This is a loaded question. I am sympathetic that the whole vision of what linux is comes from GNU while Torvalds developed a working kernel. Most of the other things that we use daily are from GNU. Stallman may not be the most agreeable person but neither is Torvalds. I am not sure Linux would exist as it does without the Stallman experience with proprietary software and his vision for GNU while I suspect Torvalds on his own may not have gotten there.
I’d just like to interject for a moment. What you’re refering to as Linux, is in fact, GNU/Linux, or as I’ve recently taken to calling it, GNU plus Linux. Linux is not an operating system unto itself, but rather another free component of a fully functioning GNU system made useful by the GNU corelibs, shell utilities and vital system components comprising a full OS as defined by POSIX.
Many computer users run a modified version of the GNU system every day, without realizing it. Through a peculiar turn of events, the version of GNU which is widely used today is often called Linux, and many of its users are not aware that it is basically the GNU system, developed by the GNU Project.
There really is a Linux, and these people are using it, but it is just a part of the system they use. Linux is the kernel: the program in the system that allocates the machine’s resources to the other programs that you run. The kernel is an essential part of an operating system, but useless by itself; it can only function in the context of a complete operating system. Linux is normally used in combination with the GNU operating system: the whole system is basically GNU with Linux added, or GNU/Linux. All the so-called Linux distributions are really distributions of GNU/Linux!
Regardless of the history, I think calling it “GNU/Linux” is rather absurd to be honest. Most of the GNU tools have alternatives available. It wouldn’t be that hard to ship a Linux distro with far fewer GNU applications if someone wanted to.
I think that there are options and alternatives for most of the GNU programs and there are definitely alternatives to the stock Linux kernel, though any programs with a freely available license can be copied, modified and even used with another license, but unless it’s a complete rewrite the original authors and license must be cited.
There are several very important BSD programs that I consider core to the majority of free and proprietary software. Many of them are in the low level network layers.
Likely I wouldn’t have cared what it is or what it’s called if I bought a Chromebook to replace a TOSHIBA laptop that I had for 15 years with WindowsXP and it were my first-ever experience with Linux. A few other people would be the same way, so long as the OS allows them to access their files without fuss, go web-browsing, mess around with photographs, listen to music, play a game (could be less reasonable about it) and do a bunch of other things. I might be wrong for the ones instead preferring portable phone over laptop computer.
Check me out from 2001: if I were able to have Ubuntu Studio “Precise Pangolin”, as buggy and weak as the music-creation apps and synthesizers were, I would have betrayed Windows right then and there. Because back then I had a cheap towercase which lasted me at least a year to run MAGIX software with wave-file loops, and no real synthesizers. Fast forward like ten years: Oh it’s not Windows? If there were a failure after using Linux for that long it would have been that much harder for me to accept Windows7 and later.
(EDIT: until March2012 and for two years I had online access, and didn’t again until last year. To get Ubuntu v12.04 I had to borrow my sister’s very slow Internet. I could have gotten v12.10 but the ISO was too big for the only 2GB USB disk I had at the time. Also glad I didn’t pick up what wasn’t an LTS, cannot stand Ubuntu release which is not LTS. Sorry had to edit a few more typos.)
In 2001, ← this wimp would have never thought of Slackware, but might have opted for that boxed set of old Red Hat that I saw the first time I went to CompUSA…
I prefer GNU/Linux, out of respect for the operating system that is not Unix, and the whole Free Software ideology it represents.
Even though I couldn’t disagree more with someone on pretty much any political, social, or cultural issue than with Richard Stallman, I think the idea of Free Software is one of the greatest philosophical and legal achievements of the last century, at least from the practical and pragmatic point of view, stuff that has real, positive impact on people’s lives. For that, he will always be my hero, regardless if he is wrong on pretty much everything else.