Open Source Subnet An independent Open Source community View more

Examining the ridiculous names of open source projects

Some open source projects have the most ridiculous names, and even more ridiculous stories behind them.

I recently posted a little comment, over on Google Plus, about some confusion regarding the naming of editions of Ubuntu. That conversation grew from there, and I was reminded of some of the forgotten history of the strange, and rather goofy, naming of some other prominent open source projects.

Let's take a quick stroll through some of my favorites, shall we?

Most of us are familiar with the name GNU, which stands for "GNU is not UNIX." OK. That’s fair. Everyone loves a good recursive acronym. But the GNU project doesn't stop there.

GNU Hurd, the Linux Kernel competitor built by the Free Software Foundation, is an acronym that stands for "Hird of Unix-Replacing Daemons." And "Hird" isn’t a typo – it stands for "Hurd of Interfaces Representing Depth."

So "Hurd" is a recursive acronym inside another recursive acronym. Thus, if you break out the name “GNU Hurd” one level deep – be careful not to go too far... this rabbit hole is infinitely deep and has been known to drive men to the brink of madness – you end up with something like this:

"GNU is Not UNIX: Hurd of Interfaces Representing Depth of Unix-Replacing Daemons."

Catchy, right?

Let's look at one of the others that makes me smile, one of the kings of Linux desktop environments: KDE.

When KDE first started, way back in 1996 (when, it should be noted, the Macarena was at the top of the charts), the acronym stood for... wait for it...

"Kool Desktop Environment."

That is not a joke. That actually happened. And it is awesome. Unfortunately, someone who abhors awesomeness stepped in and killed the “Kool,” thus rendering it simply the "K Desktop Environment."

Flash forward to today and "KDE" doesn't actually stand for anything anymore. It is now simply the name of the overall project – the folks who work on all the related software. And the desktop environment, which is produced by the KDE team, is called "Plasma."

Plasma is not an acronym at all. It is merely a cool word.

Now, if it were me deciding on the naming within KDE project, I would combine the best of the past and present. "Kool Desktop Environment Plasma" has a nice ring to it, no? (Perhaps it's a good thing I have no say in the naming of some of these projects...)

So what's the original Ubuntu naming confusion that brought all this up? Michael Hall, one of the folks at Canonical, wrote an article explaining how there is no such thing as "Ubuntu Touch." His point was that the OS we install on our desktop computers is just called "Ubuntu," as is the other OS that we install on our phones. Different user experiences, different architecture, different downloads... same name. This just seems like a great opportunity to confuse the heck out of people.

Perhaps they simply need to take a page out of the Free Software Foundations playbook and adopt two different recursive acronyms for each edition of Ubuntu.

"Ubuntu is Best Under phoNes and Tables Uh-huh!" and "Ubuntu Better, Unilaterally, Never be installed on Tablets... or Unicorns."

There. Confusion solved.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Must read: 10 new UI features coming to Windows 10