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Did Linux kill commercial Unix?

  Red Hat logo at the company's office in Silicon Valley.
Michael Vi / Shutterstock.com

The sale of commercial Unix has fallen off a cliff. There must be something behind this dramatic decline. Did Linux kill its ancestor by becoming a perfectly viable replacement, such as an operating system version of Invasion or the Body Snatchers?

The beginnings of Unix

The first release of Unix took place fifty years ago in 1

969, at Bell Labs, a research and development company owned by AT&T. Happy birthday, Unix. Actually it was then called Unics, which stands for UNI plexed I nformation and C encirclement S ervice. Apparently no one can remember when the "cs" became an "x". It was written on a DEC PDP / 7 computer, in the DEC assembly language. The Unix development team identified that need to get hold of the newer and more powerful DEC PDP / 11/20 computer, so they quickly produced a set-up program to generate patent applications. After this, the use of Unix grew steadily at Bell.

In 1973, version 4 of Unix was released, rewritten in the C programming language. The introduction to the accompanying manual was as follows: "The number of UNIX installations is now above 20, and many more are expected." (K. Thompson and DM Richie, The UNIX Programmer & # 39; s Manual 4th Edition. November 1973.)

How little did they know! In 1973 Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, two of the most important Unix architects, presented a paper at a conference on Unix. They immediately received requests for copies of the operating system.

Due to a decree of consent that AT&T entered into with the US government in 1956, AT&T had to remain outside "any company other than the provision of common carrier communication services". The result was that they could license Bell Labs products, but they could not produce them wholeheartedly. So the Unix operating system was distributed as a source code with a license, and costs that covered the shipping and packaging and a "reasonable royalty".

Because AT&T could not treat Unix as a product and did not use the usual packaging, no marketing was given. It came without support and without bug fixes. Nevertheless, Unix spread it to universities, military applications and ultimately the commercial world.

Because Unix was rewritten in the programming language C, it was relatively easy to transfer it to new computer architectures, and soon Unix ran all kinds of hardware. It had disappeared from the borders of the DEC range and could now be used almost everywhere.

The Rise of Commercial Unix

In 1982, following another approval decision, AT&T was forced to give up control of Bell and Bell was divided into smaller, regional companies. This revolution freed AT&T from some of their earlier strictures. They could now produce Unix formally. In 1983 license rights were increased and support and maintenance were finally available.

It was this move towards commercialism that led Richard Stallman to create the GNU project, with the aim of writing a version of Unix that was completely free of AT&T source code. Congratulations, GNU Project, 36 years old.

Of course, those who already had the Unix source code under the previous software license could continue to use that version. They have modified, expanded and patched it themselves or with the help of one of the Unix user communities that have emerged as technical self-help groups without AT&T support.

IBM, HP, Sun, Silicon Graphics and many more hardware vendors had their own commercial version of Unix or a Unix-like operating system.

Unix was steadily becoming the operating system for mission-critical workloads in markets such as healthcare and banking. Unix was found to feed mainframes and mini-computers in the buildings of aerospace manufacturers, automotive and shipbuilding and universities around the world have used it widely. processor was released in 1985. Unix was now available on mainframes, mini-computers and personal computers – if you paid for it.

The Unix Wars

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a long and messy struggle for dominance and standardization between the different flavors of Unix. Naturally, all stakeholders wanted to be the one who was considered the gold standard. In the end, standards were introduced themselves to try to solve compatibility problems.

This led to the Single UNIX specification (which also includes the POSIX standard). The main word "UNIX" is now a trademark of the Open Group. It is reserved for operating systems that meet the Single UNIX specification. So "UNIX" is a trademark and "Unix" refers to a family of operating systems, some that can call themselves UNIX.

This is a very short summary of a period that was probably more confusing to the potential Unix buyer at that time than when we look back at it. Needless to say, if customers don't know what to buy, they are waiting to follow developments. The sale slowed considerably.

This was a self-inflicted wound to commercial Unix, but it was not a fatal one.

Happy birthday, Linux

Linux was 28 years old in August 2019. Happy birthday, Linux. In 1991, Finnish computer science student Linus Torvalds made his famous announcement that he worked as a hobby on a kernel of the operating system. His motivation was to get to know the architecture of the 386 CPU.

Richard Stallman's GNU project had written many elements of a Unix-like operating system, but their kernel, the GNU Hurd, was not – and still is – ready for publication. Linus Torvald & # 39; s Linux kernel has closed that gap.

