The wiki excerpt defines the tag as referring to the GNU OS. The wiki says the tag can be used for any software developed by the GNU Project.

As far as I know, there is no working GNU OS, at least not in mainstream use. The OS-related GNU software is incorporated into many common distros (often referred to as GNU/Linux or just Linux). The GNU Project has a bunch of other software, many of which have dedicated tags. Skimming the 146 questions tagged , I didn't spot one that was actually about the GNU OS. It appears to be mainly decoration.

Recommendation: add to the manufacturer meta tag list. If there are a few questions about GNU software that don't have a dedicated tag, we can create them.

Update: As Anthony Geoghegan notes in a comment, there are three questions about the GNU kernel. There may be others that relate to OS issues. We can create a tag that will display for both words at tagging time. It can contain guidance that it is for operating system questions about the GNU kernel or other GNU OS components.

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    For what it’s worth, there are just 3 questions using this tag which are related to Hurd, the (permanently?) experimental GNU kernel: superuser.com/search?q=%5Bgnu%5D+hurd Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 17:18
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    Hi, with GNU I understand that it is a software free, that it is probably compliant with GPL, that it is a version of that command that it allows some options rather than others or a different way to write the parameters (less strict), that I can find the source code, and recompile it, that I probably will find different windows style (and the object below, memory requests) if under a windows OS, probably a different organization under the drop down menus...speaking about OS that it is not an OSX or a BSD one... but that it can be installed under them too... Why to delete it?
    – Hastur
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 16:45
  • The Gnu OS is any operating system based on the Gnu tools, such as Gnu/Linux (Gnu with Linux kernel), Gnu/BSD (Gnu with BSD kernel), Gnu/Hurd (Gnu with Hurd kernel), Gnu/cygwin (Gnu with cydwin.dll on microsoft's windows, so a virtual operating system within Microsofts windows.) Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 16:13
  • @richard, I agree. The real issues are that 1) only a tiny percentage of the tag's usage is for that meaning, and 2) even within that meaning, for most of the actual usage, the GNU tag is more "seasoning" than context that differentiates something useful for tagging purposes (like Anthony Geoghegan's point in his answer). It isn't that anybody has anything against GNU OS, it's about tagging GNU questions in a way that serves a useful tag purpose rather than decoration.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 16:34
  • It seem from reading here that the GNU tag is close to useless, and often missuses. However people want a GNU tag. Therefore give them a GNU tag, give them GNU/Linux (A rename of Linux). Also create a Linux-kernel tag. Then in about 20 years when people are ready, we can rename GNU/Linux to reflect that the questions are not about Linux but about the GNU tools, and applications that run on them. Commented Sep 16, 2016 at 20:15

3 Answers 3


I don’t know what the manufacturer meta tag list is but from reading Manufacturer & Company tags are back, I gather that it’s a way of removing tags that aren’t particularly useful by replacing the tags with more meaningful one such as ` instead of .

Given that there are only 3 questions relating to GNU/Hurd (which could arguably be referred to as a GNU OS), I don't think this tag is particularly useful for these few questions.

GNU programs are (mostly) compatible with the POSIX specification which standardises Unix-like operating systems. In many cases, the GNU tools extend the features specified by POSIX, e.g., GNU sed has a very useful -i, --in-place option that is not specified by POSIX and is not present in BSD implementations of sed.

Also, the program flags specified by POSIX are only one character (e.g., -q for quiet mode) while the GNU version will usually accept long (more readable, multi-character) options in addition to the short options (e.g., --quiet and -q).

The main use case that I can see for the that it signifies that a question and answer can refer to the extended features provided by GNU. E.g., tagging questions with both and will allow answerers to know that the questioner is asking about the GNU version (on most GNU/Linux systems, the awk program is a symbolic link to /usr/bin/gawk) rather than the BSD implementation.

It’s probably easier to keep rather than creating new tags for each of the many GNU programs (, , , , , , , etc.).

To sum up, I don’t think is a manufacturer tag as many GNU users will have expertise in a wide range of GNU programs.

