The GNU/Linux naming problem — Robin Wils's website

Last modified: Mon, Aug 15, 2022

Table of Contents

My opinion

I don’t agree with any of the used names. Linux is the most used kernel and GNU is a common set of tools.

Why GNU+Linux is not the correct word

Systems with BusyBox instead of GNU, systems which use the GNU Hurd kernel and many other systems exist. Calling those systems GNU+Linux isn’t completely correct, is it? There are many other things which run on your system. You probably won’t put them all into the name of the operating system. It is just not convenient to say such a huge name.

Why Linux is not the correct word

Linux is just the kernel in theory. You don’t call Windows, Window NT kernel and you don’t call Mac OS X, XNU.

From a marketing perspective

I think that the word Linux often is easier to market. It is obvious that both words are used to market something. GNU likes the term GNU+Linux, since it gives the GNU project credit. I like the GNU tools, so I also use that word if I have to pick one of the those two words.

Linux is what people know. I don’t think that it is bad to use that word. I do think that none of both words are correct for the reasons which I described in this article.


I don’t have a great solution for this naming problem, but I like to call it a distro. I usually use the distro name when I talk about a system. I use the word Linux and GNU+Linux as well. It is just a name.

The distro name might be the clearest thing that you can use. Another option is to just call the operating systems, distros. Distro is also not the best word, since it could mean a set of software components.

What about calling it UNIX-like systems?

The UNIX philosophy was made by AT&T which was a closed source company. GNU stands for GNU Not UNIX. It provides you the four freedoms. I don’t think that it makes sense to call it a UNIX-like system.