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GNU Users Who Have Never Heard of GNU

by Richard Stallman

To learn more about this issue, you can also read our GNU/Linux FAQ, our page on Why GNU/Linux? and our page on Linux and the GNU Project.

Most people have never heard of GNU. Even most of the people who use the GNU system have never heard of GNU, since so many people and companies teach them to call it “Linux”. Indeed, GNU users often say they are “running Linux”, which is like saying you are “driving your carburettor” or “driving your transmission”.

Nonetheless, those who know about GNU associate it with the ideals of freedom of the free software movement. That association is no accident; the motive for developing GNU was specifically to make it possible to use a computer and have freedom.

A person seeing the name “GNU” for the first time in “GNU/Linux” won't immediately know what it represents, has come one step closer to finding out. The association between the name GNU and our goals of freedom and social solidarity exists in the minds of hundreds of thousands of GNU/Linux users that do know about GNU. It exists in gnu.org and in Wikipedia. It exists around the web; if these users search for GNU, they will find the ideas GNU stands for.

If they don't search, they may encounter them anyway. The “open source” rhetoric tends to lead people's attention away from issues of users' freedom, but not totally; there is still discussion of GNU and free software, and people have some chance of coming across it. When that happens, they are more likely to pay attention to information about GNU (such as that it's the work of a campaign for freedom and community) if they know they are users of the GNU system.

Over time, calling the system “GNU/Linux” spreads awareness of the ideals of freedom for which we developed the GNU system. It is also useful as a reminder for people in our community who know about these ideals, in a world where much of discussion of free software takes a totally practical (and thus amoral) approach. When we ask you to call the system “GNU/Linux”, we are asking you to help in making the public aware of the free software ideals.

 [FSF logo] “Our mission is to preserve, protect and promote the freedom to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer software, and to defend the rights of Free Software users.”

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