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.

 [Screenshot of Hyperbola with i3 window manager] 

Hyperbola 0.3 with i3 window manager, cool-retro-term (terminal emulator), Gimp (image editor), and Iceweasel-UXP (web browser)

 [Screenshot of Dragora 3.0-beta1 with IceWM window manager]   [Screenshot of Guix 0.15 with GNOME 3 desktop]   [Screenshot of Hyperbola 0.3 with i3 window manager]   [Screenshot of Parabola 2020 with LXDE desktop]   [Screenshot of PureOS 8 with GNOME 3 desktop]   [Screenshot of Trisquel 8 with MATE desktop] 
Dragora / IceWM Guix / GNOME3 Hyperbola / i3 Parabola / LXDE PureOS / GNOME3 Trisquel / MATE

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 change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help others (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. 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

The GNU Project strongly urges the community to communicate in ways that are friendly, welcoming and kind. See the GNU Kind Communications Guidelines.

Planet GNU RSS Feed

How to livestream a conference in just under a week: For the first time ever, LibrePlanet 2020 was a fully virtual conference due to ongoing issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In our...

Better than Zoom: Try these free software tools for staying in touch: In times like these it becomes all the more important to remember that tools like Zoom, Slack, and Facebook Messenger are...

Summer internships at the FSF! Apply by May 10: Do you believe that free software is crucial to a free society? Do you want to help people learn why free software matters, and how to use it?..

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…

logo for mediagoblin Mediagoblin

GNU MediaGoblin is a free media publishing platform. It runs in a federalized manner, freeing the user from centralized web services. It supports pictures, videos and audio. (doc)

Available for this page:

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 [FSF logo]  “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 FSF also has sister organizations in Europe, Latin America and India.
Feel free to join them!

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