Unix vs. Linux: The Differences Between and Why It Matters

MakeUseOf | 9/16/2019 | Kris Wouk
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Linux is everywhere these days. For the ultimate proof, look no further than Windows. With the release of the Windows Subsystem for Linux 2, Microsoft is shipping a Linux kernel with its operating system. Not that long ago, that would have seemed like an April Fools’ joke.

While Linux may provide the backbone for a large part of the internet, it wasn’t created from nothing. Before Linux, there was Unix, and the newer operating system owes much of the credit for its current popularity to ideas born in the 1970s and even the 1960s.


What Is Unix?

While Unix itself strives for simplicity, describing exactly what it is isn’t easy. The original Unix was an operating system from AT&T, but these days, the UNIX trademark belongs to the Open Group. Unix is also used as a category to describe an entire family of operating systems.

Unix - Philosophy - Guideline - Unix - Programs

Then there is the Unix philosophy. This serves as a general guideline for Unix programs to follow, with the core being that each program should do one thing well. Instead of aiming to pack in every feature imaginable, a Unix tool should simply do its job, ideally producing output that can feed directly into the input of another program.

These days, there are many Unix variants available, in both free and commercial varieties.


What Is Linux?

Linux is another term that is more difficult to describe than you may imagine. Technically, a complete Linux distribution is a “Unix-like” operating system, but this is just the beginning.

People - Linux - Term - GNU/Linux - Linux

Many people use Linux as a shorthand term for what would be more accurately described as GNU/Linux. Linux itself is just the kernel, the part of the operating system that does the core computing and interfaces with the hardware. The core utilities that run on top of this kernel are just as important.

GNU is a recursive acronym...
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