What is the GNU Project?

By | September 22, 2021

The GNU Project sees itself as a development initiative for free software and an open operating system. In this context, free is not to be equated with free of charge. The project was started in 1983 by Richard Stallman at MIT.

According to PERCOMPUTER, GNU stands as a recursive acronym for “GNU is not Unix”, so the abbreviation contains its own name. The name is intended to distinguish the project from the well-known Unix operating system. The original objective of the GNU project was to develop a free operating system.

Furthermore, GNU pursues the overriding goal of developing free software. The concept of freedom refers to the possibility of free use and modification of the software. Free is not to be confused with free. Rather, everyone should have the opportunity to use the software as they wish, to distribute it or to change and improve it.

Richard Stallman first presented his project in 1983 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The project was started in order to create an operating system comparable to the Unix OS, which was proprietary at the time, and which users can copy and redistribute.

The GNU General Public License, or GNU GPL for short, plays an important role in this project . This license contains the conditions and provisions for copying, changing and distributing the free software. Furthermore, the establishment of the Free Software Foundation is closely linked to the GNU Project. This was co-founded in 1985 by GNU founder Richard Stallmann.


In connection with the GNU project, the copyleft concept developed by Richard Stallman is important . This is conceptually a copyright derived pun. It describes a new approach to copyright law. Unlike this, it should not keep software private and protect it, but make it freely accessible. The slogan is: “All rights reversed” (derived from “All rights reserved”).

The GNU operating system and Unix

Since the GNU Project aimed in particular at creating a free operating system, the GNU operating system is of particular importance. The Unix-like system mainly contains GNU-specific elements. According to the GNU project, only the system kernel of the Linux operating system belongs to Linux. According to the GNU Project, neither of the two operating systems can exist independently of each other. Therefore, GNU / Linux is often used.

The GNU operating system is a completely free operating system based on Unix. According to the founders of the GNU Project, Unix was not an ideal system, but it offered a sufficient basis on which to build on. As an influential operating system, Unix provides the basis for numerous modern systems. In addition to Linux and macOS, these include Android, iOS, Solaris and AIX.

The distinguishing feature of Unix is ​​its modular structure. The operating system is made up of numerous smaller individual parts. These work together and can be combined with one another in a variety of ways. The essential components of the operating system are the system kernel, functional libraries and basic tools for software development, file management and system administration.

The development of the most important Unix tools such as ls, sed and cp was completed just as early as the creation of the libraries and the C compiler. In the GNU project there was also an effort to develop an independent system kernel. This was supposed to be called Hurd, but has not yet been released. The GNU Project therefore recommends using the Linux kernel as a replacement for the time being.

Most Linux distributions, in turn, are based on a combination of the Linux kernel and GNU components. For this reason, a name dispute has developed. GNU demands that the Linux systems based on GNU bear the designation GNU / Linux. In the public eye, however, the simple name Linux has established itself due to the more catchy name.

Further software solutions from the GNU environment

The GNU Project has developed numerous influential programs over the years. In addition to the basic tools for Unix, there are numerous applications, libraries and other tools available. Almost a complete modern operating system can be built from the components.

The GNU software concepts include the GNOME desktop, which is used in several Linux and Unix operating systems. The GUI framework is also one of the applications developed by the GNU Project. Furthermore, GNU offers a number of compilers and interpreters. These are suitable for programming languages ​​such as C, C ++, Java , Pascal and many more.

Other GNU-based software solutions are

  • the graphics software GIMP (an alternative to Adobe PhotoShop)
  • the financial software solution GnuCash
  • the vector graphics program Dia
  • the Gnumeric spreadsheet
  • the free version of the Mozilla browser applications Gnuzilla
  • the math program Octabe
  • the code editor GNU Emacs

GNU General Public License: Importance of the GPL

The GPL (GNU General Public License) is a software license. Your job is to ensure that the free software stays free. This is what makes it special, since many other open source licenses (for example the MIT license) enable the integration of open source codes into closed source software.

The GPL prohibits this integration into non-free proprietary systems. With this, the GNU Project wants to counteract the trend that the initially free source code is becoming increasingly unfree. Critics see this as a development hostile to innovation. For this reason, the Free Software Foundation developed the LGPL (Lesser-GPL or Library-GPL) in response.

This software license permits users to use free source code in proprietary programs under certain conditions. The LGPL is used in particular for function and class libraries. It is also used in frameworks.

What is the GNU Project