the name GNU/Linux instead of Linux, because they are always reminding us of the great contribution that GNU has done for the advancement of software.

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