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Is Linux an OS, a kernel or both? (Linux vs GNU/Linux)

The word “Linux” has entered into the English language meaning a complete Unix-like operating system based on the Linux kernel, which was originally written by Linus Torvalds.

However there are people that claim that Linux is *just* a kernel, and not a full OS. People who make such distinctions often insist on using the GNU/Linux moniker.

So, is Linux an OS, a kernel or both? Should we call it Linux or GNU/Linux?



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  • Without GNU there would be no Linux and no Free Software. It's not about technical details, it's about where you stand

  • you sound like you dont know what youre talking about. GNU never said that all unix look a like systems are GNU or that every OS that uses the linux kernel is a GNU system. What they are saying, rightfully so, is that the operating system that most users use on their desktops and laptops and servers are GNU/Linux systems. And they are absolutely correct. No one is suggesting or has every suggested that Android is GNU. But you also wouldn't call Android just a "Linux" system. Its Android and under the covers it uses Linux. GNU systems have also been built with other kernels besides linux. There is GNU Hurd, there was even a GNU Solaris, and I think they once even made a GNU/kwin at microsoft just as a research project. So your saying that GNU claims that every Linux system is GNU is horse shit and lies.

  • Very good explanation. I think since most people are using GNU over other types command line software it's easier to just say Linux.

  • Bullshit ! GNU + Linux is a whole system. If you think that Linux is enough then start to use kernel without GCC , and glibc :))

  • linux is only the kernel.

  • well

    I think we should call it GNU Linux, as it is Linux released under GNU license. GNU philosophy is inspiring and a lot of software is created in it's spirit.

    Calling Linux kernel and operating system you got to decide. Will you send email using just Linux? Well I guess somehow you could. For me operating system is something to help operate your PC. Going way of calling pure Linux operating system is half trough. As was mentioned it checks 2/3 things book author said makes operating system. Calling something almost like an operating system, operating system isn't very 'computer' way of thinking.

    I will keep calling it sometimes GNU/Linux, sometimes just a linux distribution

  • Honestly, when GNU hippies say this kind of thing, I just think: "I use Adobe/Windows, or as I have recently come to calling it, Adobe plus Windows".
    Seriously, just because we use GNU's software on top of Linux doesn't mean we should call it GNU/Linux. By that logic, Adobe/Windows is a perfectly fine thing to call Windows because Adobe's software is often used on Windows… Just… No.
    Also the GNU name sucks, doesn't roll of the tongue, and new people to Linux will have a hard time remembering it compared to just calling it Linux.
    Lastly, just to piss off GNU hippies, your software is bloated… Stable, granted, but bloated. fight me.

  • Stallman is a jerk, and jealous!

  • Linux isn't a whole operating system but just a little part of it… Hackers took the GNU operating system and make it works with the Linux Kernel and the only correct name of this combination is GNU/Linux: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kb2T8hWRu8g

  • Stallman deserves credit.

  • Adobe hates when "Photoshop" is used as a verb.

  • 8:30 – Richard Stallman didn't say that haha that was a copypasta on 4chan's /g/ board. This actually has to be the most elaborate troll the entire board came up with.

    "I'd just like to interject for a moment. What you’re referring to as Linux, is in fact, GNU/Linux, or as I’ve recently taken to calling it, GNU plus Linux. Linux is not an operating system unto itself, but rather another free component of a fully functioning GNU system made useful by the GNU corelibs, shell utilities and vital system components comprising a full OS as defined by POSIX. Many computer users run a modified version of the GNU system every day, without realizing it. Through a peculiar turn of events, the version of GNU which is widely used today is often called “Linux”, and many of its users are not aware that it is basically the GNU system, developed by the GNU Project. There really is a Linux, and these people are using it, but it is just a part of the system they use. Linux is the kernel: the program in the system that allocates the machine’s resources to the other programs that you run. The kernel is an essential part of an operating system, but useless by itself; it can only function in the context of a complete operating system. Linux is normally used in combination with the GNU operating system: the whole system is basically GNU with Linux added, or GNU/Linux. All the so-called “Linux” distributions are really distributions of GNU/Linux."

