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Revision as of 17:23, 6 April 2009 by Sarterus (talk | contribs) (What are the differences among GNU, Linux, and GNU/Linux?: made more freindly and added links to the FRY video explaining the GNU and Linux)
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FC-Discuss is a mailing list dedicated to "Discussion of Free Culture in general and this organization in particular." This is its FAQ.

Please feel free to add a question even if you do not know the answer.

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What are the differences among GNU, Linux, and GNU/Linux?

In 1984, the GNU Project began work on a free operating system. An operating system is not a single piece of software but rather an interdependent collection of smaller programs. In 1992, with GNU nearly complete save for the ambitious Hurd kernel, many free software users began to use a new free kernel called Linux. The resulting free operating system is precisely termed GNU/Linux.

Popular "distributions" like Ubuntu, Red Hat, and Debian are all examples of operating systems based on both GNU and Linux.

Out of respect for the history of GNU and the hard work that it represents some have asked for care in distinguishing between Linux (the kernel) and GNU/Linux (the operating system) when posting to FC-Discuss.

The linux homepage Linux.org refers to linux as a "free Unix-type operating system" and give credit to GNU directly for its work on the operating system. In popular media the term linux is often used to refer to operating systems while kernel is not mentioned or understood by most.

The video Freedom Fry — "Happy birthday to GNU", which can be found at GNU's website and on Youtube does a great job explaining what linux and GNU are.

What is the difference between free software and open source?

Free software is not necessarily free-of-cost but rather meets the GNU free software definition,

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
  • The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements (and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole community benefits. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

Thus, Free software is always open source but open source software is not necessarily free.

As "free and open source software" is a whole lot of typing, people frequently use the following acronym FOSS.