Kuro5hin.org: technology and culture, from the trenches
create account | help/FAQ | contact | links | search | IRC | site news
[ Everything | Diaries | Technology | Science | Culture | Politics | Media | News | Internet | Op-Ed | Fiction | Meta | MLP ]
We need your support: buy an ad | premium membership

Instigator of "GNU/Linux" Issues Public Apology

By sigwinch in News
Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 10:49:44 AM EST
Tags: Humour (all tags)

Background: Most people refer to operating systems based on the Linux kernel as simply "Linux". However the complete system contains much more software than the kernel proper. In particular, the compiler and basic utility programs created by the GNU project are indispensable and irreplaceable. Yet the complete system is called "Linux", with little public mention of the GNU project. Well that oversight put a bee in the bonnet of Richard M. Stallman, founder of the GNU project. When Linux first started to become famous, his first tactless tactic was telling people not to call the complete system "Linux". Later, for some unknown reason, Stallman compromised on the name "GNU/Linux" (pronounced guh-new-slash-lin-ucks!) to give proper credit to the GNU project. It goes without saying that the Linux community was considerably amused by this.

Now that reason is known. In this post to the linux-kernel mailing list, Rob Landley apologizes for inspiring Stallman to use the atrocious "GNU/Linux" name. The complete hilarious post is within.

From: Rob Landley (landley@trommello.org)
Date: Fri Jul 26 2002 - 09:15:08 EST
Subject: [OT] Why Stallman says GNU/Linux (was Re: Alright, I give up. What does the "i" in "inode" stand for?)

On Friday 19 July 2002 09:06 pm, Kelsey Hudson wrote:
> On Fri, 19 Jul 2002, Cort Dougan wrote:
> > It should be spelled it GNU/i-node.
> >
> > } Andrew S. Tanenbaum claims it's index nodes in 'Modern Operating
> > } Systems, 2nd ed.'. He also wants them spelled i-node.
> *forwards to RMS*
> stallman ... as much as i respect the guy for his contributions to the
> open source movement, i can't help but ask myself why he's such a baby
> about the little things like that.

Um, because I sort of tried to explain marketing to him, back when I was a contractor at IBM in late 1998? (For which I would like to apologize to the community at large. I MEANT well...)

Okay, time to come clean. Back then the fsf web page had a whole "don't call the OS linux!" section, and I emailed Stallman to object. Linux was a recognizable and growing operating system brand name, while the Gnu project was largely seen as a tool vendor in the wider community and "Hurd" meant nothing to most people (it could be a game or a spreadsheet for all we knew, or a floor wax for that matter). So fighting against the Linux name was explicitly counterproductive from a marketing standpoint. If we wanted to get people to use "Linux", they had probably at least heard of it. Saying "It's not Linux!" would just confuse them. Stallman's anti-linux crusade was diminishing one of free sotware's single biggest assets.

The REASON he wanted to do this, according to his web page, was that the hurd would replace the linux kernel. I told him that if he really did want to position "Gnu Hurd" as an upgrade to "Gnu Linux", as his web page said, he first had to attach the GNU name to Linux, sort of like "kellog's raisin bran", "bud lite", or the way the "Turbo" name allowed Borland to sell many different types of compilers under one family (Turbo Basic, Turbo Pascal, Turbo C, Turbo C++. Or Kellog's Rasin Bran, Bud Lite, etc...)

I exchanged three or four emails with him, and he agreed to stop trying to stop the use of the word Linux and instead promote the GNU organization more, and highlight its achievements and contributions to Linux. It seemed like a good thing at the time...

I would like to apologize to the community at large. I kind of got buried in work and dropped my half of the conversation for a month or two, and then this "GNU/Linux" thing hit the headlines and I winced a lot. It had turned into an ego thing and he'd completely missed the marketing point I'd been trying to make, he had no product to promote except himself and blowing your own horn has ramifications that deprive it of effectiveness... Anyway, I emailed him again and tried to go over some of the problems with his first attempt at marketing, but he was on the road and buried in email, and generally wasn't listening anymore...

