Unix vs. Linux (Difference)

Difference Between Linux and UNIX

What is the difference between Linux and UNIX operating systems?

UNIX is copyrighted name only big companies are allowed to use the UNIX copyright and name, so IBM AIX and Sun Solaris and HP-UX all are UNIX operating systems. The Open Group holds the UNIX trademark in trust for the industry, and manages the UNIX trademark licensing program.

Most UNIX systems are commercial in nature.

Linux is a UNIX Clone

But if you consider Portable Operating System Interface (POSIX) standards then Linux can be considered as UNIX. To quote from Official Linux kernel README file:

Linux is a Unix clone written from scratch by Linus Torvalds with assistance from a loosely-knit team of hackers across the Net. It aims towards POSIX compliance.

However, “Open Group” do not approve of the construction “Unix-like”, and consider it misuse of their UNIX trademark.

Linux Is Just a Kernel

Linux is just a kernel. All Linux distributions includes GUI system + GNU utilities (such as cp, mv, ls,date, bash etc) + installation & management tools + GNU c/c++ Compilers + Editors (vi) + and various applications (such as OpenOffice, Firefox). However, most UNIX operating systems are considered as a complete operating system as everything come from a single source or vendor.

As I said earlier Linux is just a kernel and Linux distribution makes it complete usable operating systems by adding various applications. Most UNIX operating systems comes with A-Z programs such as editor, compilers etc. For example HP-UX or Solaris comes with A-Z programs.

License and cost

Linux is Free (as in beer [freedom]). You can download it from the Internet or redistribute it under GNU licenses. You will see the best community support for Linux. Most UNIX like operating systems are not free (but this is changing fast, for example OpenSolaris UNIX). However, some Linux distributions such as Redhat / Novell provides additional Linux support, consultancy, bug fixing, and training for additional fees.


Linux is considered as most user friendly UNIX like operating systems. It makes it easy to install sound card, flash players, and other desktop goodies. However, Apple OS X is most popular UNIX operating system for desktop usage.

Security Firewall Software

Linux comes with open source netfilter/iptables based firewall tool to protect your server and desktop from the crackers and hackers. UNIX operating systems comes with its own firewall product (for example Solaris UNIX comes with ipfilter based firewall) or you need to purchase a 3rd party software such as Checkpoint UNIX firewall.

Backup and Recovery Software

UNIX and Linux comes with different set of tools for backing up data to tape and other backup media. However, both of them share some common tools such as tar, dump/restore, and cpio etc.

File Systems

  • Linux by default supports and use ext3 or ext4 file systems.
  • UNIX comes with various file systems such as jfs, gpfs (AIX), jfs, gpfs (HP-UX), jfs, gpfs (Solaris).

System Administration Tools

  1. UNIX comes with its own tools such as SAM on HP-UX.
  2. Suse Linux comes with Yast
  3. Redhat Linux comes with its own gui tools called redhat-config-*.

However, editing text config file and typing commands are most popular options for sys admin work under UNIX and Linux.

System Startup Scripts

Almost every version of UNIX and Linux comes with system initialization script but they are located in different directories:

  1. HP-UX – /sbin/init.d
  2. AIX – /etc/rc.d/init.d
  3. Linux – /etc/init.d

End User Perspective

The differences are not that big for the average end user. They will use the same shell (e.g. bash or ksh) and other development tools such as Perl or Eclipse development tool.

System Administrator Perspective

Again, the differences are not that big for the system administrator. However, you may notice various differences while performing the following operations:

  1. Software installation procedure
  2. Hardware device names
  3. Various admin commands or utilities
  4. Software RAID devices and mirroring
  5. Logical volume management
  6. Package management
  7. Patch management

UNIX Operating System Names

A few popular names:

  1. HP-UX
  2. IBM AIX
  3. Sun Solairs
  4. Mac OS X
  5. IRIX

Linux Distribution (Operating System) Names

A few popular names:

  1. Redhat Enterprise Linux
  2. Fedora Linux
  3. Debian Linux
  4. Suse Enterprise Linux
  5. Ubuntu Linux

Common Things Between Linux & UNIX

Both share many common applications such as:

  1. GUI, file, and windows managers (KDE, Gnome)
  2. Shells (ksh, csh, bash)
  3. Various office applications such as OpenOffice.org
  4. Development tools (perl, php, python, GNU c/c++ compilers)
  5. Posix interface

A Sample UNIX Desktop Screenshot

UNIX Desktop - IRIX 6.5 Desktop

A Sample Linux Desktop Screenshot

Linux KDE desktop environment

UNIX and Linux Hardware

Commercial UNIX hardware has more advanced initial boot options such as:

  • Decide how to boot
  • Check system health
  • Set hardware parameters etc

The BIOS that is standard in PCs which is used by Linux has few, of these features. UNIX hardware or servers are pretty expensive as compare to Linux server systems.