  • It's not culture. It's being correct. In a technical discussion at work Linux is a kernel. In the bar sure yeah whatever goes people get what u mean. But this gives a mismeaning that Linux is a complete os.

  • Misleading title.
    What you're referring to as Linux, is in fact, GNU/Linux, or as I've recently taken to calling it, GNU plus Linux.

    Linux is not an operating system unto itself, but rather another free component of a fully functioning GNU system made useful by the GNU corelibs, shell utilities and vital system components comprising a full OS as defined by POSIX.

  • Did you altogether resolve the point about Bash – is this the sole command line tool?

  • Gary has an amazing way to explain things. I love his videos.

  • Well said, brother!!! I've been arguing this point for years! GNU is not Linux!

  • linux is a kernel No way its an OS

  • I call it "GNU operating system"

  • Could you explain the difference amongst Interactive, Non-Interactive, Login and Non-Login Shells?

  • I think it is funnier to Duck Duck Go!

  • Most of the using brand names as verbs (or instead of the generic name) thing usually doesnt bother me that much, but I really hate the Kleenex one

  • sj33sj33

    Author Reply

    a wild Stallman appears

    Seriously, the bottom line is that GNU/Linux is very awkward to both say and type.

  • Thank you Sir.

  • Stand alone Linux is not operating system yet, because it cant boot without third party software.
    It became operating system but only with something like grub at least.
    Of course you are correct that, there are Linux distros without gnu software, and Linus Torvalds say truth that naming distribution shouldn't be limited.
    However I think that you basically don't like Richard Stallman, and its not good because he is second most important person in Linux history, and probably most important person in free software ideology.
    He was the only one who not abandoned free software ideology when everyone else went commercial (I'm not blaming them because – Ce La Vie).
    We should be grateful him for that, thanks to him we have Linux world – not only Unix world – where everything is on limited licences or closed, and expensive.

  • 2:34 GNUances, ha…

  • Gnu

  • Thanks for such an excellent explanation. It irks me every time someone corrects me with "it's GNU/Linux", when I say Linux.

  • LNG.

  • ToranToran

    Author Reply

    Another reason not to call it GNU/Linux, is that it will confuse new users… especially those who aren't really tech minded.

  • U are just rockbuster busting doubts which i had like hard rocks. Can u please make video scope of python in linux and machine learning .

  • NB OpenOffice is EOL, please use LibreOffice…

  • Welcome to splitting hair university, where we learn to split a hair into 200 strands ;-))

  • Some of your arguments were fallacious. Not all arguments and you made really good points in your video. But there were some parts that were hard to accept.

    1) Since there is a technical and highly evaluated book on the field of OS, it's downright unjustifiable to use layman's definition presented in both dictionaries, which, in practice, puts the three definitions in the same level of credibility — which should not be the case.

    2) Contrary to the dictionaries, which have little space to talk about OS'es, a book about OS'es has all its space devote to the subject. So, the author had space to write separately a) one or more definitions of OS and then b) illustrate some of its characteristics.
    You took the characteristics and used them as if they were the actual definition.
    The characteristics were similar to the layman's definitions find in the dictionaries, so that could have cause the confusion.

    3) As to whether Linux should be considered a complete OS or not, note that, even for embedded systems (strip naked of user interface), it was necessary to have more layers and module than those present in Linux kernel alone. I.e., without those modules, Linux alone will make the embedded system run. After all, there are way more functionalities outside the kernel than simply user interface. For this point, the provider of the additional software is immaterial, once additional software was needed.

    3a) Linus Torvalds himself never called his creation an OS, but only a kernel.

    Before ending, I should say that I agree with you that not every distribution should be called GNU/Linux. If all layer above the Linux kernel are GNU, then generic name is due. But there are always softwares shipped together from other projects, so the above almost never happens. This is unfair to every other developer (including FSF) and disproportionately advantageous for Linux, a name easier to connect to Unix than all the others.

  • I call it Linux, and not gnu/linux (it's quite mouthful ). So yeah, Linux for me despite the fact I use gnu tools.

