A production version of the free GNU operating system is likely to be available by the end of this year, according to the president of the Boston-based Free Software Foundation (FSF) in an interview.
"We actually have the GNU kernel working and we can now produce the GNU system, as opposed to the GNU/Linux system that people have been using so far," said Richard Stallman, who is in India this week to attend a GNU/Linux Day in Pune.
The GNU Project launched in 1984 to develop a Unix-like operating system to be offered as free software. By 1991, the Linux kernel was available, ahead of the GNU kernel, called the Hurd. The Linux kernel was combined with the GNU system and offered as a complete system, said Stallman, who is also the founder of the GNU Project.
"Linux is a kernel, and now we have our kernel which is an alternative to Linux, and they both work in the context of the overall GNU system, as the kernel alone won't run without the rest of the system," he said.
Although Linux is a kernel, and works in the context of the GNU system, Linux came to be called an operating system. "It is actually GNU/Linux with Linux as the kernel," he said. "It is really devastating for us when people write about our work and they don't call it by our name, and we get forgotten."
The Hurd kernel of FSF's GNU system is more powerful than Linux because it is designed using a microkernel, instead of a monolithic architecture, Stallman said.
"On top of the microkernel, it has an open-ended collection of server programs that together do the high-level jobs of a kernel like the Unix kernel or Linux," Stallman said. "For instance, the file systems are in the servers, the network protocols are in the servers, the terminal drivers that let you edit your input is one of these servers, and then there are some other servers. The end result is that it is very easy to replace parts of the system, and add to the system even while it is running."
Distributions of GNU/Linux include non-free software and that diverts the user and developer community from the goal of freedom, according to Stallman.
"One of the reasons we are looking forward to having the GNU system finally available from the GNU Project is that it will be only free software," Stallman added.
In the FSF's scheme, the term "free" does not refer to the pricing of the software, as copies of the software can be priced and distributed by users and FSF, but to the freedom available to the user regarding its use and distribution. Under the GNU GPL (General Public License), the software source code is made available to users who are free to modify it to suit their needs and to distribute the modified software free or at a price.
"In India there are a number of people who are capable of seeing free software as an ethical and social issue, whereas in many parts of the world very few people recognize the ethical and social issues, and they are more interested in the practical benefits of today's free software," Stallman said.