Unix vs. Linux

September 26th, 2007 by Ralf S. Engelschall

A large part of the world listens carefully to every word spreaded by analysts like Gartner, Forrester, etc. So much the worse those analysts still have not stopped using confusing wordings all the time:

“I expect that, around 2009, we will have seen the last application developed specifically for Unix, after which no applications will be developed just for that operating system, though updates to existing applications will continue for some time to come,” George Weiss, a Gartner vice president and distinguished analyst, according to eWeek, told attendees in his presentation titled “Planning a Third-Generation Linux Enterprise”, at Gartner‘s annual Open Source Summit at September 20th, 2007.

There are two very annoying statements embedded here: 1. “Unix is a single/particular operating system” and 2. “Linux is not Unix”. Hmmm… first, there is the original “UNIX (R)”, which today is a registered trademark of The Open Group and the corresponding particular implementation is what AT&T/USL created, Novell bought and then finally sold to SCO. Since years this is no longer a particular operating system, it is a definition of an operating system. Additionally, decades ago the term “Unix” was coined, too. This is a generic term for labeling all classes of operating system with a UNIX/POSIX/SUS-style API and without having to use the registred label UNIX(R) which even today is still partly associated with the original AT&T Unix implementation.

So, Gartner, Unix is not an operating system, it is a large set of similar but different enough operating systems. And, sorry, Linux is a member of this larger class of Unix operating systems — even if the Linux folks sometimes do not wish to believe this theirself ;-) So, it is IMHO silly and very confusing to tell people something like “Unix is dead, long live Linux”. Independent whether this is already silly from a bare technical point of view, this is as confusing as you would tell them “Planets are dead, long live the Earth”.

If anybody not Gartner would tell something like this, it would be harmless. Unfortunately, it isn’t in the case of Gartner as they have great press attention and their statements are copied and repeated a thousand times around the globe and at the end too many people even believe exactly what they were told. So I would really like to see Gartner preparing their IT statements more carefully in order to be more precise and less confusing…

6 Responses to “Unix vs. Linux”

  1. Thomas Lotterer says:

    It’s probably not only the fault of the analysts. GNU/Linux means “Gnu’s not Unix/Linux”, adding more to the confusion. Only few seem to understand that the actual statement means “GNU tools” on “Linux kernel”.

  2. Joe Chlimoun says:

    I understood his statement to contrast commercial variants of Unix versus open source variants. Granted, I had to take a lot of liberty with his poor choice in words, but my assumption is that he was attempting to dumb it down for the media. But I disagree with you when you say that Linux has an is-a relationship with Unix. You’re correct that “Unix” is a trademark of The Open Group, but an OS’s right to call itself “Unix” must be established by their certification process to ensure compliance with the Single Unix Specification, so that they are similar enough (not “different enough”). For example, Apple’s OS X is a Unix since Apple did register and certify it with The Open Group, but to the best of my knowledge no Linux distribution has ever bothered. That’s why GNU’s Not Unix.

  3. Ralf S. Engelschall says:

    Joe: Notice the distinction between “UNIX(R)” and “Unix”. The first one is the registered trademark of The Open Group, the second one is the term usually used to cover the large set of UNIX-like operating systems. So, Linux is not UNIX(R), right. But Linux is a Unix operating system, of course. That’s what I said in the article above, but perhaps I was not clear enough in my wording.

  4. Shawn says:

    I know this is old post but thanks for clearing that up. I wasn’t even aware of Unix and UNIX(R). Most of the time, I use unix and linux interchangeably. So, it okay to use unix when referring to linux but it’s not okay to use linux when referring to unix. right?

  5. Ralf S. Engelschall says:

    Right, Linux is a Unix, but Unix is not just Linux.

  6. sanalika says:

    It’s probably not only the fault of the analysts. GNU/Linux means “Gnu’s not Unix/Linux”, adding more to the confusion. Only few seem to understand that the actual statement means “GNU tools” on “Linux kernel”.

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