As I mentioned a few minutes before I started composing this entry, in a response to a comment by Justin James, I’ve been thinking for some time now about what to call Linux-based operating systems. In particular, what I said was:
Meanwhile, I’ve been kicking around the idea of what to call Linux systems. We’re all familiar, I’m sure, with the argument over whether they’re “Linux” or “GNU/Linux”, but I’ve been thinking that it might actually be more appropriate to call it “GPL/Linux”. Oh, wait, I’ve got an even better idea. I’ll make it a new post.
There are several factors (aka “problems”) that arise in trying to decide what term to use:
- Linux is just a kernel, technically. A complete operating system using the Linux kernel is technically a “Linux-based operating system distribution”, or something to that effect, often called a “Linux distribution”, or just a “distro” when feeling really lazy. Many refer to Linux-based operating systems in the generic as “Linux”, as though it’s all one OS, though.
- According to the FSF faithful, calling a Linux distribution, or the archetypal Linux-based OS, “Linux” is verboten. These people of course prefer the more complex, and RMS-aggrandizing, term “GNU/Linux”.
- Really, when you get right down to it, one of the two most important factors in any Linux distribution is by definition the Linux kernel — and the other is its license, the GPL. All those GNU tools are not strictly necessary to the creation of a Linux distribution (no, not even GCC, which could be replaced by the Intel compiler if you really want to), but the license is legally indivisible from Linux distributions at this point, if only because it’s effectively impossible to round up all the copyright holders necessary to relicense the Linux kernel. Thus, this whole “GNU/Linux” thing is a red herring predicated upon some egos over there in FSF-land, and it should probably be called “GPL/Linux” instead.
- These slash-delimited compound monickers are clumsy and annoying to say and to type.
My solution, which came to me like a bolt out of the blue while typing up that response to Justin James, is simple, elegant, and about as accurate as you can get, IMHO. Let’s just call it GPLinux when we aren’t speaking of a specific distribution. Debian is Debian, Fedora is Fedora, and Slackware is Slackware, but all three of them (and many more) are GPLinux. It’s easier to say than either GNU/Linux or GPL/Linux, it’s more accurate than GNU/Linux, and it carries the utility of a practical double entendre, in that it’s the “general purpose” term for Linux-based OSes (thus, “General Purpose Linux”).