Editor's Note: The End of "Linux"
Dec 12, 2003, 23:30 (28 Talkback[s])
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By Brian Proffitt
What's in a name?
Depending on who you ask, everything... or nothing.
When someone calls one of my kids a name other than their own, I
instruct them to ignore that person. Elementary school kids can
come up with some pretty creative descriptors, but ultimately they
are meaningless, I tell my children.
Most of the time, people do put a lot of stock in
labeling events, people, and things. In the US, the events of
September 11, 2001 will forever be referred to as "9/11." Prince
Rogers Nelson is almost always known as Prince. The intersection of
Broadway and Seventh Avenue between Forty-second and Forty-fourth
Streets is Times Square.
Names can convey meaning and purpose and therefore play a
significant part of our respective languages.
Of course, sometimes names can be misused, either intentionally
or not. The SCO Group calls themselves a software company, oddly
Names in the Linux community are very important, too. It's
GNOME, not Gnome. It's the K Desktop Environment, not the KDE
Desktop Environment. SUSE as opposed to SuSE. Red Hat Enterprise
Linux or Fedora Core instead of Red Hat Linux. There is even a very
strong debate about what to call Linux. Linux is the kernel and
GNU/Linux is the operating system, many will stipulate.
That, however, is a debate for another time and another place.
What I wanted to bring up was a small trend amongst the commercial
Linux companies to not use the Linux name at all in their
branding--GNU or otherwise.
It started, I think, with Lindows--though I did not see the
trend at the time. "Lindows" was such a neat little poke in the eye
for Microsoft, I personally did not care if the term "Linux" was
nowhere to be found in the name. It was clever, catchy, and oh, so
inviting to the mass market consumers to whom Lindows.com wanted to
sell their wares.
What sparked the idea for me was when Sun released their own
Linux desktop product as the Java Desktop System (JDS).
JDS is another one of those misnomers that crop up in life. Java
has little to do with JDS. There's the neat little LookingGlass 3D
interface and a few other Java-based tools running about in that
interface, but let's face it: JDS is SUSE Linux, StarOffice, and
some other tools all wrapped up in a pretty GNOME ribbon.
That's not a criticism, mind you. I think JDS is a great idea
and I am happy for Sun that they're selling this new platform like
But I have to wonder: is the branding of commercial Linux
distros going to lead away from actually using the term Linux?
It makes some sense, actually. If Microsoft comes out and says
"Linux is the Spawn of Evil," then Sun has casually sidestepped
that PR blow. Sure, we all know it's Linux, but a lot of
people might not make the instant association that Microsoft wants.
This will be especially true for the consumer market, who won't
care or know about the distinction.
"I've heard bad things about Linux," they might think, "But
nothing bad about Lindows. I might try that instead."
Which means Microsoft will have to either (a) stop picking on
Linux or (b) start adding more names to their PR campaign of
Naugthy Things We Don't Like. But as any PR person will tell you,
the collective consciousness of the consumer market can only hold
so much data at one time. So if Microsoft were to proclaim: "Linux
and JDS and Lindows and Fedora is Bad," then people would look at
Is sidestepping Microsoft and other proprietary vendors the
reason for these non-Linux names? I'm sure it's at least a welcome
side-benefit. Branding is very important in the commercial world
and I'm sure no one comes up with these new names lightly.
If I were to slip on my robes and gaze into my crystal ball, I
would even be willing to bet that's one of the reasons Fedora does
not actually have the word "Linux" in its name: the Fedora Project
refers to it as Fedora Core. Perhaps Red Hat is leaving the door
open for a future consumer release that's "based on Fedora," not
that naughty Linux everyone's always bad mouthing.
To be sure, this is not an overly large trend, if it is a trend
at all. SUSE is still SUSE Linux, MandrakeSoft has MandrakeLinux
(though don't forget about MandrakeMove) and there's still
UnitedLinux, UserLinux, Debian GNU/Linux, Slackware Linux, and a
whole host of other *Linuxes out there. I don't think there is a
wide-scale avoidance of the Linux name.
But I have to wonder: if the branders continue in this way, we
may soon see that the "Linux" name will only apply to the kernel
after all. No one else may be using it.