I was also naieve enough back then that I didn't realise the marketing niche I was pointing him at was already filled by distributions: Red Hat Linux, Slackware Linux, etc. The last distribution I'd used at that point was SLS. :) I actually thought the FSF was trying to put out a Linux distribution. (Well they did -- Debian -- but the project forked away and disassociated itself from them politically. (Lots of projects seem to do that...) I think the FSF's web page was a bit out of date when I was trying to catch back up on Linux after a long digression into OS/2 and Java. Although Debian is still sort of aligned with the FSF, and as such is the only Linux distribution to listen to stallman enough to slap GNU/ on their official name. Or to try to make the Hurd actually run. I think it was debian's web page that pointed me back to gnu.org at the time, actually...)

So now you know. Once again, I am deeply sorry. At least he stopped telling people not to use the word "Linux" at all for the name of the OS...


(Last time I spoke to him, which was quite a while ago now, he had a similar problem with "intellectual property". The whole of the FSF is one big crusade about the scope and application of intellectual property law, and that's really his main area of strength, but he doesn't like to use the phrase "intellectual property", which puts him at a bit of a disadvantage discussing it if you ask me...)


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Do you like "GNU/Linux"?
o Yes 38%
o No 61%

Votes: 196
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o this
o Also by sigwinch

Display: Sort:
Instigator of "GNU/Linux" Issues Public Apology | 49 comments (38 topical, 11 editorial, 0 hidden)
P.S. (3.57 / 7) (#1)
by sigwinch on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 12:50:25 AM EST

I'm supposed to be writing a DoD contract proposal, but reading through my backlog of 37 000 linux-kernel messages seemed ever so much more interesting, especially after the 3rd beer. =) And then I found this gem and just had to post it to K5.

Bad Internet. Go away and let me work. =)

I don't want the world, I just want your half.

hm (3.55 / 9) (#8)
by tps12 on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 06:44:08 AM EST

When the LKML prevents you from doing your work for the DoD, then the terrorists have already won.

[ Parent ]
godwin's law (2.60 / 5) (#14)
by supine on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 09:28:38 AM EST

When the LKML prevents you from doing your work for the DoD, then the terrorists



"No GUI for you! Use lynx!!!, Come back, One year!" -- /avant
[ Parent ]

Thread Ending Topics (2.66 / 3) (#31)
by wnight on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 01:16:31 PM EST

Wow, good thing the terrorists weren't Nazis.

You know, that's a good tactic... Call yourself Nazis and commit a bunch of crimes. Whenever you come up in discussion about how to stop the crimes some Godwin's-Law troll will come along and nix the coversation.

Perfect immunity, as long as the powers that be discuss your case with an old Usenetter around.

[ Parent ]

missing tag (1.00 / 1) (#38)
by supine on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 08:25:49 PM EST


"No GUI for you! Use lynx!!!, Come back, One year!" -- /avant
[ Parent ]
Posting email addresses considered harmful (o/t) (2.66 / 3) (#32)
by prolefeed on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 01:27:26 PM EST

Excellent post, and damned funny.  But wouldn't it be kind to obfuscate this guy's email address?  He was kind enough to send out a message explaining this history; he probably doesn't need one more vulnerable email listing for the robots to swarm.

Just a bit of netiquette that always irks me.

[ Parent ]

Email address (3.00 / 3) (#34)
by sigwinch on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 02:07:18 PM EST

Good point. I did consider that, but the mail had already been sent to linux-kernel (thousands upon thousands of subscribers last I checked, including spam harvesters), and it has been archived on dozens of web-accessible list archivers. Once more here is a drop in the bucket for this particular message.

I don't want the world, I just want your half.
[ Parent ]

RMS is being a child about this (3.28 / 7) (#4)
by Stereo on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 02:36:50 AM EST

He actually pronounces it "Gnu Slash Linux"! The FSF deserves credit, but he's turning it into an obnoxious ego thing.

On the other hand, almost everybody thinks he coded emacs, while he didn't.

kuro5hin - Artes technicae et humaniores, a fossis

RMS's ego (2.33 / 9) (#6)
by BetterEmail on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 03:46:06 AM EST

Doesn't he seem to turn everything into an obnoxious ego thing lately?

