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SubjectRe: Linux isn't an operating system
On Wed, 6 Mar 1996, Richard Stallman wrote:

> I learned to distinguish between an operating system and its kernel
> while working at MIT, since before starting the GNU project. That is
> why the GNU system is not the same as the GNU Hurd plus Mach.
>
> I was surprised to learn that some people consider "operating system"
> to be synonymous with "kernel". But they have quoted textbooks, so
> this usage seems to be well established.

Indeed. In fact, I have never heard a (substantially) different
definition from any other source besides you, here. Linux is UNIX, and in
UNIX the kernel is the OS.

> The other usage, which distinguishes the two terms, is also well
> established. Here's what the Feb 1966 issue of Linux Journal says, on
> page 7, in answer to the question "What is Linux?"
>
> Linux itself is the kernel, the "core" of the operating system,
> Most people use "Linux" to mean all of the software that goes along
> with the kernel to make a usable operating system.

That does not mean that this usage is strictly correct or that it
is widely accepted as as such by computer scientists.

> Many of the users of Linux have got their idea of the meaning of
> "operating system" from there. That explanation distinguishes clearly
> between the kernel and the whole collection of software you need to do
> actual work, but it suggests calling them both "Linux".

No, it states that a lot of people to this. It does not mean that
this is strictly correct, merely a convenient-but-fast-and-loose tag for
the whole package. Linux, properly, is nothing more than the vmlinux
binary in my root dir + any kernel modules I may load.

> So it appears that "operating system" is ambiguous. It can mean the
> whole collection of system software, or it can mean just the kernel.
> This ambiguity probably tends to encourage confusion between those two
> different entities.

Again, it seems pretty unambiguous to me. There is a pretty sharp
dividing line between the domain of the kernel and that outside. Perhaps
that dividing line isn't as sharp when looking at the HURD, but that does
not mean that all OSs can be measured by the same yardstick.

> Most users who use Linux install whole collections of software, which
> contain Linux. These collections include Slackware, Debian,
> Plug-and-Play, RedHat, and so on. They are analogous to
> non-Linux-based collections such as NetBSD, SunOS, HPUX, and Unix. We
> can call such collections operating systems, or ready-to-use
> self-sufficient software distributions, or some other term. Whatever
> name we use, the difference between these collections and the kernel
> is clear.

We *can* call them anything we want, but they are NOT operating
systems, they are distributions.

> I call these collections "Linux-based GNU systems" to help promote
> unity and cooperation in the whole community. I hope some of you will
> join me in doing this.

Richard, if you feel that the GNU stuff isn't getting its fair
share of the recent Linux publicity, I wish you would come right out and
say so. I have to be honest here and say that it looks to me like you are
jealous of all the attention that Linux/Linus has been getting recently.
I can sympathize with you, to a point - the bulk of the world doesn't know
about the FSF, the GPL, you, etc., whereas Linux is visible, flashy, and a
lot more easily explained to non-coders.

You deserve at least as much praise as Linus does, but the fact of
the matter is that grep, awk, ls, and gcc are not as sexy as an operating
system. Your dream of a successful free-software movement is really
starting to take off now, but its celebrity figurehead isn't you or your
organization, it is Linus Torvalds and the Linux project. You are going
to have to live with that.

Jon Taylor = <taylorj@gaia.ecs.csus.edu> | <http://gaia.ecs.csus.edu/~taylorj>
Show your opposition to the Communications Decency Act! VOTE LIBERTARIAN!
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