Editor's Note: The End of "Linux"Dec 12, 2003, 23:30 (28 Talkback[s])
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 enough.
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 hotcakes.
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 them funny.
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.