What is the Difference Between Unix and Linux?

How does the statement “Linux exists thanks to Unix” make you feel? Are you confused because you hear Linux users praise Linus Torvalds for his achievement with Linux every now and then but never for Unix?

Your confusion will end today because today we will be explaining what exactly Unix is and how it differs from the more famous Operating System, Linux.

What is Unix?

Unix is a proprietary Operating System that was developed by Bell Labs research center in the 1970s by Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, and a number of other developers.

Its main mode of interaction is the Command Line Interface (CLI), and even though it recently has a GUI, most Unix users I know still prefer to use the CLI.

Because Unix is proprietary software, it is neither available for free nor is its source code open-source. Nevertheless, due to how much its popularity grew it began to be Licensed to different tech companies which subsequently allowed for the existence of multiple flavors.

Unix Compatibility and Distros

Unix finds most of its use in companies and institutions that employ high-end computer systems, mainframes, and mega servers to get computation done and therefore requires certain architecture specifications.

It has support for a few file systems including gps, hfs, js, bfs, vets, and zfs.

Unix has a handful of distros namely:

  • AIX (IBM)
  • BSD
  • HP – UX
  • Iris>
  • Solaris

It also has some open source projects and they include:

  • Free BSD
  • Darwin (Apple’s version of Unix)
  • OpenBSD

You can watch the introductory video below for a little more on strong>Unix:

What is Linux?

Linux, itself, is a kernel that was developed by Linus Torvalds in 1991 based on the Unix OS as a personal project he worked on and felt he should show to other computer programmers like himself.

After sculpting the kernel after MINIX, adding driver support and a GUI, he developed it into a full-blown OS named Linux and changed the trend in computer technology worldwide.

The Linux OS was built to not just be open source but also easy to use, free, lightweight, and compatible with a variety of hardware. Initially developed to be an OS for personal computing, Linux grew in quality and capacity to the extent it began to be used in offices, servers, etc.

Linux is maintained by Linus Torvalds and a community of developers from all over the world who have volunteered to work on the open-source project free of charge. However, only Mr. Torvalds can authenticate changes made to the kernel’s source code.

Linux Compatibility and Distros

The Linux OS is compatible with a lot of file systems including xfs, ramfs, vfat, cramfsm ext3, ext4, ext2, ext1, ufs, autofs, devpts, and NTFS, to mention a few.

It has a lot more distro versions than Unix including:

  • ArchLinux
  • Debian
  • CentOS
  • Fedora
  • Kali Linux
  • Ubuntu
  • Red Hat

These distros usually go further to have their own flavors like in the case of Ubuntu with Lubuntu and Edubuntu.

Once upon a time Unix was the definite choice for reliable service by major enterprises around the world, but now Linux has become the most sort-out option because it is now capable of carrying out as many tasks as Unix could reliably, securely, more cost efficiently, and it is more user-friendly.

Of the world’s top 500 servers Linux powers 98%. It’s no wonder you hear Linux almost anytime you hear open source and not so much when you hear Unix. However, don’t forget, that if it weren’t for Unix and the scientists at Bell labs research center you probably wouldn’t be reading this article today.

Watch the video below for a little more on what **Linux** is:

How much do you know about the difference between Unix and Linux? Did I leave any important details out? Share your thought in the comments section below.

Divine Okoi is a cybersecurity postgrad with a passion for the open-source community. With 700+ articles covering different topics in IT, you can always trust him to inform you about the coolest tech.

Each tutorial at GeeksMint is created by a team of experienced writers so that it meets our high-quality writing standards.

10 thoughts on “What is the Difference Between Unix and Linux?”

  1. Hmm. Interesting discussion Martins!. Good job, but it is a somewhat complicated and convoluted relationship – both technically and historically.

    Which makes it difficult to summarize in short memes and generalities. Linux is truly amazing – however, it’s pedigree and origins defy brevity. And as is true of most “Computer History”, tis often a twisted tale with plenty of opinions, and alternate views – with of course, the usual egos!

    Two persons/organizations that I feel must be included are Andrew Tannenbaum (MINIX) and Richard Stahlman (GNU).

    Pointing the reader to further reading might help. For example:

    Perhaps others know of other good sources of information?

    • I gave some credit to MINIX in the article. I’m sure readers interested will be able to get an easy hold of information.
      And I used MINIX for a project in Uni so I have first-hand experience with both OSes.

      MINIX is used mainly in schools for practical purposes these days. Everyone is paying attention to projects that evolved better.

  2. Linux was not based on MINIX. BSD was based on UNIX code but is not a disros it. Finally Darwin is the base layer replacement to OSX with the open source XNU kernel, which is a hybrid kernel based on FreeBSD’ independent kernel and the Match micro kernel.

  3. I was using X-Windows and the Motif/CDE GUI on various Unixes before Linux was written. Sun, Next, Apollo and many other vendors were selling graphical Unix hardware before Linux existed.

    In 2002 Caldera released the source of V7 of Unix. In the 1980s many students used Lions commentary on Unix V6 to study Operating System design.

    Linux’s contribution was to make a free POSIX like operating system that ran on inexpensive hardware. Free BSD implementations were not available at that time.

    Subsequent to that Linux became a highly portable running on hardware from phones to super computers.

    In real terms there is very little difference between Unix and Linux as far as the user is concerned. The Gnome desktop is available for AIX and Solaris.

  4. Spreading some important misinformation here and there, eh? As others have pointed out, no mention of GNU?! Most of what you are calling Linux OS – an expression that doesn’t make sense in itself – is actually GNU, as Linux is just the kernel. The kernel!, that is, the part of the OS that interacts directly with the hardware.
    Torvalds himself, when presenting his first version of his kernel, said it was “nothing professional like GNU”. In the end, as Hurd, the GNU kernel, wasn’t yet ready, they used Torvalds’ kernel, which he released under the GPLv2 the following year.
    And it leads us to another misconception: licensed under the GPL, Linux is free software, not open-source – a difference the author seems to not be aware of, as he says that Linux was intended to be free and open-source. If it’s free, it’s open source (but not necessarily the other way round).
    Lastly, someone who doesn’t know the difference between Linux and Unix will be totally lost when you say that Torvalds wrote his kernel after Minix. You should have explained that this was a kernel used for educational purposes that a former professor of Torvalds created (not entirely sure if the guy created it, but he used it in his classes).
    Now I think you could, faithful to the open-source spirit, incorporate the comments and corrections made by the people who commented here to your actual article.

  5. Interesting post but as others have said Linux is only the kernel, GNU has contributed a whole heap of what we now call Linux. You can also download and use Solaris for free, just not in production without a support license.

  6. No mention of the GNU project and Richard Stallman? Come on. Linux became a Unix clone by adapting the Linux kernel to the GNU project’s existing code.

    • Yes, I agree. Not to be a hair-splitter, but Torvalds maintains the Linux kernel, not the “Linux” OS. While many colloquially refer to GNU+Linux as “Linux”, it’s disingenuous to suggest he owns the entirety of the OS experience. I’m sure he has enough on his plate with kernel maintenance. 🙂


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