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Operating Systems: Unix vs. Windows

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What is an Operating System

An operating system (OS) is a program that allows you to interact with the computer -- all of the software and hardware on your computer. How?

Basically, there are two ways.

  • With a command-line operating system (e.g., DOS), you type a text command and the computer responds according to that command.
  • With a graphical user interface (GUI) operating system (e.g., Windows), you interact with the computer through a graphical interface with pictures and buttons by using the mouse and keyboard.

With Unix you have in general the option of using either command-lines (more control and flexibility) or GUIs (easier).

Unix and Windows: Two Major Classes of Operating Systems

And they have a competitive history and future. Unix 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 increasing power of micro-computers with Intel-compatible processors. Windows, at the time, was the only major OS designed for this type of processors. 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 lucrative choice for individuals and businesses.

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% market share.

Because of Microsoft’s aggressive marketing practices, millions of users who have no idea what an operating system is have been using Windows operating systems given to them when they purchased their PCs. Many others are not aware that there are operating systems other than Windows. But you are here reading an article about operating systems, which probably means that you are trying to make conscious OS decisions for home use or for your organizations. In that case, you should at least give Linux/Unix your consideration, especially if the following is relevant in your environment.

Advantages of Unix

- Unix is more flexible and can be installed on many different types of machines, including main-frame computers, supercomputers and micro-computers.

- Unix is more stable and does not go down as often as Windows does, therefore requires less administration and maintenance.

- Unix has greater built-in security and permissions features than Windows.

- Unix possesses much greater processing power than Windows.

- Unix is the leader in serving the Web. About 90% of the Internet relies on Unix operating systems running Apache, the world's most widely used Web server.

- Software upgrades from Microsoft often require the user to purchase new or more hardware or prerequisite software. That is not the case with Unix.

- The mostly free or inexpensive open-source operating systems, such as Linux and BSD, with their flexibility and control, are very attractive to (aspiring) computer wizards. Many of the smartest programmers are developing state-of-the-art software free of charge for the fast growing "open-source movement”.

- Unix also inspires novel approaches to software design, such as solving problems by interconnecting simpler tools instead of creating large monolithic application programs.

Remember, no one single type of operating system can offer universal answers to all your computing needs. It is about having choices and making educated decisions.

Next: Linux, the Ultimate Unix

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