GNU discussion (was re:Free your phone)

Dave Crossland dave at
Mon Jan 22 20:11:27 CET 2007

On 22/01/07, Marcel de Jong <mdejong at> wrote:
> On 1/21/07, Dave Crossland <dave at> wrote:
> > If more people are aware of why freedom and community matter, then
> > they will buy more products that support freedom and community, like
> > more Neos.
> How does adding three more letters and a / increase people's knowledge
> on free and open software?

I like to be accurate and know what I am talking about, and I like
others to be too :-)

If you name the system "Linux", you suggest a version of the system's
origin, history, and purpose that is not true. If you call it
GNU/Linux, you present a more accurate idea.

This is explained in depth at

> Joe Schmoe goes into a store to buy a new phone.
> He sees a large selection of phones in the store. He's in the market
> of a smartphone, so he  choses the department of smartphones.
> And then goes looking at the specs and the software bundled with the phone.
> He sees that he can choose between phones that run Microsoft Windows
> Mobile, Symbian, PalmOS, Nokia proprietary OS, Sony/Ericsson
> proprietary OS, and GNU/Linux.
> Then looks at the software. Okay, Windows has a nice layout, and has
> some really nice apps.
> PalmOS' UI is nicely integrated, all apps look decent, though the
> input system is something to get used to.
> Symbian looks dated and both S/E's as well as Nokia's system look clunky.
> The GNU/Linux package looks nice too, and look this one even has GPS
> built-in, and has all accessories added in the bundle for merely $350!
> That looks like a great system. I'll take it.

Joe is judging these phones on purely practical values.

The Free Software concept is that there are things more important than
practical values - although it does not say that pratical values are
unimportant, they clearly are very important.

What is more important than practical values? Community and freedom.

> Joe Schmoe doesn't care whether it's GNU/Linux or 'just' Linux. It's
> not as if he's going to Google "GNU/Linux" while he's in the store to
> find out the core-principles of the software.

It is exactely as if he is going to do that :-)

RenaissanceMan has posted in this thread that he has done just that.

> What he does care about is that It Just Works(tm).

If he has never had a smartphone before, he is likely to only care for
practical values like if it "just works."

But if he has owned a smartphone before, he will likely be frustrated
with the restrictions that it has imposed on him, because of its
proprietary nature.

That is why there is such buzz around OpenMoko: At last, a chance to
escape proprietary restrictions and get the same freedom and community
we are used to with our desktops and laptops :-)

> If he takes it out of the box, and charges the unit does the phone
> work, can he call his buddies to tell about his new acquisition, can
> he text his mates, can he use the calendar?
> It should just work, and easily without having to hack the system.
> (this should especially hold true for the 'consumer phone' that was
> announced in Openmoko's press release)

Calling the system "GNU/Linux" instead of "Linux" will not effect this, at all.

> Sure, credit where credit is due, and I don't see any problem with
> having the manual refer to GNU/Linux (but I also have no qualms if it
> doesn't).

It would be unfair if it didn't. I like to be fair.

> But I think it's a bit farfetched to attribute 3 letters and a / to
> all-customer awareness of the principles behind it.

For many years the idea of a free software operating system was far
fetched. These principles are quite potent, I'd say :-)

> If someone buys the phone merely on the grounds that it runs Linux,
> chances are he or she is already aware of the history and ideals
> behind GNU and Linux.

I disagree. The ideas behind the GNU system and the Linux kernel are
very different, and many GNU/Linux users believe the system was
started in 1991, by a student, for fun. This is sustained by calling
the system "Linux" instead of "GNU/Linux."

> Let's not get lost in this bottomless pit of misconceptions and
> well-intended suggestions.

Yes, by remaining polite and rational :-)

> And let's focus our efforts on making this phone a device which Just Works! :)

I have no doubt about that :-)


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