  • I really appreciate the efforts of those who take the time and make the effort to clean up tags. This is a good question which I felt deserved some decent feed-back. I started responding in a comment but it grew too large so I’ve posted it as an answer. Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 21:30
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    A lot of good stuff to think about here. Thanks. BTW, the manufacturer meta tags refer to tags for the manufacturer name rather than a specific product. In cases where the manufacturer has a range of products, adding their name as a tag adds little value to attracting answerers (we don't have experts in a specific manufacturer). It looks like GNU may actually add some meaning. Is it the kind of thing that is important just to mention within the question, or do you think having a [gnu] tag would attract different answerers or aid in searches?
    – fixer1234
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 0:15
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    @fixer1234 Thanks for the clarification. Now that I have a better understanding, I've added a summary to my answer. I've also proposed an edit to clarify the tag's usage guidance - as some of the current tag usage isn't that useful. Now that I know of its existence, I’ve added it to my Favorite Tags. Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 9:20
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    @AnthonyGeoghegan I agree: GNU is not a manufacturer tag... and that's that. :-). I express in more words (with some more diplomacy) in an answer.
    – Hastur
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 16:36
  • Your answer and @Hastur's are both correct, but neither seems to fully deal with the whole problem. I posted another answer to try to address the entire scope. Look forward to both of your thoughts.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 1:30
  • Note, that Unix & Linux, which deals with many of these software, doesn't have the tag either... I've not seen it
    – Braiam
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 2:30
  • @Braiam The gnu tag of Unix & Linux... four eyes look better than two ;-)
    – Hastur
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 9:08
  • @fixer1234 Yes GNU tag helps. E.g., if I see the tag GNU in a question with sed, I know that I can use the -i option, else that I've to check twice the syntax compatibility. Another point slightly arguable: if I worked for 2 years to the Dell technical call-center maybe I should be defined an expert of Dell and I can know nothing about Asus... If I had 3 laptop of HP, maybe it's possible I read a lot of answers about different HP models in the last 10 years, and I can quickly remember something about it... nonetheless it should not be convenient to have a tag for each trademark...
    – Hastur
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 9:53

What's the problem we're trying to solve?

common uses include:

  1. specific reference to Hurd or other OS-related components of the GNU operating system
  2. decoration on general Linux questions not specific to GNU components
  3. context to differentiate characteristics associated with the GNU version of various *nix utilities
  4. collective tag for various GNU Project applications or utilities that don't have a dedicated tag
  5. decoration referring to the GNU Project when that doesn't add value, such as using it in addition to a product-specific tag
  6. a generic term for open source

Many of the common uses are no-brainers for cleanup (bullets 2 and 5). Bullet 6 is incorrect usage and if an actual tag is warranted, it can be replaced. That leave three different "legitimate" ways it's used.

For a tag to be useful, it needs to add value and it needs to be used correctly and consistently. Anthony Geoghegan wants a context tag that differentiates GNU characteristics. If 90% of the questions tagged actually refer to some other meaning, the false alarms will quickly make the tag useless as a context tag.

So a tag needs to have a single, unambiguous meaning. Just a well-defined wiki excerpt isn't adequate because many users don't bother to read it. The tag name also needs to be unambiguous. This suggests eliminating the tag and replacing it with a tag for each purpose.

My suggestions, with the rough wiki excerpt:

Use for questions specifically about the GNU kernel (Hurd), or GNU operating system components (including their usage in a Linux distro). See the full wiki for guidance on appropriate tags for other uses.

(need a better tag name but I haven't thought of one, yet; ideas?) Use as a supplemental tag to differentiate questions relating to GNU Project software that differs from the POSIX standard or their BSD equivalents. See the full wiki for guidance on appropriate tags for other uses.

For purposes that don't involve differentiating characteristics that make GNU programs different, this is classic manufacturer meta tag usage. Knowing that a program was developed by the GNU Project doesn't provide useful information for any specific program (and the list is extensive). So the guidance should be something like:

Do not use this tag. For questions pertaining to a specific program from the GNU Project, use a dedicated product tag if it exists, or use a generic tag that refers to the program's function. See the full wiki for more detailed guidance, including appropriate tags for other uses.

  • No time to answer point by point here for the next couple of days (I'm sorry)... Btw I agree for the gnu-hurd tag, even if I'm afraid it is too early for it. Absolutely No for the suppression of GNU tag. GNU maybe means few for a windows user perspective but more from the *nix one. In the *nix systems the system is integrated: shell, utilities, commands, alias... it is somehow a modular OS. For each shell there are the Built-in commands and you can add others, seldom grouped in set (coreutlis...). You cannot ever say here it stops the OS and starts a utility. Different philosophy.
    – Hastur
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 9:24
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    Your summary of the problems being solved is very comprehensive and I think it covers all the issues. I don’t feel particularly inclined to argue for the retention of the gnu tag given how much it has been misused until now (as described in problems 2 and 5). Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 10:47
  • gnu-differentiation seems a reasonable solution to me. The only alternative name I can think of is gnu-extension but I prefer differentiation. I have found that many new users of GNU software (on Linux and Cygwin) are unaware of the POSIX standard or that other implementations exist. The existence of this tag may help educate such users. gnu-project-apps would be appropriate for programs not specified by POSIX; the first few such projects that I checked already have their own tag (nano, gdb, gpg, autoconf). Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 10:47
  • @Hastur, food for thought for when you get a chance to think about this again: 1) On the [gnu] tag, the tag name is ambiguous, so the idea isn't to simply eliminate it but to divide it into more precisely-named tags that distinguish the divergent uses. 2) I agree with what you wrote about the nature of *nix. One clear boundary is whether the program is to help you do your own work, for which you use the computer as a tool, vs. dealing with the computer's infrastructure; i.e., supplemental work needed to help the computer help you.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 14:15
  • May be linux needs splitting into gnu/linux and linux-kernel, but then what about gnu/bsd, gnu/cygwin. Most of the time it does not matter what kernel it is running on. Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 16:17
  • @richard, the primary purposes of a tag are to attract the right answerers to the question, to serve as a filter for more effective searches, or to provide context that differentiates how a question needs to be answered. In the case of GNU, distinguishing the GNU version from the "parent" OS is useful in a tag only when it serves one of those purposes. Almost all Linux questions are about GNU/Linux, for example, so GNU adds useful tag information only to differentiate cases where the GNU components are the actual focus and their "GNU-ness" means something different from non-GNU.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 16:49
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    Use [tag:GNU Project] as general, [tag:GNU/Linux] for the OS, then other GNU related projects get their own, if their use is warranted. Since the misuse of [tag:GNU] would be astronomical, don't even offer it.
    – Jeter-work
    Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 22:45
  • @fixer1234 GNU is the correct tag. It needs a better excerpt to kill eventual ambiguities. "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. " Doesn't matter which kernel it will use (hurd,linux...), it is an operating system. Even on (unix.stackexchange.com/tags/gnu/info) the tag is simply GNU.
    – Hastur
    Commented Sep 16, 2016 at 16:05
  • @Hastur, GNU being an OS may be true, but my quandary is that such a definition isn't helpful as a tag. OSes do typically include, or make available, all kinds of tools and apps that run in that environment. GNU is a huge library of diverse software that runs in (or is), a *nix environment. So "GNU" is basically equivalent to "Microsoft". In the vast majority of cases, a GNU tag doesn't support the purpose of a tag. We don't have GNU experts like we don't have Microsoft experts. GNU/Linux is the same as Linux; it doesn't add context in most cases. And people don't read the excerpts.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Sep 16, 2016 at 16:55

