Open Ballot: GNU/Linux or Linux?


That dreaded question came up again recently in the magazine. Jason Irwin wrote to us protesting that we had used 'Linux' as opposed to 'GNU/Linux' in our beginners guide; Andrew replied with a robust defense of our usage. The issue was picked up on in the Linux Format forums, and now there's a poll running. Perfect timing, we thought, for our fortnightly open ballot. So, readers, let us know your thoughts in the comments, and do take the time to vote in the poll!

For those looking for a bit of background, you can check out the GNU/Linux FAQ on the GNU site, longer than the constitution of the USA according to Andrew. For the other side of things, there's some handy quotes on this Wikipedia page. Of course, you might think that even discussing this topic again is pointless, in which case we recommend going for a walk in the sunshine.

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Your comments

If it will keep rms's rants

If it will keep rms's rants to a minimum, let's call it GNU/Linux or whatever he's into at the moment.

The majority has spoken

I have never, ever heard anyone ever refer to Linux as GNU/Linux - except RMS and the odd person writing a letter in Linux Format. Trying to get everyone change to GNU/Linux is an utterly impossible task and it isn't going to happen.

Sorry RMS but you lost and you lost a very very long time ago.

GNU adds more layers of confusion

I think that while credit for open source goodness that should go to RMS goes to Linus (simply because of its common naming), it suffers from that most wicked of mistresses - it's not catchy. GNU/Linux is a horrible thing to say and read, and I think that's why people prefer to say and write Linux.

Also, what does GNU stand for again? Gnu Not Unix? As if the plethora of complexity for a new user with distros and desktop environments and packages isn't enough who needs to throw a recursive acronym into the mix!!

Is GNU that important?

Let's see: we can soon replace GCC with Clang. glibc can be easily replaced by FreeBSD's C library. What does that leave -- coreutils? Pur-lease. GNU might've provided some useful components in the early days, but it's becoming less and less relevant.

Yes, but ....

OK, a lot of what is in a Linux core distribution is from GNU source code. But let's all remember that GNU was built on top of BSD code from the late '80s and early '90s. It's the Kernel that made it special; otherwise we'd be asking whether to call it GNU/Minix. Or maybe GNU utilities for Microsoft Windows 3.

A Subscribing Penguin from California

PS. Been following you all for years, and subscribing. Sorry to see Mike move on, but you're all doing great -- Thanks for all the Work!

Call it what you want...

These endless debates are rather pointless and a waste of time and energy: GNU/Linux vs Linux, Gnome vs KDE, eat the Oreo cookie shell before the cream or not, which M&M color is tastiest...COME ON!!!

Let's focus on developing great standards, great usability and great performance for a great OS, call it what you want and move on.

P.S. I prefer eating the Oreo whole with 1 bite and yellow M&M's are the best!

Linux is more catchy

Whilst I appreciate the sterling work done by the GNU people I agree that Linux is more catchy.
The general population has enough difficulty appreciating there is an alternative to Microsoft / Apple without being further confused by naming wars.
Perhaps the bit about GNU/Linux being abbreviated in the magazine could be a bit more prominent - having it 3/4 down the right hand column on page 110 in the mag (& in nearly the smallest font in the mag) does not do it justice. I suggest it is included in the "What we do" section on page 3.

Linux is a "trading name" / trademark

As far as I can see, we've got lots of elements that go into a GNU/Linux operating system which, as Andrew points in LXF157, isn't just limited to GNU and Linux (eg, Qt or Mozilla). It just so happens that when awesome software is brought together under one roof, it just happens to be running on a Linux Kernel.

I think there should always be an official name, and GNU/Linux is fine: it's the GNU software and the Linux Kernel, but I don't have any problem using just "Linux" as a representative name for the entire product. It's the same as Doritos being a trademark Walkers Crisps, who are in turn, a subsidiary of PepsiCo. You don't say Pepsi/Walkers/Doritos when you want some tasty corn snacks, do you?


I have not and will not say "GNU/Linux". It's not really in common usage, it's three syllables longer, and I don't give a flying penguin what RMS thinks about it.

GNU/LINUX is true.........

GNU/LINUX is true.........

Unless courtesy dictates, the GNU can always be silent.

Ultimately, I agree with Al.

