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. – Damkerng T. Feb 25 '14 at 17:28
  • It is just English and means "an overall or cursory look at something". – Stan Feb 25 '14 at 17:42
  • 3
    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 '14 at 18:54
  • 1
    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. – Tyler James Young Feb 25 '14 at 19:31
  • As an extra bit of information, I hear the version "10,000 foot view" more often than "20,000 foot view". – YenTheFirst Feb 26 '14 at 0:23

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 '14 at 3:17
  • 1
    @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. – David Richerby Feb 26 '14 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."

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.