GNU Project

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What Does GNU Project Mean?

The GNU Project refers to the collaborative development of the GNU OS. Designed as a free Unix alternative, the GNU Project was launched by Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation (FSF), in January 1984. The recursive GNU acronym represents the phrase “GNU’s Not Unix.”


In the GNU Project context, free software refers to liberty (versus price). It is defined as the freedom to use, copy, distribute, study, modify and enhance software. Free software should not be confused with open source software, which is a separate movement.

As of 2011, the GNU Project continues its work on software development, awareness, political campaigning and sharing of new material.

Techopedia Explains GNU Project

Stallman announced the GNU Project in September 1983 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus. Originally scripted to garner participation, Stallman’s GNU Manifesto encourages supporters to donate financial resources, personal time and PC components to GNU Project development.

According to Stallman, free software is described as follows:

  • Freedom to learn how a program works and alter a program based on user needs
  • Freedom to redistribute software
  • Freedom to improve a program and share those improvements

GNU integrates longer file names and file version numbers and supports a crash-proof system. Additionally, GNU and Linux combine to create a GNU/Linux OS used by millions of people. These systems are often mistakenly referred to as Linux systems.

Stallman also introduced the General Public License (GPL) to promote GNU code and ensure that future generations or derived coding schemes remain free for general public use.

The right to use, edit and redistribute GNU software is known as copyleft.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert
Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.