Re: Linux isn't an operating system

Richard Stallman (
Wed, 6 Mar 1996 13:44:57 -0500

I think I should explain the difference between "GNU software" and
"the GNU operating system". It would be inaccurate to say that a
system such Slackware consists mainly of GNU software, but correct I
believe to say it is mostly the same as the GNU system.

I started the GNU project in 1984 with the aim of making a complete
free Unix-like operating system. I wrote some parts myself--GCC,
Emacs, GDB, and other smaller ones. Other people wrote other
components for the GNU project. These programs are GNU software.

We also added to the GNU system some programs like X Windows and parts
of BSD which were written by other projects. These programs are not
GNU software, but they are parts of the GNU system (and parts of other
systems as well). When Linux was written, the GNU system was almost
complete, but lacking a kernel. Putting the incomplete GNU system
together with Linux realized my dream of a free operating system.

In principle, there's no reason why a system based on Linux has to be
a variant GNU system, and perhaps some of them are not. But as far as
I know, most of them currently are.

To speak of "Linux Based MIT X Windows/GNU/BSD/MIT systems" would be
correct. But people may find it impractical. The term "Linux-based
GNU system" is also correct, and it is practical.

By using this term, we can help encourage people to work together
instead of dividing themselves artificially into "Linux users" and
"GNU users". This solves an important practical problem.