[OT] Why Stallman says GNU/Linux (was Re: Alright, I give up. What does the "i" in "inode" stand for?)

From: Rob Landley (landley@trommello.org)
Date: Fri Jul 26 2002 - 09:15:08 EST

On Friday 19 July 2002 09:06 pm, Kelsey Hudson wrote:
> On Fri, 19 Jul 2002, Cort Dougan wrote:
> > It should be spelled it GNU/i-node.
> >
> > } Andrew S. Tanenbaum claims it's index nodes in 'Modern Operating
> > } Systems, 2nd ed.'. He also wants them spelled i-node.
> *forwards to RMS*
> stallman ... as much as i respect the guy for his contributions to the
> open source movement, i can't help but ask myself why he's such a baby
> about the little things like that.

Um, because I sort of tried to explain marketing to him, back when I was a
contractor at IBM in late 1998? (For which I would like to apologize to the
community at large. I MEANT well...)

Okay, time to come clean. Back then the fsf web page had a whole "don't call
the OS linux!" section, and I emailed Stallman to object. Linux was a
recognizable and growing operating system brand name, while the Gnu project
was largely seen as a tool vendor in the wider community and "Hurd" meant
nothing to most people (it could be a game or a spreadsheet for all we knew,
or a floor wax for that matter). So fighting against the Linux name was
explicitly counterproductive from a marketing standpoint. If we wanted to
get people to use "Linux", they had probably at least heard of it. Saying
"It's not Linux!" would just confuse them. Stallman's anti-linux crusade was
diminishing one of free sotware's single biggest assets.

The REASON he wanted to do this, according to his web page, was that the hurd
would replace the linux kernel. I told him that if he really did want to
position "Gnu Hurd" as an upgrade to "Gnu Linux", as his web page said, he
first had to attach the GNU name to Linux, sort of like "kellog's raisin
bran", "bud lite", or the way the "Turbo" name allowed Borland to sell many
different types of compilers under one family (Turbo Basic, Turbo Pascal,
Turbo C, Turbo C++. Or Kellog's Rasin Bran, Bud Lite, etc...)

I exchanged three or four emails with him, and he agreed to stop trying to
stop the use of the word Linux and instead promote the GNU organization more,
and highlight its achievements and contributions to Linux. It seemed like a
good thing at the time...

I would like to apologize to the community at large. I kind of got buried in
work and dropped my half of the conversation for a month or two, and then
this "GNU/Linux" thing hit the headlines and I winced a lot. It had turned
into an ego thing and he'd completely missed the marketing point I'd been
trying to make, he had no product to promote except himself and blowing your
own horn has ramifications that deprive it of effectiveness... Anyway, I
emailed him again and tried to go over some of the problems with his first
attempt at marketing, but he was on the road and buried in email, and
generally wasn't listening anymore...

I was also naieve enough back then that I didn't realise the marketing niche
I was pointing him at was already filled by distributions: Red Hat Linux,
Slackware Linux, etc. The last distribution I'd used at that point was SLS.
:) I actually thought the FSF was trying to put out a Linux distribution.
(Well they did -- Debian -- but the project forked away and disassociated
itself from them politically. (Lots of projects seem to do that...) I think
the FSF's web page was a bit out of date when I was trying to catch back up
on Linux after a long digression into OS/2 and Java. Although Debian is
still sort of aligned with the FSF, and as such is the only Linux
distribution to listen to stallman enough to slap GNU/ on their official
name. Or to try to make the Hurd actually run. I think it was debian's web
page that pointed me back to gnu.org at the time, actually...)

So now you know. Once again, I am deeply sorry. At least he stopped telling
people not to use the word "Linux" at all for the name of the OS...


(Last time I spoke to him, which was quite a while ago now, he had a similar
problem with "intellectual property". The whole of the FSF is one big
crusade about the scope and application of intellectual property law, and
that's really his main area of strength, but he doesn't like to use the
phrase "intellectual property", which puts him at a bit of a disadvantage
discussing it if you ask me...)
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