I'm currently looking at all the different Linux distros and can't seem to find the original GNU/Linux OS. Apparently there is a GNU System which combined the GNU project with the Linux kernel. How do I get a copy of that or a copy of Linux-libre? I don't want a Linux distribution I want to see what the original OS looked like.

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    There is no "original OS." The term refers to the combination of the two parts and basically any Linux distribution is that. If you don't want a distribution, you can't really have it. Unless you just start compiling pieces of software yourself. Commented Aug 22, 2015 at 3:17
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    @Sami it's called 'linux from scratch', and a lot of people do it. Commented Aug 22, 2015 at 7:51

6 Answers 6


There is no original GNU/Linux operating system. Linux is the kernel and GNU is the operating system.

A Linux distribution is created when users combine the Linux kernel with the essential tools that run an operating system.

Some History in a Nutshell

GNU set out to make a free UNIX-like operating system in 1983. By the early 1990's, GNU had all of the essential programs to run an operating system, besides the kernel. Before GNU could finish writing a kernel with their team, Linus Torvalds had written a UNIX replica kernel known as Linux. It was after the creation of Linux that people looked for a free operating system solution that could run on top of the Linux kernel, and this is how GNU/Linux formed.


You might also be interested in looking at what is called 'Free GNU/Linux distributions', the distributions that are endorsed by GNU community and that completely follow the GNU Public License.



Linux is the kernel. This connects you to the hardware of your system.
GNU (GNU is Not Unix). Here are the essential libre tools you're interested in.

After combining the two parts one gets a "distribution" or "flavor" of Linux, aka GNU/Linux to some.

Perhaps one approximation of what you seek is the GNU/Hurd. https://www.gnu.org/software/hurd/hurd.html

The hurd may be what your "original" will look like.


The "Original" Linux

"Linux" is the kernel, licensed under the GNU General Public License. The GNU part of GNU/Linux can generally be though of as the userland tools such as coreutils, although not all distributions are limited to GNU software for their userland.

Wikipedia says:

Linus Torvalds developed the Linux kernel and distributed its first version, 0.01, in 1991. Linux was initially distributed as source code only, and later as a pair of downloadable floppy disk images – one bootable and containing the Linux kernel itself, and the other with a set of GNU utilities and tools for setting up a file system.

As a result, when you say:

I don't want a Linux distribution I want to see what the original OS looked like.

then the only possible answer is that Linux 0.01 is the "original" release, although I'd hesitate to call it a distribution as such.

As to where you might get it, Google turned up this archive from oldlinux.org. I haven't evaluated the tarball or site for authenticity or completeness, so your mileage may vary.

  • This is likely to confuse the OP. Not only is Linux 0.1 not a distribution, it is not an operating system. The OP wants to know what the original linux looked like and this doesn't set the record straight that there is nothing to look at.
    – Caleb
    Commented Aug 23, 2015 at 20:20

Taken from GNU's website:
    "The GNU system contains all of the official GNU software packages, and also includes non-GNU free software, notably TeX and the X Window System. Also, the GNU system is not a single static set of programs; users and distributors may select different packages according to their needs and desires. The result is still a variant of the GNU system."

In order to see the original GNU/Linux, I would assume that one would need to install all the official GNU software packages and use the Linux kernel. Anything that adds to that set would then be considered a distribution/flavor of GNU/Linux.

Just to reiterate what other answers state: Linux is a free kernel and GNU is a set of free software, combine the two and you get a free operating system.

  • Hmm. E.g. note that GNU/Linux includes GNOME, which currently depends on systemd for important features. It's "interesting" to consider systemd as part of "the GNU system". It's more common to consider systemd part of a broader Linux project which encompasses the "Linux distributions". We could equally call them Linux-based or (covering a slightly different set) GNU-based. Looking at your quote, placed in the context of your answer only - the way it quotes GNU/ without /Linux seems almost divorced from reality. (Reversing the criticism of phrases like "Linux Distribution" for omitting the GNU)
    – sourcejedi
    Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 18:35

What you are looking for is BSD: FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD. Here is a discussion about differences with Linux and a nice genealogy diagram.

  • Well BSD is neither GNU nor Linux (though some BSDs still have a few GNU software or are still built at least in part using GNU software). How would that answer the question? Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 17:13

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