Windows from Microsoft and macOS from Apple are two of the most popular desktop operating systems for end-use consumers. However, aside from these two, it is also worth mentioning that both Unix and Linux are also established and older desktop operating systems that have retained their reputation and usefulness in certain use cases despite the absence of a more mainstream or wider market appeal. Unix has a significant impact on other operating systems while Linux has been used for general-purpose computing and various special-purpose computing. Both might not be as popular in the mainstream market as their counterparts from Microsoft and Apple but their usage remains critical in several industries and sectors and among enthusiasts. This article explains the difference between Unix and Linux.
Unix vs Linux Comparison: Understanding the Difference Between Unix and Linux
It is important to underscore the fact that both Unix and Linux are somewhat related in terms of their design and general functionalities. Linux was developed as a Unix-like desktop operating system that emulates several features of traditional Unix. The purpose of this inclination was to encourage users familiar with Unix to transition to Linux. However, despite this basic similarity between the two, there are notable differences between Unix and Linux.
1. Origin and Ownership
Unix was first developed in the 1960s and further in the 1970s at Bell Labs to address the issues and limitations of existing operating systems at that time and provide a more capable and flexible platform for system administration and software development. It has been a proprietary desktop operating system historically but different versions have emerged. The trademark is owned by an industry consortium called The Open Group but there is no single entity that owns the code base because of the existence of multiple versions with different vendors.
Nevertheless, because of the limitations and licensing issues associated with proprietary versions of Unix operating systems, Linux was developed by Linus Torvalds and was made available to the public beginning in 1991. The development of this supposed alternative desktop operating system was inspired by the functionalities of Unix but also took into consideration the need for a platform that could be freely distributed and modified. It is not owned by a single individual or a company because it is a collaborative open-source community undertaking.
2. Development Model
The main difference between Unix and Linux is their respective software development model. Note that Unix was intended to be developed openly and collaboratively. However, because of the emergence of different variants with different kernels, it is still generally considered to follow a closed-source model. This means that several popular versions of Unix are licensable to their respective developers and vendors. These include Oracle Solaris from Sun Microsystems and AIX from IBM. Note that macOS from Apple is also based on Unix.
Linux follows a full open-source model. Torvalds maintains the official kernel of this operating system but its continuous development process involves contributions and inputs from thousands of individuals and organizations around the world. The source code is also released under various open-source licensing models which include the GNU GPL. This licensing model allows the free distribution and modification of the source code and ensures that modified source codes or the derivative Linux variations called distributions are also open source.
3. Versions and Variations
Remember that there are different versions or variants of Unix. The same is true for Linux. It is also worth reiterating the fact that several Unix operating systems require purchasing a license while others are distributed under a free license. Each variant of Unix also has a different kernel. Nevertheless, between these two options, proprietary variants are the more reliable ones. Some enthusiasts and observers have noted that these diverging software development routes and the variations in Unix kernels have resulted in the fragmentation of Unix.
The variants or versions of Linux are called Linux distributions. Most of these distributions are free and follow the open-source development and licensing models. Some popular examples of Linux distributions are Debian, Ubuntu, CentOS, and Linux Mint. These are free-to-download and free-to-use operating systems. The open-source nature of Linux and its distributions have fostered a sizeable community of developers composed of enthusiasts and organizations. This has resulted in faster software innovation and wider hardware compatibility.
4. Notable Applications
Another difference between Unix and Linux is the scope of their applications. The former is used in servers, mainframes, workstations, and high-end systems such as supercomputers. The latter is more versatile. It is also used in servers and has also become a popular operating system used in various supercomputers. Furthermore, because of the availability of various Linux distributions and the open-source development and distribution models, it is also used in personal computers, smartphones or other mobile smart devices, and embedded systems.
Unix is popular in enterprise or organizational applications because its variants adhere to a set of standards. The specific licensed Unix operating systems are stable and have mature and robust security. It also offers a higher degree of control for experienced administrations. The versatility of Linux stems from the fact that it is an open-source operating system. This has encouraged a more experimental development route that has resulted in the emergence of varied applications and the development of various software programs or applications.
5. Impacts and Legacy
Unix has a more lasting impact because it is older and has undergone a lengthier developmental history. It also pioneered several standards and innovations. These include design principles such as the hierarchical file system, the standardization of the file, and the chaining of commands. It was also responsible for fueling software development and systems design. Unix has heralded the emergence of Unix-like operating systems because of its defined standards. It is also worth reiterating the fact that the macOS from Apple is also based on Unix.
The main impact of Linux is that it has provided free and alternative operating systems that have encouraged further adoption of personal computers, developments of other consumer electronic products, and diverse applications of operating systems. It is the basis of the Android operating system and the thin-client ChromeOS operating system. Take note that the open-source nature of Linux has contributed to the democratizing technology and has demonstrated the relevance and potentials or effectiveness of open source and collaborative culture.
Conclusion: Understanding the Difference Between Unix and Linux in a Nutshell
Unix and Linux are both established operating systems with their respective advantages, specific applications, disadvantages, and limitations. Unix has earned its place as a family of operating systems with notable applications in an enterprise or organizational setting. This comes from its straightforwardness and robustness. Linux is more versatile and has birthed various operating system variants that are used in enterprise settings, personal computing, and mobile computing. Nevertheless, when comparing the two, Unix has restricted access and practical applications and Linux remains a rapidly operating system offering broader applications.