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GNU's Not Unix, and the GnuProject was created to re-implement all the good Unix stuff in a non-unix (by this, we mean non-licensed-with-hefty-cost) way. At this time Unix was BigIron?. It was to end up with an OperatingSystem of its own, TheHurd?, but RichardStallman got repetitive stress disorder and LinusTorvalds? didn't, so Linux got created and got big. (Since almost everything surrounding the Linux kernel in Linux systems is software from the GnuProject, including the compiler, some say that the proper way of naming Linux is GNU Linux, but only the DebianProject? (which is also developing for TheHurd? and FreeBSD) uses that phrase.)
- Another possible reason for the success of Linux rather than the Hurd is that Linux was more of a "pragmatic" project rather than an attempt to implement TheRightThing?. The first clear goal of Linux was mainly to be a replacement for "Minix"--a popular Unix-like OS used in many college Operating-Systems courses. It kind of got out of control, however, and turned into the current mostly-complete implementation of what most people call "Unix". The Hurd, on the other hand, set some very ambitious goals from the beginning. They were not content to simply replicate the existing Unix systems, and their designs reflected that goal.
- Many people today consider Linux to have effectively replaced the Hurd as the core of the "GNU System". As of late 2000 it does not seem likely that the Hurd will be popular soon (if ever). Still, for several years the GNU Hurd was an inspiration, much like the XanaduProject inspired many of the early Internet/Web authors.
- Interestingly enough, it looks like the HURD is going to abandon the GNUMACH microkernel in the near future, and port to the L4 microkernel instead. Quotes like "nobody wants to work on GNUMACH" and "no real changes have been made to GNUMACH in the last 2 years" came out on the debian-hurd list. This from the people who are actively putting together the first real HURD distro (well, since the 0.2 pre-alpha release that didn't support pipes yet...). People interested in tracking what's going on (without subscribing to the list) might want to look at the Kernel Cousin weekly summary of the Debian-HURD list, maintainted at  --ErikDeBill