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Church Of The
Swimming Elephant

"What is... Unix"
More things people think you should know.

By John Holstein, Cotse Helpdesk Coordinator

Page 1 of 2


Recently, after receiving an email from someone requesting "bare-bones" information about the Unix Operating System(s), I decided to sit down and write an article explaining the very basics of Unix, this is a compilation of that work.

Unix In a Nutshell:

Unix is an OPERATING SYSTEM (OS). Unix is MANY OPERATING SYSTEMS. The original Unix Operating System was started in the 1960's by Bell-Labs, Educational Institutions and other contributing research firms. Unix was developed to be a dependable Time-Sharing operating system for a vast array of computing needs. What originally started out as a single OS has developed into a multitude of diversified operating systems including; Sun Solaris, BSD's (OpenBSD, NetBSD & FreeBSD), Linux (Red Hat Linux, Caldera, Turbo, Debian, among many others), and various "flavors" of other Unix models.

While Linux isn't considered by many administrators as being a fully qualified operating system, for our use and for the basic educational endeavors contained herein, we will assume that Linux is and of itself, an Operating System in the same sense that Solaris and the BSD's are.

The term "flavor" refers to a user or system administrators particular "Unix of Choice". Varied in the list above, many System Admin's become very keen to their particular "flavor". Unix is particularly different than most competitors such as the various Microsoft "flavors" of Operating Systems. The Microsoft Operating Systems such as Windows 2000, NT and 9x (that's 95 & 98) are based on the principle of using Gooey (GUI, Graphical User Interface) to interpret the communications between the Operating System (kernel, the basis for the operating system) and the user. The common "icons and graphics" used on your "desktop" is an example of a "GUI".

The Unix interface is what you would refer to as being more DOS (Disk Operating System commonly used prior to Microsoft's Windows) than GUI based. Whereby, after installation (inserting floppy or cdrom disks into the system and "loading" the operating system), your main interface would be to use "command line". Unix commands are very different from DOS commands. Whereas you would use "dir" to get a directory structure of a system, in Unix, you would use the "ls" command. Why would Unix want to be so different? Unix isn't different, DOS and Microsoft are different. Remember folks, Unix came first.

Unix is and of itself, an Operating System. There's no Microsoft Windows product located on a workable Unix partition. You have the option of installing an x-windows GUI interface, but the basics for the OS is command line.

Unix works. You see, when you install new network components in Microsoft Windows, in most cases, to get the drivers to function properly, you need to reboot. Similar to installing "dial up networking" in Windows, when finished, it will ask you to reboot your machine. When you do something similar in a Unix Flavor, there's no reboot. It works, if you did it right. Want to add a new network card? Plug in a commonly used card, start the computer. Most of the time, an updated kernel (or Operating System) will have the drivers already built in or will automatically find the device and ask you to install this or that, once you have done this, or quite possibly without your intervention, the Operating System will start with the new device activated and ready for you to configure.

Continue to Page 2

Problems? Questions? Bugs?

Email: John Holstein,
Cotse Helpdesk/Support


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