[Marxism] What's in a name? Linux vs. Stallman's GNU/Linux

Clay Claiborne clayclai at gmail.com
Wed Jan 1 04:21:09 MST 2014

here are some selections on this question from Slashdot. Slashdot has
been one of the best places to hear what people in the community are
saying. These comments are from 1999 when it was still a hot topic,
since then the masses have long settled on just calling it Linux but RMS
is still flogging that dead horse.

Ditto his distinction between "free software" vs "open source
software."  I think its very personal for him, he feels cheated of due
credit but he makes it into a big political question. Do you know the
kernel he never finished, the kernel that would have made an OS out of
his support software was to be named after his girl friend at the time.
Now that's personal.


This first comment addresses why I say RMS is ultra-left on free
software/open source:
> RMS doesn't care if 2 people are 2 million people use his software;
> this isn't a popularity contest for him. If you've followed his whole
> 'open-source' vs 'free' debate, you can see that quite clearly. The
> 'open-source' advocates think that it (OSS/FS) is good if lots of
> people end up using it, whereas RMS seems to think it's good per se.
ultra-left and anarchist share this same flaw, they are convinced they
have created the perfect system in their minds and will brook no
"compromise" to see such a system succeed in the real world. RMS vision
of "free software" and the GNU/Linux system with rules like "you can't
link free software to non-free software" "you can't write books on Free
software and copyright and sell them like almost every other book
published under capitalism" [how could you even enforce such a rule
without violating free speech?] would have been used by a handful of
techies. Linux and open source software, base on precisely the same GPL
and property model is now used by billions and represent a very real
challenge to the capitalist model of intellectual property - and this
has been accomplished before capitalism is overthrown. RMS would never
have accomplished anything like that but he will the the darling of some
on the Left that were asleep when this debate was settled in the
community more than a decade ago.

In a period that has seem incredible privatization of public properties,
the open source software movement has created a public property that
directly challenges Microsoft in value and utility. RMS would never have
accomplished that.

> First off, that editorial, IMHO, was dead on. Can't much argue with that.
> But what irks me more is that we have people like RMS, and those who
> feel the need to respond to him, tied up in a useless debate when they
> could be making significant contributions to the rest of the open
> source community. I mean, geez...let it go! It seems as though RMS is
> focused more on getting attention for past glory instead of using his
> considerable talents and energy for future projects.
> And as for the people who respond to him and spend the time and energy
> defending/fighting him...you folks can end it. If you no longer pay
> any attention to RMS, then he'll either get the picture and move on to
> better things, or he'll end up irrelevant. Either way, the community
> and the movement moves on.
> Suggestion: next time RMS gets an ant in his pants about GNU/Linux,
> whether it's in a post online or at a live conference, ignore it. Move
> on. Call it Linux, call it BSD/X/GNU/Linux/GNOME whatever. But don't
> give in. Either he'll see the light and drop the subject, or he'll get
> tossed out on his keister for causing a scene.
> And everyone else gets to move on. Enough of this, already. A rose by
> any other name....
That was written 14 years ago and RMS still makes his stand on
GNU/Linux. semantics is all?

> /Many people see this behavior [insisting on GNU/Linux] as directly
> hypocritical to his stated cause of freedom. His insistance on this
> name change seems to go against the very philosophy he claims he has
> been fighting for. And the almost feverish intensity of his insistance
> seems only to highlight that hypocracy./
> If RMS said, in interviews, "Please call it GNU/Linux. That is the
> name I prefer. I understand that you have the right to call it what
> you wish, though." Then he would be an advocate. Instead he acts like
> a two year old, ignoring the interviewer until he accedes to RMS's
> will. I would love to see an interviewer, just end an interview rather
> than deal with his nonsense.
> Note: I have respect his older work. I have no respect for what he
> says about Linux.
> /But if it [a license] says "This license forbids you to do the things
> I don't like," it is no longer free./
> What utter nonsense. The GPL says "Don't link my code with non-GPL
> code." That sounds like something "I" don't like. By your definition,
> no license is Free.