[ Parent ]
'tis a little strange (4.40 / 5) (#11)
by Jel on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 07:37:17 AM EST

I always liked GNU/Linux, but pronounce it as "G-NU Linux", with just a short pause in between the two, treating  the slash as a delimiter, just like when you pronounce "and/or".  Works quite nicely, I think.  And as long as you fully understand what the two projects are, then I think the combined name is very effective.

Of course, laypersons might well have an entirely different take on it, and I can't imagine what it would be.

I think both can work just fine.  Everyone knows that Coke's full name is "Coca Cola", but marketing allows them to use both at different times.  "Always coca cola", along with a jingle, works much better than "Always coke".  Name is irrelevant.  Give things their proper name, and THEN market that one.  Anything can be marketed, and since both GNU and Linux have some weight behind them, I think a good marketing strategy would improve using both.
...lend your voices only to sounds of freedom. No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from. Fill your lives with love and bravery, and we shall lead a life uncommon
- Jewel, Life Uncommon
[ Parent ]

Emacs (4.40 / 5) (#12)
by dalinian on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 08:10:55 AM EST

Emacs is a free software project with lots of contributors. Richard Stallman is one of the most important of them, and probably the most important.

Free as in Freedom has a lot of interesting info about the early history of Emacs.

[ Parent ]

IRMS didn't write emacs, Linus didn't write Linux (3.33 / 3) (#37)
by jbuck on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 05:20:07 PM EST

RMS's relationship to Emacs is the same as Linus's relationship to Linux. In both cases, they are the architects, they started it, they wrote the core code, and they decided which contributions from others to accept.

Perhaps you're confused by Gosling's Emacs, which was a version of Emacs written by James Gosling. It was a clone of RMS's original Teco-based ITS Emacs.

There's one difference, of course; RMS handed off the maintainance of Emacs to others.

[ Parent ]

reminds me of (3.90 / 11) (#5)
by miasma on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 03:38:42 AM EST

BRIAN: Are you the Judean People's Front?

REG: Fuck off!

BRIAN: What?

REG: Judean People's Front. We're the People's Front of Judea! Judean People's Front. Cawk.

"No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God." - G.Bush sen.

Splitters! (2.75 / 4) (#21)
by ethereal on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 11:45:37 AM EST

Or, a real life example: the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Makes me chuckle every time I hear it due to its Life-Of-Brianness.

"Wait, I thought we were the People's Front for the Liberation of Palestine?!"


Stand up for your right to not believe: Americans United for Separation of Church and State
[ Parent ]

hmmm (3.72 / 11) (#9)
by streetlawyer on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 07:05:32 AM EST

I would just point out that the fact that "GNU/Linux" more or less rhymes with "Moulinex" ought to be a gift for any Open Source poets out there. It's just one of those slam dunks, like the way Jon Bon Jovi must have felt when he realised that "tonight" rhymed with "all right".

Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
And more importantly (3.00 / 4) (#10)
by gazbo on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 07:36:57 AM EST

"air" rhymes with "care"

Topless, revealing, nude pics and vids of Zora Suleman! Upskirt and down blouse! Cleavage!
Hardcore ZORA SULEMAN pics!

[ Parent ]

/me takes away your riding crop. (2.25 / 4) (#15)
by jabber on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 09:42:09 AM EST

Ok, Mr. Smarty-Pants...

What do "orange" and "purple" rhyme with?

Yeah, that's what I thought.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

I like a challenge (3.00 / 4) (#16)
by gazbo on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 09:54:19 AM EST

Well, I'd think "herbal" is acceptable though not stricty, but if that's not good enough then "nurple" surely counts as a real word - just watch Goldmember for confirmation.

Topless, revealing, nude pics and vids of Zora Suleman! Upskirt and down blouse! Cleavage!
Hardcore ZORA SULEMAN pics!

[ Parent ]

Orange you glad (3.28 / 7) (#18)
by porkchop_d_clown on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 10:23:23 AM EST

I didn't say banana?

