I have just started reading a book on Unix and came across a sentence which says:

Fig. shows the 20,000 foot view of the organization of the GNU/Linux Operating System.

What is meant by the 20,000 foot view? Is it a technical term? Or is it just English?

  • 1
    I'm not sure if this is specific to English. Viewing something from a very far point of view, we would be able to see the whole picture (or the big picture) much better. Feb 25, 2014 at 17:28
  • It is just English and means "an overall or cursory look at something".
    – Stan
    Feb 25, 2014 at 17:42
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    What you see of the landscape from the window of an airplane flying at an altitude of 20,000 feet. You see the overall shape, but no details.
    – GEdgar
    Feb 25, 2014 at 18:54
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    I hear terms like this a lot in my office. I'm sure the metaphor predates the book, but I think recent popularity of these terms probably stems from the GTD philosophy, which has recently become fairly popular in the business world. Feb 25, 2014 at 19:31
  • As an extra bit of information, I hear the version "10,000 foot view" more often than "20,000 foot view". Feb 26, 2014 at 0:23

2 Answers 2


It's an expression that means to see a thing in its entirety, as a whole. To assess the OS not by looking at how individual parts work, but "how the parts work together and as a whole." It's to see things in a broad view.

  • Of course, it's based on the analogy of looking out the window of an airplane at (roughly) cruising altitude.
    – Wayne
    Feb 26, 2014 at 3:17
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    @Wayne Actually, typical cruising altitude of passenger planes is 30-40,000ft. The choice of 20,000ft for this metaphor is a bit strange but, yes, it's obviously about aircraft. Feb 26, 2014 at 9:40

It means to see the big picture regardless of the minor details.

To see the over-riding view of the system, process, organization, etc. at a senior level.


This class is tough but I remind myself of the 20,000 foot view of getting a degree at the end!

The new CEO looked at the 20,000 foot view of the customer support process and its impact on the company and decided to bring it in-house."

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