Just to stir a little though: Given Andrew's(?) expressed discomfort about Ubuntu not using the word Linux overtly in documentation relating to their kernel, it could be argued that similar feelings may be extended legitimately to the lack of the GNU.

Given RMS loads GNU with principles of freedom, and I like those, I just apply the GNU silently (as one does the t in often). That way I don't upset my Mum (especially while she tolerantly adjusts to KDE after a good few years with Gnome 2).

If however it's important to the person I'm talking to, I'd emphasize the GNU.

My 2 cents

Coca Cola is called Coke. It's not it's proper name, but it's what everyone calls it. They adapted. So should the GNU / Linux nazis. If they want to call it Gnu / , go for it. But don't insist everyone else does.

Then again, it took the Coca Cola company almost 6 decades to adopt "Coke"...

OK, so I copy / Pasted this from the forum thread, but they you lot did the same with the question!

Or, indeed, the g in gnu.

Or, indeed, the g in gnu.


I use Linux as a shorthand for GNU/Linux. Sometimes I declare at the start of whatever I'm doing that I've dropped the GNU bit for convenience. I think it's useful to use the full 'proper' title sometimes to serve as a reminder of the range of contributions to Linux but it's too unwieldy, inelegant and just plain labourious to use all the time.

Just call it Ubuntu

There, I've said it, now you can get your monthly back-hander from Mark Shuttleworth.


Clearly, though, it's more important to give voice and discussion to the principles of freedom, as you do, rather than codify them in a name to be intoned by the cognoscenti.

Good work chaps!

Why don't we rename it glinux?

They should rename it to gLinux? It's short, rolls' off the tong easy and should keep both camps happy.

I agree with francium_duck

The "GNU/" is silent, especially when talking to people who wouldn't have a clue what GNU was anyway.

Linux, I have never said

Linux, I have never said GNU/Linux without specifically thinking about it.

Just This Once.....

'frankly My Dear, I dont give a damn' :)

Keep it simple, ....!

Since I started reading about linux that I see this question all the time and I can't even understand why its a question.
Linux is linux... and its already quite complicated to talk about it as it is. Why complicate the name a bit more?

Maybe we should also start writing Linux Mint as: Gnu/Linux/Debian/Ubuntu/Linux Mint

That makes a lot of sense, right?
Can you imagine the nice pub talk:
"- Hey guys, did you check the new wallpaper of the Gnu/Linux/Debian/Ubuntu/Linux Mint 12?
- Yeah, its great. And I just love how Gnu/Linux/Debian/Ubuntu/Linux Mint is so user friendly."

Argument is invalid

It's Linux all the way for me. I don't understand most of the arguments for the GNU /. The 'credit argument' is a little arbitrary. As Andrew pointed out in the magazine, it might as well be GNU/KDE/X/.../Linux; and Some Guy, I Guess mentioned that many GNU softwares can be replaced with non-GNU softwares. Between different distros, the commonality is the linux kernel (or possibly the Ubuntu kernel)

The 'origin, history, and purpose' argument doesn't make any sense either, since new users won't know why GNU/linux is different to linux; and established users will likely think about freedom (on some level) when they think of linux anyway, and will probably know something about GNU's contribution. The argument is predicated on GNU being the be-all-and-end-all of software freedom, which just isn't the case. Perhaps it was in the past, and RMS et al. most certainly deserve some recognition for that; but freedom is an idea that permeates tens of non-GNU licenses, and tens of thousands of pieces of software.

Homonyms, man

Saying GNU/Linux is apt to make people think they need to abandon the old Linux for this new one you keep going on about.

Politically Correct

The problem of getting people to say GNU/Linux is akin to that of getting people to say he/she by the proponents of politically correct language. While the idea behind the switch in usage is perhaps ethically sound, the proposed replacement is simply inelegant and cumbersome to use. Such assertions that the linguistic change is ethically necessary are bound to fail because language almost universally moves toward shortening the number of characters/symbols necessary to express a particular idea.

Contently Neutral.

Free vs Open Source; dpkg vs rpm; vi vs emacs; GNOME vs KDE. There's a lot of fragmentation in the community and the GNU/Linux vs Linux debate fits right in. I am extremely appreciative of GNU's contribution to Linux (or Linux's contribution to GNU if you prefer) and I acknowledge the right to use either "Linux" or "GNU/Linux" when referring to the operating system.