  • well done Gary, I wish I can show this video to my teacher so she finally understands that by using Ubuntu, I'm also using Linux.

  • In Aus I tend to call permenant markers textas

  • Dude, how will you update Linux? Using the GCC. You need to recompile Linux using a compiler to upgrade it. Typically the compiler used is a GNU C Compiler.

  • So Android and GNU/Linux are the same Operation system? good to know… Sadly we have to convince Google of this on their Android website they stubernly not even mention Linux or call it Android/Linux they just call the OS Android.


    if I search the term Linux on this site you find it 0 times.

    Also instead of calling windows 10 windows 10 we should call the OS Windows NT 5.0? or 6.0? or somethnig because that is the operation system.

    Using a very very old book to look what a OS is, makes not much sense because back then OSes looked very differently than today.

    I would argue that a OS has to function the Linux kernel can't load itself it needs a bootloader at least. so calling a peace of software that is non functional by itself a OS is strange to me.

    Wikipedia also disagrees with you:
    "The kernel is a computer program that is the core of a computer's operating system, with complete control over everything in the system"

    When the kernel is only the core of a OS that means that it's only a part of a OS.

  • To understand how deep the subject can go, please the following:

    Libre Software vs Proprietary Software

    Disclaimer: The author of this message doesn't work for either Libre Software movement or “Open Source”. And the following statements were based only on personal experience.

    Free/Libre in software means malicious Free program. A Free/Libre program is verifiable to be healthy and legit program code by Libre Software developers. Proprietary software in the other hand are non-libre program codes. Since proprietary software not verifiable by the libre software community, it might hold malicious codes which will harm your computer/device and might steal your personal data. Proprietary software is either a malware or a possible malware. Libre software continuously and collectively monitored by the Libre Software community, hence you can rest assured that your Libre programs whether you paid for or got it for gratis, will be faithful for your compute needs.

    Since 1983, Free Software Foundation and GNU project drew a thick line between Libre and Proprietary Software. Thanks for FSF members and Dr. Richard Stallman guidance and speeches. In the other hand, the so called “Open Source” clearly allowed Malicious non-Libre codes in their software packages. None-libre source code simply can't be verified to be malicious free program.

    The Revolution OS documentary shows clearly how “Open Source” Author allowed Proprietary software to be part of “Open Source” licensing including and not limited to Linux Kernel.

    Freedom is protected by its believers. The so called “Open Source” author obliviously does not believe in users privacy and freedom. Dr. Richard Stallman had the future vision to see enough what could happen if he allows non-Libre codes inside the GNU OS project. The Linux Kernel developer Mr. Linus Torvalds did a good job by releasing the Linux Kernel under GNU GPL license. We all appreciate Mr. Torvalds contributions to Libre Software movement, but through time, Mr. Torvalds agreed with “Open Source” guidelines to allow proprietary software in the Linux kernel itself.

    As a result, a non-libre Systems such Android became spying smart devices exploiting our privacy. There are malicious and spyware codes spreed on non-Libre GNU/Linux distros such as Android more than all windows and Mac devices combined. So, how can we verify a non-libre program installed in our phone? We simply can’t verify it, it’s proprietary software. We are free to trust the program by agreeing on its Terms and Conditions, but we can’t verify its code before agreeing. We all trusted our phones and computers at one point and the result was and still mega privacy exploitation.

    Please, I urge all of you to read more about Free Software Foundation and Dr. Richard Stallman principles if you care about freedom and privacy, where Libre Software is respected and verified using a very powerful and precise GPL licensing against non-Libre and proprietary software exploiting acts.

    We hope this message find its way to the right people in “Open Source” especially the Linux Kernel lead developer Mr. Torvalds, to take for once the right action against privacy exploitation used by proprietary software since “Open Source” allows it.

    Libre Software User

  • May I suggest to visit Kernel.org and you will find Linux is the Kernel. There is no libre OS other than GNU OS and Linux is one of its Kernel. Be just and give credit where is due. I don’t care what Wikipedia or other authors say.