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Heckert- the GNU logo
GNU is a free operating system that was designed to compete with Unix. GNU, ironically, stands for 'GNU's Not Unix'. By stating that GNU is free, it is referring to the usage of the operating system, not necessarily the price. Some people to pay for GNU, others do not. The freedom that GNU offers is "first, the freedom to copy the program and give it away to your friends and co-workers; second, the freedom to change the program as you wish, by having full access to source code; third, the freedom to distribute an improved version and thus help build the community" (Overview).

The GNU Operating System came about as part of the GNU Project, which is an initiative to provide free software and eventually make it competitive enough that proprietary software, or software that companies sell, is a thing of the past.

GNU offers several licenses that allow programmers to distribute their software freely.

References:

Overview of the GNU System

Image retrieved Dec. 3, 2009 from GNU.org