If you call our operating system “Linux”, that conveys a mistaken idea of the system’s origin, history, and purpose. If you call it “GNU/Linux,” that conveys (though not in detail) an accurate idea.
But does this matter? Is it important whether people know the system’s origin, history, and purpose? Yes, because people who forget history are often condemned to repeat it. The Free World that has developed around GNU/Linux is not secure; the problems that led us to develop GNU are not completely eradicated, and they threaten to come back. When I explain why it’s appropriate to call the operating system “GNU/Linux” rather than “Linux,” people sometimes respond this way:
"Granted that the GNU Project deserves credit for this work, is it really worth a fuss when people don’t give credit? Isn’t the important thing that the job was done, not who did it? You ought to relax, take pride in the job well done, and not worry about the credit."
This would be wise advice, if only the situation were like that—if the job were done and it were time to relax. If only that were true! But challenges abound, and this is no time to take the future for granted. Our community’s strength rests on commitment to freedom and cooperation. Using the name GNU/Linux is a way for people to remind themselves and inform others of these goals.
People who know they are using a system that came out of the GNU Project can see a direct relationship between themselves and GNU. They won’t automatically agree with our philosophy, but at least they will see a reason to think seriously about it. In contrast, people who consider themselves “Linux users,” and believe that the GNU Project “developed tools which proved to be useful in Linux,” typically perceive only an indirect relationship between GNU and themselves. They may just ignore the GNU philosophy when they come across it.
The GNU Project is idealistic, and anyone encouraging idealism today faces a great obstacle: the prevailing ideology encourages people to dismiss idealism as “impractical.” Our idealism has been extremely practical: it is the reason we have a free GNU/Linux operating system. People who love this system ought to know that it is our idealism made real.
If “the job” really were done, if there were nothing at stake except credit, perhaps it would be wiser to let the matter drop. But we are not in that position. To inspire people to do the work that needs to be done, we need to be recognized for what we have already done. Please help us, by calling the operating system GNU/Linux.