GNU is not a manufacturer tag.

It is an operating system (or better an operating system family and a wide collection of programs too). Indeed the name “GNU” is a recursive acronym for “GNU's Not Unix” and Unix is an OS and not a manufacturer.

Under Ubuntu, for example, asking for information about the system itself, we obtain:

 uname -s     # The kernel name:  Linux
 uname -o     # The OS name:      GNU/Linux

Technical definition vs common use [1].

In the so-called Linux world, GNU is commonly used to refer to operating systems, programs, standards and licence (more properly the GPL one) developed or derived from the GNU project.

Moreover, there are popular free GNU software applications that run on Microsoft Windows too [2b].

Seldom it can assume a connotation of contrast (or discrimination) with BSD (kernel) and POSIX (standard).

Speaking about the kernels I can see an analogy between and on one side and and on the other.

Speaking about the software (OS or applications) it goes to indicate their origin and the free/open source nature compatible with the GPL licence. More commonly the version of (system or not system) commands that I can find installed on a machine that can offer options not available in (or different from) other versions. E.g. see awk and gawk, sed and GNU sed... different options and different parsing procedures...

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. Note: the GNU's own kernel, is called Hurd...

From the gnu.org page [3].


To modify the excerpt and the tag definition. Eventually to create the tag for its kernel (now released with a Debian distribution [4]).

  • You hit on a key point, common usage. In a sense, gnu is a manufacturer tag, it's just that in this case, it can serve a useful purpose so it's less meta. The question becomes how to provide the tag benefits and minimize its abuse as meaningless decoration on a lot of questions. That will take some cogitation.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 16:46
  • @fixer1234 To minimize the abuses and the time spent to fix them after, it is needed to write a good definition of the excerpt and the tag, better to do them in advance... If I correctly remember we just agreed in past on this point... BTW It's a common use even Linux for the OS instead that for the Kernel... The language is alive and sometimes it takes paths that differ from the imposed rules. French Spanish Italian are all witness of this. Cogitamus ergo sumus, or at least we try! :-)
    – Hastur
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 16:56
  • DIsagree that GNU is an operating system. GNU/Linux yes, but not GNU. The GNU project maintains GNU/Linux, and many other software packages and a number of OSes (GNU/BSD, GNU/HURD, GNU/Linux). Are KDE and Apache manufacturers?
    – Jeter-work
    Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 22:40
  • @Xalorous feel you free to disagree, but on the homepage of www.gnu.org it is reported: "GNU is an operating system that is free software—that is, it respects users' freedom" below in the same page "GNU is a Unix-like operating system"...
    – Hastur
    Commented Sep 16, 2016 at 15:44
  • @Hastur and everyone in the Soviet Union was happy, fulfilled and satisfied with their lives before the fall. It's not about how they define themselves, but it is about how we view them. Microsoft, Apple, etc. don't view their product offerings as monolithic and restrictive. Yet they are treated as EvilCorp.
    – Jeter-work
    Commented Sep 16, 2016 at 16:01
  • @Xalorous "да нет наверное!" :-) One thing is the Project (the GNU Project) another is what produced by the project (the OS). BTW It is true that with GNU it is possible to address the OS, the project, sometime (less properly) the free software and (improperly) the licence (GPL)... but if you listen in the common life that is the tag you expect to find on the site too... Evil? just for "What things an app would do that would make it run with MSDOS and not run with DR-DOS. Is there feature [sic] they have that might get in our way?" AARD. ;)
    – Hastur
    Commented Sep 16, 2016 at 16:17

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