SBP Blog

Linux goes down in history: a young UNIX

Oct 25, 2015 by AdrianC

Imagine for a moment that: there is no such thing as the Windows operating system; Mac OS X... no one heard of it; we don’t have any Linux distributions to play around with - while Android and iOS are nowhere to be seen.

Now let's travel to the famous Bell Laboratories: it’s 1969 and we witness the birth of something which will forever change the way people interact with computers.

UNIX begins

Way before the Tux penguin came to life, more exactly in 1969, two bearded guys created something that would eventually become a standard in the server world, and the starting point for some of the top operating systems in history: UNIX (Uniplexed Information and Computing System).

In order to better understand the importance of UNIX, we must first consider that, back in the days, a computer was the size of Texas (ok, maybe not that big!), and each computer needed its own individual operating system in order to function.

This big inconvenient was tackled by Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie (among others), and soon a new operating system saw the light of day. After 4 years, in 1973, UNIX was rewritten in C, a move which represented a pivotal moment in its history, making the new operating system portable.

Let's dig deeper

Right now, UNIX and its derivatives are used by 67.1% of all websites (whose operating system we do know), an impressive figure for such an old operating system. But what stands behind this achievement? Well, the UNIX operating system relies upon 3 major pillars:

Kernel: It’s the core of the operating system, it interacts directly with the hardware and contains subsystems such as: process management, file management, device management, network management, memory management. Also, it handles interrupts from hardware devices.

Shell: The shell acts as an interface to the OS, it allows users to interact with the kernel and to run programs. The shell is a command line interpreter (yes, the much dreaded command line! least by some users), it takes the commands given by the user and translates them to the kernel. Basically, it takes human language and transforms it into machine language, 01100001 01110111 01100101 01110011 01101111 01101101 01100101! (awesome)

Commands and Utilities: These are the commands which can be used by the user to interact with the operating system. There are over 400 standard commands (alongside 3rd party ones), commands such as: cd, cat, grep etc.

For those of you who are not at all familiar with UNIX, the following list might shed some light on some of the top UNIX characteristics and advantages:

1.  Multi-user – multiple users can use the machine at the same time
2.  Multi-tasking with protected memory– multiple programs can be run at the same time
3.  Portability – only the kernel (less than 10%) is written in assembly language
4.  Very efficient virtual memory
5.  Unified filesystem

We can’t however get past some of UNIX’s weak points, such as:

1.  Casual users won’t find their way in UNIX
2.  It has a steep learning curve
3.  It easily allows for severe mistakes

Final considerations

All in all, UNIX seems to be oblivious of its own age, showing us that old is not obsolete. Although in recent years it suffered a decline in market share, UNIX still has the power to sustain millions of computers all around the world, with great success.

The future of UNIX however is unsure, and some analysts are predicting that in the following years UNIX is going to see its end of life. If this proves to be true, then it makes sense for it to be replaced by another operating system, right?

Some of you know what should be the top replacement for UNIX, but for those among you who don’t, I’m going to cover that in the next article... so stay tuned.

Tags: Linux 


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