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April 10, 2020updated 17 Nov 2022 10:01am

What is Unix?

UNIX is one of the most important developments in the history of open source.

By James Nunns

Unix is the first operating system written in the C language. Development began in 1969 at AT&T’s Bells Labs with an initial release date of 1971. While there are some proprietary versions, the operating system is a large open-source freeware product that many people can contribute to.

These operating systems are often used in workstation products sold by the likes of IBM, Sun Microsystems, and Silicon Graphics. The system was designed to be small and flexible so that it could be installed on virtually any computer that had a C compiler on it.

These systems are unified by adherence to the “Unix philosophy”, which aims to use a series of small, modular programs with limited functions, simple, uncluttered outputs and a clean interface. It could be summarised as “make each program do one thing well.”

Unix
Image: Shutterstock

Who uses it?

The trademarked “Unix” and the “Single UNIX Specification” are owned by The Open Group, which has separated the trademark from any actual code stream itself, this allows for multiple implementations.

Since the introduction of the Single UNIX Specification, there has been a single, open, consensus specification that defines the requirements for a conformant system.

Is Linux Unix?

Unix is considered the archetype for many modern operating systems, which are in turn called “Unix-like”, including macOS and Linux.

While Linux is not the same as its predecessor, it is considered a “clone” or system derived from it. More specifically, Linux is only a cloned kernel (the core program), and comes packaged with other programs to form a complete OS.

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Linux is also open-source and is present in a huge variety of hardware, including data centres, smart TVs and smartphone operating systems. In fact, as many as 70% of data centre operating systems are thought to use Linux.

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