Is the Unix Operating System for You?

Unix logo
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An operating system serves as the software layer between your device's hardware and the programs that you run. The three most common desktop-class operating systems for the retail market are Windows, macOS, and Linux.

There's really no such thing as "Unix" as a specific operating system. Rather, Unix refers to a family of operating systems, the most common of which include macOS, Android, and Linux. Windows is not a Unix variant.

Unix vs. Windows: A Competitive History and Future

Unix family tree
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The Unix computer operating system has been in use for more than three decades. Originally it rose from the ashes of a failed attempt in the early 1960s to develop a reliable timesharing operating system. A few survivors from Bell Labs did not give up and developed a system that provided a work environment described as "of unusual simplicity, power, and elegance."

Since the 1980's Unix's main competitor, Windows, has gained popularity due to the steadily increasing power of micro-computers with Intel-compatible processors, which is the platform that Windows was designed for. In recent years, however, a new version of Unix called Linux, also specifically developed for micro-computers, has emerged. It can be obtained for free and is, therefore, a good choice for people and businesses on a budget.

On the server front, Unix has been closing in on Microsoft’s market share. In 1999, Linux scooted past Novell's Netware to become the No. 2 server operating system behind Windows NT. In 2001 the market share for the Linux operating system was 25 percent; other Unix flavors 12 percent. On the client front, Microsoft is currently dominating the operating system market with over 90 percent market share.

Advantages of Unix

Unix-based operating systems were developed to be robust, multi-user environments optimized for both desktop and server use. The philosophy of modern Linux distributions favors open-source solutions and free software.

Disadvantages of Unix

Compared to Windows, learning Linux can be a bit more challenging. Although contemporary Linux distributions are generally well-polished, much software for the home market, including a lot of games, are still written for the Windows platform.

Most home computers ship with Windows 10. Microsoft Office runs best on Windows, as do many bleeding-edge games.

Because some aspects of LInux benefit from the use of a shell prompt, people unfamiliar with text-based OS management might be a bit lost.