With the Linux kernel and the tools and utilities of the GNU operating system, a fully operational Unix-like operating system was born. Purists will call this GNU / Linux, the rest of us use the shorthand & # 39; Linux & # 39 ;. As long as there is appreciation, respect and recognition for the contributions of both camps, we are happy anyway. [19659006] Since 1991, Linux has been steadily increasing in capabilities, completeness and stability. It is now found in an astonishing number of different usage scenarios & products.

The oldest distribution that is still being maintained is Slackware. It was released in 1993. It is based on an earlier distribution called Softlanding Linux System, which was released in the previous year. Slackware tries to be the most Unix-like of the many Linux distributions there are. It's great to see it still going on, with a healthy community and dedicated managers.

  Slackware command prompt after terminal window
Slackware Linux, very much alive in 2019

The Rise of Linux

The attraction of a free Unix-like operating system, coupled with access to the source code, turned out to be a convincing message. Linux is everywhere.

  • It runs on the web . W3Techs reports that Linux is used on 70% of the top 10 million Alexa domains.
  • It runs on the public cloud . On Amazon EC2, Linux accounts for 92% of the servers, with more than 350,000 individual copies.
  • It runs on the fastest computers in the world . All 500 fastest super computers in the world use Linux.
  • It goes to space . The flight computers of the Falcon 9 rocket run on Linux.
  • It's in your pocket . The core of Google & # 39; s Android is a Linux kernel. There are more than 2.5 billion active Android devices. That includes Chromebooks and other devices. (And at the heart of Apple & # 39; s iOS, code is directly derived from the Unix variant developed at the University of California, Berkeley called the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD). So, regardless of your smartphone preference, they trust both on elements of Unix-like operating systems.)
  • It feeds your smarthome . Do you have a smart gadget in your house? It almost certainly runs an embedded Linux.
  • It runs your network . Most managed switches, wireless access points and routers work on embedded Linux.
  • It feeds your telecom . Do you have a VOIP telephone on your desk or a telephone switch in the comms room? They probably use embedded Linux.
  • It is on your computer . Even if you do not use a Linux desktop, Microsoft will include a Linux kernel in version 2.0 of Windows 10 & # 39; s Windows subsystem for Linux.
  • It is in vehicles . Tesla (and other car manufacturers) use Linux in their vehicles.

RELATED: Windows 10 gets a built-in Linux kernel

Everywhere except on the PC, Linux is dominating. And even Microsoft makes beliefs towards the Linux world from its desktop stronghold with the Windows Subsystem for Linux.

But the point of this discussion is Unix and Linux, not Linux and Windows. And the bottom line is that wherever Unix was, Linux is now. And Linux is in some places where Unix has never been. Like in smart TV & # 39; s. Linux is everywhere.

IBM is one of the last holdings for commercial Unix, with its AIX offering. And even IBM embraces Linux for an amount of $ 34 billion. That's a huge hug: $ 34 billion for what is, in fact, a commercial Linux, and a direct competitor to its internal offering. Interestingly, the fastest of the top 500 supercomputers is an IBM system and it runs Red Hat Enterprise Linux, not AIX.

Is Linux better than Unix?

No. It is (more or less) the same, but it has advantages such as being able to run on almost everything, from super computers to Raspberry Pis. You can get the source code, there is a passionate network of users and administrators and it is available for free.

If you want commercial support, it is also available from Red Hat, Canonical and Oracle. And that was a critical pointer in Linux to replace Unix from some companies, because many companies & # 39; free & # 39; not trusted. They paid happier for support. The rise of Linux is not all based on the fact that Linux is freely available. Commercial Linux helped defeat commercial Unix.

Is Linux more successful than Unix? Well, define success. If the use of a more diverse and widespread use than any other operating system is a given, then it is. If it is the largest number of devices on which the operating system runs, then it is.

There was one question to which I could not find an answer: was the sales of Red Hat for $ 34 billion greater than the amount that all commercial licenses from Sun, HP, Silicon Graphics and the rest during the lifetime of the commercial heyday of Unix? Maybe Linux also wins with commercial success, in one transaction.

Did Linux kill Unix?

Yes, Linux killed Unix. Or, rather, Linux put Unix in its tracks and then jumped in its shoes.

Unix is ​​still there, with mission-critical systems that work correctly and work stably. This continues until support for the applications, operating systems or hardware platform stops. If something is really mission critical and it works, you let it work. I suspect that someone will always run a commercial UNIX or Unix-like operating system somewhere.

But for new installations? There are enough variations of Linux to make things very difficult for a commercial Unix.

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