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The GNU Operating System and the Free Software Movement

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GNU Operating System

Sponsored by the Free Software Foundation

GNU is the only operating system developed specifically to give its users freedom. What is GNU, and what freedom is at stake?

What is GNU?

GNU is an operating system that is free software—that is, it respects users' freedom. The GNU operating system consists of GNU packages (programs specifically released by the GNU Project) as well as free software released by third parties. The development of GNU made it possible to use a computer without software that would trample your freedom.

We recommend installable versions of GNU (more precisely, GNU/Linux distributions) which are entirely free software. More about GNU below.

Try GNU/Linux

PureOS 8 with GNOME 3 desktop, PureBrowser (web browser), and Gimp (image editor)

Trisquel 8 & MATE GuixSD & GNOME 3 PureOS 8 & GNOME 3

... or Try parts of GNU

What is the Free Software Movement?

The free software movement campaigns to win for the users of computing the freedom that comes from free software. Free software puts its users in control of their own computing. Nonfree software puts its users under the power of the software's developer. See the video explanation.

What is Free Software?

Free software means the users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software.

Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech”, not as in “free beer”.

More precisely, free software means users of a program have the four essential freedoms:

  • The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

Developments in technology and network use have made these freedoms even more important now than they were in 1983.

Nowadays the free software movement goes far beyond developing the GNU system. See the Free Software Foundation's web site for more about what we do, and a list of ways you can help.

More about GNU

GNU is a Unix-like operating system. That means it is a collection of many programs: applications, libraries, developer tools, even games. The development of GNU, started in January 1984, is known as the GNU Project. Many of the programs in GNU are released under the auspices of the GNU Project; those we call GNU packages.

The name “GNU” is a recursive acronym for “GNU's Not Unix.” “GNU” is pronounced g'noo, as one syllable, like saying “grew” but replacing the r with n.

The program in a Unix-like system that allocates machine resources and talks to the hardware is called the “kernel”. GNU is typically used with a kernel called Linux. This combination is the GNU/Linux operating system. GNU/Linux is used by millions, though many call it “Linux” by mistake.

GNU's own kernel, The Hurd, was started in 1990 (before Linux was started). Volunteers continue developing the Hurd because it is an interesting technical project.

More information

Planet GNU

John Sullivan - "JavaScript: If you love it, set it free" (FOSDEM, Brussels, Belgium): FSF executive director John Sullivan will be giving his speech “JavaScript: If you love it, se...

Molly de Blanc to give keynote speech at CopyleftConf (Brussels, Belgium): FSF campaigns manager Molly de Blanc will be delivering the keynote speech at CopyleftConf (2019-02-04). Speech titl...

GNU MDK 1.2.10 released: This new release fixes some long standing bugs and adds compatibility with Guile 2.2 and Flex 2.6.

For more news, see Planet GNU and the list of recent GNU releases.

Take Action

More action items

Can you contribute to any of these High Priority Areas?

  • Free phone operating system,
  • decentralization, federation and self-hosting,
  • free drivers, firmware and hardware designs,
  • real-time voice and video chat,
  • encourage contribution by people underrepresented in the community,
  • and more.

Can you help maintain a GNU package?

See the package web pages for more information.

Recent GNU releases

Short descriptions for all GNU packages

Today's random package…

GNUnited Nations

GNUnited Nations is a build system for translating the web site at www.gnu.org. It works via template files, which allow changes to be merged into individual translations of a page, from which the final HTML is generated. In effect, this helps to keep all translations of a page up-to-date. (doc)

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“The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is a nonprofit with a worldwide mission to promote computer user freedom. We defend the rights of all software users.”

The Free Software Foundation is the principal organizational sponsor of the GNU Operating System. Support GNU and the FSF by buying manuals and gear, joining the FSF as an associate member, or making a donation.

The FSF also has sister organizations in Europe, Latin America and India.

meet the free software gang

Please send general FSF & GNU inquiries to <[email protected]>. There are also other ways to contact the FSF. Broken links and other corrections or suggestions can be sent to <[email protected]>.

Please see the Translations README for information on coordinating and submitting translations of this article.

Copyright © 1996-2018 Free Software Foundation, Inc.

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Updated: $Date: 2018/12/20 11:38:39 $