Just like with most things (GNU/)Linux, personal preference decides what you use. Citing practicality or correctness can justify personal preferences but we each have different stances on such matters. Freedom of choice appeals to us - that's why many are using Linux in the first place. RMS seems arrogant - pushing "GNU/Linux" so hard but he's just promoting what is more correct (and less practical). Instead of getting caught up with superiority complexes, we should all take pride in having a wide array of choices - even in the non-software matters.

TL;DR: I say "Linux" for informal situations and at least once mention "GNU/Linux" for formal situations.


This is a tired old argument that is frankly very pointless.

The real issue is great software which enables you to do what you like with it and works on old hardware too.

Lets focus on Linux's postive benefits than on tired negativeism.

not valid anymore

How valid is this argument today...

Linux (or GNU/Linux) consists of so many contributions.
Sure when it all begun it was the GNU toolchain which was used to build the first Linux kernel and there was not much else.

Today GNU as well as the kernel are just a part of something much bigger.


credits belong to all of them for contributing to the OS in one or the other form.

Just wonder, is there any....

real usable GNU-based OS without the Linux kernel (Hurd?)

and on the other side

any real usable Linux kernel-based OS without GNU toolchain?

CC. I did you a favour with a great product placement ;)

Outdated question, from another age

When referring to operating systems as the geek knows them, call it GNU/Linux. When referring to operating systems as the everyman understands them, call it "Fedora", "Ubuntu", "Mageia", etc.

Never call it Linux; this meritless label tells almost nothing about the technical platform, nor about the user experience, nor does it denote a useful system of standardized development interfaces. As a trademark, it's poisoned. As a product, it's incoherent.

A Better Way ...

Just call it Android - that's the future!

Just like the words Nestcape and Mozilla ...

And remember, it's spelled GNU/Linux, but it's pronounced Linux.


I'm still debating

I'm still debating "Linn-ucks" versus "Lie-nucks"...

Captcha: Father Gates

Pronunciation and Branding

@Iselalmaen => I used to go the "lie-nux" route, but Linus Torvalds is as close to an authority as we'll get on the subject, and he pronounces it "lee-nooks" in Finnish (you can find the soundbyte online). The closest approximation in English is "lynn-ux". Most people pronounce it this way, and it flows better off the tongue.

Regarding GNU/Linux, it's just silly. It's a clumsy name, and as already mentioned in the magazine, if you want to go down that route, you'd need to credit every component of the system. Linux is the closest thing we've got to a brand name. We should use it.

First of GNU/ doesn't really

First of GNU/ doesn't really roll of the tongue and secondly everyone that knows even the tiniest bit about how their os works knows where the parts are from and seeing as it's not KDE/Gnu/Linux etc I see no real point.


I say respect where it's due and agree with the francium_duck on this.

Credit where credit is due...

...hence we should always say "Frozen Bubble / Supertuxkart / Pink Ponies / Linux". Whoever fails to do that will spend the rest of eternity in hell, listen to endless recitals of the Free Software song!

Sounds stupid. It's stupid.

There's know getting away from the fact that GNU/Linux just sounds *stupid*, it doesn't roll, it's awkward to say. If RMS really feels the need to push something why not something like 'Glinux' instead. Honestly though, it's a stupid argument, the world has far better things to argue about.

Thank you GNU foundation for your software, but please, drop this silly campaign.

Does it really matter....

It doesn't really matter.

The name Linux is just a term to throw all Linux related systems on one pile. The term is very broad because in itself on a desktop it is nothing.

Linux gets a face when KDE, Gnome, XFCE, Unity, etc, etc is used.

Do we also say Linux Ubuntu, Linux OpenSUSE, Linux Fedora?

Solution: Say linux, spell

Solution: Say linux, spell "LiNux" - The "N" stands for the "N" in gNu.

Let's Move On

Yep, I'm hearing pretty clearly from everyone just what I'm thinking...this is a silly argument that is getting much more attention than it's worth. For 20 years we've been calling in Linux, and I suspect only the hardcore pedantic purist is going to make an issue of it.

What's important isn't what we call it, but that it is working brilliantly for us. Let's move on.

Why no what it is?

