Brave GNU World, Issue #2


Brave GNU World

Permission statement

Issue #2

[deutsche Version | version française]

Welcome to the second issue of Georg’s Brave GNU World. This month’s first topic is a GNU Project from the area of computer aided design programs.


Until now most integrated circuit layout programs suffered either from being very expensive or lacking in necessary features. Electric [4] by Steven Rubin seeks to change all that.

Electric supports IC-layout as well as schematic design. The users may use text-based languages (VHDL) and “program” their chips in TCL or LISP. Additionally it supports complex geometric boundaries for the circuits. Electric is rather platform independent because it understands widely used file formats and runs on all UNIX systems as well as Windows and Macintosh.

Last year, when Electric became an official GNU Project, it had already seen 15 years of development. It began in Schlumberger’s Palo Alto research lab, has been sold under the name “Bravo3VLSI” for a while and is now Free Software.

This is especially interesting because it shows that the concept of Free Software also makes sense in very specific and well-defined areas.

The issue of nomenclature has shown itself to be controversial – almost explosively so. It has lead to a lot of bad feelings, so I will try to discuss it in a neutral manner.


Many people have noticed that GNU friends speak of “GNU/Linux” rather than just “Linux”. In my view this has become neccessary so as to acknowledge the changed structure of operating systems.

Before the advent of GNU/Linux, operating systems and their associated kernels came from the same source. Systems like Solaris or HP-UX also consist of a system and a kernel but they are being bundled together by SUN or HP – it is impossible to get one without the other. By making the Linux kernel available to the GNU system core, Linus Torvalds created a situation that never existed before. Let me elaborate.

Although the GNU Project and the Linux kernel are interwoven multiple times and inspired each other in so many ways, the Linux kernel is independent of the Free Software Foundation even if it is licensed by the GNU General Public License. The GNU Project is also working on another kernel, the HURD [5], which will also be GPL’ed and work in the GNU system; but that’s pretty much all they have in common. Both kernels follow different design principles which influence their characteristics. The systems GNU-base with Linux kernel and GNU-base with HURD will behave differently, which is why the kernel should be part of any good system-name.

Additionally there are projects like the “Demon Penguin Project”, which seeks to get the Linux kernel running on a FreeBSD based system. As the Linux kernel is Free Software it would be possible for companies like IBM or SUN to to use it in their systems one day. All these systems would have the Linux kernel in common but would be far from identical. This means that a good name should also contain the base of the operating system.

For these reasons the GNU Project seeks to introduce a [System]/[Kernel] nomenclature which allows an unambiguous name and directly reflects relationships between operating systems. Hence a GNU based system with Linux kernel is called GNU/Linux. Exchanging the kernel with the HURD it becomes GNU/HURD and a FreeBSD based system with a Linux kernel would be FreeBSD/Linux.

Currently all available distributions like Debian, RedHat or SuSE (to name only a few) are based on the GNU system. A distinctive name didn’t appear to be neccessary, so the use of “Linux” for the whole system has established itself in the past. Now we can expect other systems to enter the arena soon, though. The first Debian GNU/HURD system is scheduled to be released this year and it is possible that other projects will also advance quickly.

Granted – this new nomenclature seems unusual at first, but getting used to something requires frequent exposure. It is for this reason that the GNU Project seeks to encourage the use of this new nomenclature as much as possible, and it is why we use GNU/Linux in all our official documents.

Enough theory for this month, let’s continue with some projects that I consider to be quite interesting.

Free Delphi

To carry the GNU philosophy into the wide area of business software, a Hamburg-based group of free programmers has started the “Free Delphi” project.

The initial core of the project is being supplied by its initiator, Gisbert Burckardt, who put his personal archive of applications under the GPL. Building upon those modules it is planned to create a whole ensemble of business solutions under the GNU General Public License. Anyone who is interested in the project or would like to participate can either check out the homepage [7] or send an email [6].

Remark: Delphi by Borland/Inprise is a programming language and direct successor of Turbo-Pascal. Due to its very good database-interaction capabilities it is a favorite language for business applications under Windows. A port for GNU/Linux has been announced.

Even if the practical use may be limited I thought you would love to hear about this:

Mainframe GNU/Linux

A team around Linas Vepstas has started to port GNU/Linux to the IBM 360/370/390 mainframe architecture. Currently the compiler and linker can be considered bug-free and the Linux kernel did compile and run. Now the issue on hand is to process the hardware-interrupts. People who feel drawn toward this “testosterone-induced stunt”, as Linas Vepstas calls it, can check out the website [8].

It happens fairly often that people ask what they can do for the GNU Project. The last part is for everyone who is searching for an idea.

GNU Search Engine

I have been asked by several people to announce the need for a seach engine that solely concentrates on Free Software. The main reasons for this were that Free Software often cannot be found in commercial search engines because authors very often do not register their pages with all the search engines. Very often one searches for Free Software and only finds tons of programs with free test downloads or certain “free pictures”. This is annoying.

To achieve a better coverage and interlinkage of Free Software the search engine should contain websites, documents and programs. An archive of source code examples for certain solutions could be very useful. An incredibly powerful application would be an index of Free Software that can be searched for implementations of certain algorithms or solutions for certain problems.

Alright – so much for this month’s Brave GNU World, once again I would love to encourage you not to spare your constructive criticism and ideas. The address can be found in the infos [1].


Send ideas, comments and questions to Brave GNU World
Homepage of the GNU Project http://www.gnu.org/
Homepage of Georg’s Brave GNU World http://www.gnu.org/brave-gnu-world/

Copyright (C) 1999 Georg C. F. Greve, German version published in the Linux-Magazin

is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this transcript as long as the copyright and this permission notice appear.

Get the Free Newsletter!

Subscribe to Developer Insider for top news, trends, & analysis