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Re: "MIT/GNU/Linux"

From: Tim X
Subject: Re: "MIT/GNU/Linux"
Date: Sat, 30 Dec 2006 23:09:16 +1100
User-agent: Gnus/5.11 (Gnus v5.11) Emacs/22.0.92 (gnu/linux)

Matthew Flaschen <address@hidden> writes:

> Tim X wrote:
>> Now for some final clarification - at what point does GNU/Linux become
>> something other than GNU/Linux? For example, I would expect a
>> distribution like Debian is certainly of the GNU/Linux variety.
>> However, what about Red Hat and SuSe? 
> Of course.  They are using the same basic tools and software as Debian.
> Possibly even more unclear, what
>> about the distribution Oracle is planning to release as the supported
>> platform for their Oracle databases, can you also call this GNU/Linux? 
> Even more obvious.  Oracle's product is nothing but Red Hat Enterprise
> Linux repackaged.

So then, should that be Red Hat Enterprise GNU Linux?

Also, when Larry initially announced that Oracle would do their own
distribution, while he indicated it would likely be based on RH
Enterprise, he was not prepared to commit to that. I was not aware he
(or Oracle) had yet made such a commitment.

Obviously, I wasn't clear enough. The point I wanted clarification on
is whether GNU Linux refers to Linux distributions which comprise of
only free software or whether it refers to all distributions which use
both the Linux kernel and GNU utilities and other free software
regardless of what other non-free software the distribution contains.

>> If there are some distributions which are GNU/Linux and some which are
>> not, what is the generic name used to refer to all of them
>> collectively (i.e. in the sense of Unix or *nix)? 
> Linux distributions, but you will not find a major distribution that
> doesn't rely on GNU.  Only a few embedded systems use the kernel alone.
>> I also gather from listening to RMS and from some reading that we
>> should also avoid referring to GNU software as open source, but
>> instead as "Free Software".
> RMS started the movement and the GNU Project and that is the term he
> chose to associate with both.

I think you missed the point. RMS does not like the use of the term
open source, but prefers free software. The problem is that open
source does not necessarily mean free (as in liberty) as you can have
software in which the sources are open, but the licensing is
restrictive and non-free. I personally agree with this distinction
unless I have misunderstood his arguement (which is possible and why I
mentioned it.). 

You might believe that this is all self evident, but I have been using
systems based on the Linux kernel since the first release of Slackware
and the terminology and how it is applied has not been a static thing.
The move away from the general term "Linux" to GNU Linux, while
positive in reducing confusion between the OS and kernel references,
was not emphasised initially as much as it seems to be now. Open
source was considered as synonymous with "free software" until Eric
Raymond and the OSI blurred things and an incresing number of
companies attempted to jump on the band wagon by releasing their
sources, but maintaining restrictive licenses etc. IIRC, even the
Linux kernel was not initially released under the GPL. 

Combine this with the fact few of the major distributions use the term
GNU Linux, preferring instead to either avoid explicit references to
Linux in the branding or more often, emphasising their company name,
the confusion in the press, deliberate FUD from SCO and MS etc, it
should not be any surprise that some find it unclear exactly when GNU
Linux is appropriate. 


tcross (at) rapttech dot com dot au

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