Linux is just a kernel. We all know that. But we also know that most PC operating systems that use Linux are in them self Linux. We can all agree that Android is NOT Linux but it does use Linux and Ubuntu is moving further away from Linux every day to a point where it will only be Ubuntu.

Lets just just call them by their distro name and what the expected software set is going to run on them. That is... Linux. Example: Slackware Linux. However, I don't think I can bring my self to say Ubuntu Linux... But that's close enough for now.

So then what is GNU/Linux? well It's just that. It's a small set of applications that run in shell mode on the linux kernel. Most things with graphics require so if anybody wants to complain about the name of GNU/Linux they must give credit there. GNU/X/Linux.... or just Li-GNU-X or something else that nobody cares about.

GNU/Linux RMS was right

It's easy to rag on RMS and soak up the fact that Linux is easier to type, read and pronounce, but just look at what is happening with Ubuntu doing the same thing to Linux! When I first heard they were calling it the "Ubuntu kernel", despite the fact that they are one of the smallest contributes (especially given their resources) and that finding the word "Linux" on their site was akin to hunting for big foot, I was angry.

At the same time, Ubuntu is starting to offer paid apps in their app store. Regardless of what you think of that decision, and I have mixed feelings myself, they are making moves away from software freedom while distancing themselves from the projects that have literally made them what they are. They would be nothing without Linux and GNU.

In short, it may seem like a pain in the ass to give GNU credit when mentioning Linux, but they deserve it. GCC is probably the most popular compiler on the planet and none of us would be able to have our software freedom without RMS, so if he asks for this small thing in return then I think it's the least we can do.

Leenux - linnnnooks - GGGGnu Leenux, AAAArrrgh

Google had a problem with folk saying 'I'm googling', but Google lost that one, too. As long as we all agree in what we're talking about, does it matter? And I still say 'nome instead of G-nome.

Flanders and Swan:
I'm a Gnu,A g-nother gnu
I wish I could g-nash my teeth at you!
I'm a Gnu, How do you do
You really ought to k-now w-ho's w-ho.
I'm a Gnu Spelt G-N-U,

Keep it simple...

Most people know it just as Linux. It is short and snappy and is the G in GNU silent or not? Who cares! For me it is Linux and Gnome has a silent G. I'm with Brian36!

GNU/*/Linux ?

The argument that you *have* to pay respect to GNU by calling it GNU/Linux, indicates that only GNU and the Linux kernel developers contribute to the platform.

But that's not the case, but obviously you cannot call it GNU/PHP/Apache/MySQL/Linux ect... And GNU/*/Linux is even harder to pronounce...

How about just calling it "*"?

I don't GKnow

I don't GKnow!

I think the note from Jason

I think the note from Jason Irwin was well-placed. In a newbie guide to Linux you should declare the full GNU/Linux name, then abbreviate to Linux as you prefer after the introduction. I personally try to include it in written/formal texts, but I don't go around saying "GNU plus Linux" when I evangelize.

That said, you should probably explain plain "Linux" as well (Linus and UNIX aso). The Slackware manual's introduction is a great starting point.

Calling it GNU/PHP/Apache/MySQL silly and completely misses the point. The GNU tools and the Linux kernel are essential to GNU/Linux. PHP, Apache and MySQL are "just" the selling software. GNU tools may be replaced but they haven't yet, so for the time being the point is moot.
The name is GNU/Linux, but we _say_ Linux.

Also, this has nothing to do with RMS, and everything to do with academia. People keep nagging RMS for something that is common practice in academia and also business life.

I found the printed reply either a) tongue-in-cheek or b) sour and unprofessional, depending on how you read it. I hope b) was not intended. Mind the Gap! Your readers are from all over the world, and not everyone can catch the idiomatic nuances. But I'm a subscriber, so you already got your slightly warm ale.

Sigge [pron*: Sigg/e/]
*yeah, right.


Gnu/Linux it is.

Can anyone tell us who did great job that made Linux into popularity beside RMS? Nobody. To me he deserves full recognition.

Too late to change now.

GNU/Linux as a name is not user friendly. It scares the shit out of people (the kind of people who are scared of openiong emails in case their computer explodes.) Linux is easier to handle for the average joe who knows nothing of software freedom, he needs free software to be user friendly, starting with the name!

Follow their thinking and...


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