To understand American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservative
[ Parent ]

Well (2.50 / 4) (#19)
by Miniluv on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 10:39:43 AM EST

You could do semi-Shakespearean things and mangle the final syllable of those and end up with something sounding like "purpelle" which gets you all sorts of words ending in "ell" like hell or bell. Or you can go the Lewis Carroll route and just make shit up, like "Twerple" or "Burple".

Obviously the same can be done for "orange", perhaps by adding emphasis to the final, normally silent, "e"? Not a terrible lot to rhyme against "orangee" but its a lot easier than nothing to rhyme against orange.

"Too much wasabi and you'll be crying like you did at the last ten minutes of The Terminator" - Alton Brown
[ Parent ]

Rhymes with orange (2.75 / 4) (#25)
by pin0cchio on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 12:16:15 PM EST

Obviously the same can be done for "orange"

"Sporange", or "sporangium", refers to a structure in an organism in which spores are produced.

Apparently, Di$ney thinks "doorhinge" rhymes with "orange" closely enough to make it a trivia question on "One Saturday Morning". It's not exact, but when did you last hear a rapper restrict himself to exact rhyme?

[ Parent ]
Welcome to the Monkey House (3.25 / 4) (#27)
by Mazement on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 12:46:36 PM EST

Kurt Vonnegut rhymed "orange" with "door hinge" once. (The poem's in the title story of the "Welcome to the Monkey House" anthology.)

I don't think he ever found a rhyme for "purple" or "silver", though.

[ Parent ]

Orange (3.00 / 2) (#49)
by Mwongozi on Thu Aug 08, 2002 at 02:04:04 PM EST

"Eating an Orange
While making love
Makes for bizarre enj-
-oyment thereof."

 - Tom Lehrer

[ Parent ]

What is light urple? (n/t) (2.00 / 3) (#22)
by Anonymous 23477 on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 11:49:39 AM EST


[ Parent ]
Door-hinge. (en-tea) (2.50 / 4) (#23)
by Thaeus on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 12:10:11 PM EST


[ Parent ]
Whore binge (NT) (3.00 / 6) (#35)
by rusty on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 02:12:41 PM EST

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Orange? (1.00 / 1) (#48)
by schwar on Thu Aug 08, 2002 at 06:08:10 AM EST


[ Parent ]
GNU/Linux is an improvement... (4.00 / 5) (#24)
by ggeens on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 12:14:58 PM EST

to "Li*g*nux", as RMS insisted on for a while (in 1996 IIRC).

There was quite a commotion about this back then. (On Usenet, The Other Site didn't exist back then.

L'enfer, c'est les huîtres.

Quite a commotion? Heh heh heh... (4.00 / 3) (#28)
by haflinger on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 12:51:59 PM EST

Check this thread. It strains Google's ability to cope.

Did people from the future send George Carlin back in time to save rusty and K5? - leviramsey
[ Parent ]
Mandrake (4.00 / 3) (#30)
by mattbelcher on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 01:01:40 PM EST

Mandrake, while they refer to their product as "Mandrake Linux," refers to the class of systems such as theirs as GNU/Linux systems.

It's really not that bad (4.50 / 2) (#39)
by hardburn on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 10:33:49 PM EST

People say "GNU/Linux" is a mouthful. But it's actualy once less syllable than "TCP/IP".

while($story = K5::Story->new()) { $story->vote(-1) if($story->section() == $POLITICS); }

It is really. (none / 0) (#45)
by dublet on Sat Aug 03, 2002 at 02:50:12 PM EST

well, I usually say TCP/IP like Tee-cee-pee-aye-pee,  so not pronouncing the slash, whihc is quite a mouthful. Gee-en-you-slash-(li|lee)-nucs (depending on how one pronounces Linux. (Another reason to like *BSD)

Badger. Badger. ←
[ Parent ]
Guh-new. (1.00 / 1) (#47)
by Khedak on Wed Aug 07, 2002 at 10:31:22 AM EST

Not that I pronounce it this way, but I've heard a few others pronounce the phrase "Guh-new Lih-nux", which reduces it to four syllables. In addition, every syllable of TCP/IP is stressed whereas GNU/Linux has two stressed and two unstressed syllables.

