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Re: A matter of manners

From: Bas Wijnen
Subject: Re: A matter of manners
Date: Sat, 24 Sep 2005 12:18:18 +0200
User-agent: Mutt/1.5.11

On Sat, Sep 24, 2005 at 08:01:39AM +0200, Soren Jonsson wrote:
> Hello, 


> First I would like to apologize to everyone who feel insulted for me 
> calling Debian GNU/Linux 3.1 just Debian Linux 3.1 in my question about 
> your version of autoconf. It was not my intention to be insulting, and I am 
> sorry that I was that unintentionaly.

Thank you for this very polite message.  I do not think anyone actually was
insulted, and with the explanation you give we have no right to be so IMO. :-)
It would be insulting if you know that we would call it GNU/Linux in this
situation, and refusing to do so.  This was not the case, as far as I can see.

> But I would like to explain my reasoning, even if i don't defend it. I will 
> therefore ask you if you allways use the same formalism regarding other 
> products?

I cannot speak for others, but I think this is an interesting point, and will
answer for myself.

> For example: if your car is a Ford Focus 4-Dr Sedan ZX4, do you allways 
> refer to it as a "Ford Focus 4-Dr Sedan ZX4"?

No, I don't.

> Focus is a registerd trademark for Ford Inc,

This is the key issue here.  Focus is owned by Ford, so when you say Focus,
you're still talking about the same company, with the same goals, etc.  For
example, if Ford was to support a dictator in oppressing his people, and we
want to boycott it for that reason, then we shouldn't by a Focus, because
they're part of Ford.  GNU and Linux are not linked together like that.  They
are separate, and if you don't like Linus' decision to use bitkeeper or his
general attitude towards non-free software, and you want to boycott it for
that reason, then that doesn't mean you shouldn't use any part of the
GNU/Linux operating system, but only the kernel "Linux".  Calling the whole
system Linux suggests otherwise.

> with the consequence that no 
> other car manufacturer can name their car a Focus. So if you refer to the 
> car as a Focus, it is implicated in the inforamtion that it is a Ford. 

This is an interesting point.  There is AFAIK indeed no other operating system
which uses the Linux kernel, so people who say they use Linux are almost
certainly using a (modified) GNU operating system.

> In the same way there are just two operating systems available from Debian, 
> and now I am using the full formalism, Debian GNU/Linux and Debian 
> GNU/HURD. Debian GNU/Linux has versions as an added specification, but I am 
> unaware of any version numbring for Debian GNU/Hurd.

The architecture is hurd-i386.  Currently there are no other plarforms for
Hurd supported by Debian.  The linux-based versions don't have the kernel name
in front (it's not "linux-amd64", but just "amd64") for historical reasons.
Currently they're moving the kernel-* packages to linux-*, but AFAIK there are
no plans yet to move the version names of the OS.

> Therefore I felt at the time that I was writing my original mail that it was
> implicated from the information that I was using GNU/Linux, and therefore I
> did not state this explicitly.

It is indeed implied (in fact, just saying Debian implies a GNU system at the
moment), but that's because of the great error correction systems in our
brains.  In other words, even though it's wrong, we still understand it. :-)

I'll modify your metaphore a bit to make it more fitting to the situation:

Let's say I start a new company which produces car engines, called
SuperEngine.  I'm not too keen on portability issues, so I decide to support
only Ford cars.  Then people buying a car with a SuperEngine in it will always
be buying a Ford, because there aren't any others.  Still Ford wouldn't like
it if people would say "I'm driving a SuperEngine" instead of "I'm driving a
Ford" or even better "I'm driving a Ford with a SuperEngine".

This isn't very important, until I start to make claims that Ford doesn't
like, for example that safety is for wimps, and that I always have a map on
the passenger seat and I usually look at it during driving.  If the people
think they're driving a Ford, and someone who made their car is claiming these
things, that's giving Ford a bad name.

This metaphore is actually quite fitting, because the parts also have a
similar relationship.  The engine is a very important part of a car, but it is
not a car all by itself.  In particular, the job of building a car is mostly
about fitting the parts together.  Ford cars are theirs because they designed
how they fit together, not because they produced the engines, or they produced
the paint, or they produced the leather for the seats.  If they just bought
all the parts and fitted them together, it would still be a Ford.

That is exactly what GNU set out to do: creating an operating system.  They
couldn't "buy" all the parts, so they did in fact produce quite some of them
themselves.  They did use some existing parts as well: X11, latex, several
things from the BSDs...  But that doesn't change the fact that the system was
designed and put together by the GNU project.

> At least here in Sweden that kind of shortening a product name is fairly 
> common,

The difference, as I hope I have explained clearly, is that in this case
"GNU/Linux" does not mean "the Linux version of GNU".  It means "a GNU system,
modified to use a Linux kernel".  The former can be shortened to "Linux", but
the latter should not.  If you must shorten it, it would be "GNU", and that
doesn't give all the information you want. :-)

> so I might have fallen into a cultural trap. If this has given 
> offence, I apologize for this.

Bas Wijnen

PS: The "stories" in this e-mail are hypothetical.  I do not propose to
boycott the Linux kernel, and I do not think safety is for wimps. ;-)

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