Comparison chart



What is it? Linux is an example of Open Source software development and Free Operating System (OS). Unix is an operating system that is very popular in universities, companies, big enterprises etc.
Cost Linux can be freely distributed, downloaded freely, distributed through magazines, Books etc. There are priced versions for Linux also, but they are normally cheaper than Windows. Different flavors of Unix have different cost structures according to vendors
User Everyone. From home users to developers and computer enthusiasts alike. Unix operating systems were developed mainly for mainframes, servers and workstations except OSX, Which is designed for everyone. The Unix environment and the client-server program model were essential elements in the development of the Internet
Manufacturer Linux kernel is developed by the community. Linus Torvalds oversees things. Three bigest distributions are Solaris (Oracle), AIX (IBM) & HP-UX Hewlett Packard. And Apple Makes OSX, an unix based os..
Usage Linux can be installed on a wide variety of computer hardware, ranging from mobile phones, tablet computers and video game consoles, to mainframes and supercomputers. The UNIX operating system is used in internet servers, workstations & PCs. Backbone of the majority of finance infastructure and many 24×365 high availability solutions.
Development and Distribution Linux is developed by Open Source development i.e. through sharing and collaboration of code and features through forums etc and it is distributed by various vendors. Unix systems are divided into various other flavors, mostly developed by AT&T as well as various commercial vendors and non-profit organizations.
GUI Linux typically provides two GUIs, KDE and Gnome. But there are millions of alternatives such as LXDE, Xfce, Unity, Mate, twm, ect. Initially Unix was a command based OS, but later a GUI was created called Common Desktop Environment. Most distributions now ship with Gnome.
File system support Ext2, Ext3, Ext4, Jfs, ReiserFS, Xfs, Btrfs, FAT, FAT32, NTFS jfs, gpfs, hfs, hfs+, ufs, xfs, zfs format
Text mode interface BASH (Bourne Again SHell) is the Linux default shell. It can support multiple command interpreters. Originally the Bourne Shell. Now it’s compatible with many others including BASH, Korn & C.
Price Free but support is available for a price. Some free for development use (Solaris) but support is available for a price.
Security Linux has had about 60-100 viruses listed till date. None of them actively spreading nowadays. A rough estimate of UNIX viruses is between 85 -120 viruses reported till date.
Threat detection and solution In case of Linux, threat detection and solution is very fast, as Linux is mainly community driven and whenever any Linux user posts any kind of threat, several developers start working on it from different parts of the world Because of the proprietary nature of the original Unix, users have to wait for a while, to get the proper bug fixing patch. But these are not as common.
Processors Dozens of different kinds. x86/x64, Sparc, Power, Itanium, PA-RISC, PowerPC and many others.
Examples Ubuntu, Fedora, Red Hat, Debian, Archlinux, Android etc. OS X, Solaris, All Linux
Architectures Originally developed for Intel’s x86 hardware, ports available for over two dozen CPU types including ARM is available on PA-RISC and Itanium machines. Solaris also available for x86/x64 based systems.OSX is PowerPC(10.0-10.5)/x86(10.4)/x64(10.5-10.8)
Inception Inspired by MINIX (a Unix-like system) and eventually after adding many features of GUI, Drivers etc, Linus Torvalds developed the framework of the OS that became LINUX in 1992. The LINUX kernel was released on 17th September, 1991 In 1969, it was developed by a group of AT&T employees at Bell Labs and Dennis Ritchie. It was written in “C” language and was designed to be a portable, multi-tasking and multi-user system in a time-sharing configuration.



Posted on April 6, 2014, in Linux (Ubuntu/CentOS). Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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