But just "Lih-nux" or "Lie-nux" are both even shorter still. :)

[ Parent ]
I use GNU. GNU uses Linux. (3.54 / 11) (#40)
by mdavids on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 11:27:51 PM EST

Frankly, I don't care what kernel my operating system uses, provided it's free software. So when referring to that vast bundle of software that I use every day, I choose the name that reflects what's important to me.

I'm can't say what's important to "the Linux community". It doesn't appear to be free software, since non-free software (bitkeeper) is required to contribute code to Linux. I think it used to be something called "world domination". Doesn't get me too excited, I'm afraid.

I have yet to find an instance where the "brand recognition" of Linux has made the explanation any easier:

Winuser: I don't understand. How can you use PCs if you don't use Windows?

Me: I use GNU/Linux.

Winuser: Huh?

Me: Well, you've heard of Linux...

Winuser: Huh?

Me: Uh... Okay. I use GNU. It's a free version of Unix.

Winuser: Oh. Right.

I've also failed to notice anyone who associates themselves with the Linux community, but not the free software community, being "considerably amused" by having to share the limelight. It's more common to hear outraged accusations like "tactless", "atrocious", and (the old favourite) "egotistical".

I use software from a great number of different projects, all of which may have somewhat different aims. As far as I know, only one of those projects has the aim of building a complete, free Unix-like operating system (from it's own and contributed components). So it makes sense to me to name my complete, free Unix-like operating system after that project. Why does this get people so upset?

Incidentally, if you try to engage in a debate on the subject of copyrights and patents, and lump them together under the term "intellectual property", you are automatically conceding a number of things: that ideas are, by default, property; that copyright over a published work and patenting a device is the same thing; that both are essentially the same thing as, say, owning a house. So if you want to question the social usefullness of some aspect of patent law (for example), you have given your opposition the opportunity to cry "Aha! You want to take away my house!"

Use and custom (1.00 / 1) (#42)
by 8ctavIan on Fri Aug 02, 2002 at 02:48:23 PM EST

It's generally use and custom that ultimately decides these things. I would say the the tendency is leaning toward just plain 'Linux'

Injustice is relatively easy to bear; what stings is justice. -- H.L. Mencken

You are wrong (5.00 / 2) (#43)
by corrector on Sat Aug 03, 2002 at 09:17:50 AM EST

You claim the term GNU/Linux was inspired by you in 'late 1998'.

However, it was already being used by both RMS and Debian in April 1997:



It was probably invented even earlier than that, but the Wayback Machine does not go back any further.

Modern technology, eh? ;) (1.00 / 1) (#44)
by Jel on Sat Aug 03, 2002 at 10:13:56 AM EST

Anyone remember the song "Silver Machine"?

It flies,
sideways through time


...lend your voices only to sounds of freedom. No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from. Fill your lives with love and bravery, and we shall lead a life uncommon
- Jewel, Life Uncommon
[ Parent ]

"Intellectual Property" (5.00 / 1) (#46)
by BCoates on Sat Aug 03, 2002 at 08:25:38 PM EST

The reason, IMHO, to avoid the phrase "Intellectual Property" and partucularly "Intellectual Property Law" is to claim that there is no such thing.  You can't break IP law, because it doesn't exist.  There are only Copyright, Patents, and Trademarks, none of which really correspond to property.

I'm not too sure how much of a basis in reality it has, but I think it's pretty compelling.

Benjamin Coates

Instigator of "GNU/Linux" Issues Public Apology | 49 comments (38 topical, 11 editorial, 0 hidden)
Display: Sort:


All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. The Rest © 2000 - Present Kuro5hin.org Inc.
See our legalese page for copyright policies. Please also read our Privacy Policy.
Kuro5hin.org is powered by Free Software, including Apache, Perl, and Linux, The Scoop Engine that runs this site is freely available, under the terms of the GPL.
Need some help? Email help@kuro5hin.org.
My heart's the long stairs.

Powered by Scoop create account | help/FAQ | mission | links | search | IRC | YOU choose the stories!