I am talking about GNU/Linux but not about GNU or Linux!

I know that Kernel is the core component in operating system but I want to know what defines the "operating system" (What can be considered as operating system)?

  • The wikipedia page about GNU and Linux says:

    GNU is an extensive collection of computer software that can be used to build a Unix-like operating system


    Linux is a Unix-like and mostly POSIX-compliant computer operating system (OS) assembled under the model of free and open-source software development and distribution.

  • There is also article : GNU/Linux naming controversy.

So, keeping in mind that Kernel as a core component of operating system, can be considered as OS or the percentage of participation in the operating system can be included?

I visited GNU/Linux FAQ, say more precisely relevant to this topic:

Conclusion of the above points i.e Why they urge to say GNU/Linux is I think: 1) Their principle contribution behind the operating system & 2) In order to introduce and preserve their philosophy of software freedom.

But others like this provides a solution to the Linux operating system naming controversy. which says:

  • Linux is an operating system
  • Linux/GNU is a development system

And refuse to call operating system as Linux/GNU.

In above discussed two parts, I've confused to consider between either of following:

  • GNU operating system with Linux kernel
  • Linux operating system with GNU development tools

And Finally my question is: What can be considered as operating system?

  • The operating system based on kernel and as core part? or
  • Consider the contribution/participation in making operating system?

Note: This question may seem you primarily opinion-based, considering it asks should I say GNU/Linux or Linux. But if possible, I think should not opinion based considering I want to know "what can be considered as operating system"!

Sorry for any discussion in post that make opinions. However, If you're sure, can/may close as primarily opinion-based.

closed as primarily opinion-based by jasonwryan, muru, Mat, jimmij, Archemar Dec 20 '15 at 9:21

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • If question is more accepted at any other site on SE network, tell me – Pandya Dec 20 '15 at 6:37
  • 2
    Without diminishing StallMan´s fantastic work, I tend to see the point of a discussion about GNU/Linux as pure fanaticism. However you have the kernel per se that you can get at kernel.org, and several variations of the OS, either in different distributions, or in appliances. – Rui F Ribeiro Dec 20 '15 at 7:21
  • I disagree "What is considered an Operating System?" should be labeled as opinion based. While "Do Linux based OSes should be named GNU/Linux or not?" is opinion based, this is not directly what is being asked here. – jlliagre Dec 20 '15 at 9:36

It is clear what an operating system is. It is the piece of software located between the hardware and the user applications. The kernel is a crucial part of it but not sufficient to fulfill this role.

When talking about Unix and Unix-like operating systems, what defines a compliant OS is better defined by specifying what it needs to provide as a prerequisite: shell syntax and commands, function APIs, some devices, and other general concepts and interfaces. This is precisely what POSIX is about.

In your case, most of the POSIX APIs are provided by the GNU layer, so it is legitimate for their authors to claim recognition.

In any case, Linux, or even GNU/Linux, are not operating systems, but still core components on top of which some actual operating systems are built, like Slackware, Ubuntu, Red Hat, Debian and the likes, but not BSDs, Solaris and others, which are built on different kernels and POSIX layer implementations. All of these products are what can be considered as operating systems.

Note too that a significant Linux-based operating system which is not GNU is Android.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.