> I've seen quite a few arguments for and against calling Linux
> GNU/Linux. The arguments for seem to be based on five major points:
> 1) The kernel doesn't form the entire operating system. Other programs
> make up the OS as well, and the name of the OS should reflect these.
> This is really two points, the second being dependent on the first. If
> you assume for the sake of debate that the kernel is not the entire
> operating system, does it follow that every program that is part of
> the OS should be reflected in the name? I think it doesn't.... after
> all, we don't call it IE/Progman/Windows/DOS. And if you assume that
> it does, that's where ridiculous names like
> "GNU/X/BSD/Apache/Mozilla/Troll/Linux" come from...
> And I'm not sure this is relevant, anyway, because I have trouble
> accepting large amounts of userland stuff as being an integral part of
> the operating system. First off, it seems to me that there's pretty
> obviously a line between the OS and just plain old apps. The kernel is
> definitely part
> of the OS; the program I whipped up the other day to emulate dice for
> Shadowrun pretty definitely isn't.
> Further, it seems to me that the only sensible place to draw this line
> is between the kernel and everything else. Anywhere else creates grey
> areas of significant size. If ls/mv/cp/etc. are part of the OS, what
> about kfm? If bash is part of the OS, what about fvwm? If gcc is part
> of the OS, what about perl? If emacs is part of the OS, what about
> Wordperfect? (And I don't even install emacs on my systems... I'm a
> joe user. Does that mean my OS is incomplete?)
> 2) RMS and the FSF should be given credit for their huge contributions
> to free source.
> Certainly. That's why it's GNU cc, GNU bash, GNU emacs, GNU binutils,
> GNU shutils, GNU libc, and so on. These are the GNU project's
> contributions, and vitally important ones they are. (Well, except for
> emacs:) ) However, Linux is _Linus's_ contribution, so _he_ gets to
> name it.
> 3) Linux is part of the GNU project, and should therefore carry the
> GNU name.
> Well, dismissing for the moment the fact that not even all of the
> FSF's stuff that's indisputably a part of the GNU project has "GNU"
> tacked on the front of its name (bash?)...
> How would you feel if you built something (using, admittedly, borrowed
> tools - but see 4, below), named it after yourself, spent a while
> using it, then your neighbor caught sight of it, and came over and
> said, "I've been trying to build something similar to that for years.
> Since I started building mine first, you have to credit me every time
> you refer to your creation."
> That's what RMS is trying to do to Linux. If not actually wrong, it's
> still, at the very least, rude.
> 4) It wouldn't have been possible to make Linux without gcc, and other
> GNU tools.
> Probably true, but is there a rule now that the product has to be
> named after the tools used to create it? As someone else said, if I
> build a house with Craftsman tools, does that mean I have to put
> Sears/Campbell on my mailbox? Is this new rule going to apply to all
> software? If so, do I have to call my Shadowrun dice program
> GNU/shadowdice from now on? Is the DOS version Borland/shadowdice? Or
> is it still GNU/shadowdice, because I did all the development on Linux
> with gcc, then copied the (99-44/100% pure portable ANSI C) code to a
> DOS box and just did the final compile, from identical source, with
> Borland?
> 5) We need to get GNU and the free source philosophy into the public eye.
> That's a worthwhile objective. I'm sure there are better ways to
> accomplish it, though, then by starting a massive public flamewar that
> can only damage both GNU and Linux in the public eye... You think the
> FUD about Linux not being unified is bad now, wait 'til the MS PR guys
> get hold of this one...
> Share <http://slashdot.org/story/99/04/09/1516203/gnulinux-vs-linux#>
> RMS has contributed greatly to the cause of "Free" software. He is
> simply heritage that cannot be left without respect or credit.
> Personally, I think many of his arguments are specious and his
> personality characteristics can lead many to conclude he brooks no
> contary views. I would hope that this is more the showman side that
> accentuates the negative image than reality.

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