What is the difference between Linux and UNIX operating systems?

The Difference Between UNIX and LINUX Operating Systems With Examples

You may have often heard about both Unix and Linux operating systems. In today’s world, Linux is more famous than Unix but Unix has its own users. While Linux is an open source, free to use operating system widely used for computer hardware and software, game development, tablet PCS, mainframes, Unix is a proprietary operating system commonly used in internet servers, workstations and PCs by Solaris, Intel, HP etc.

Unix is a family of multitasking, multiuser computer operating systems that derive from the original AT&T Unix, developed in the 1970s at the Bell Labs research center by Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, and others.

In this article, we look at the key difference between the two operating systems.

What is the difference between UNIX and LINUX operating systems?

Unix Operating System

Unix Operating System

Unix is a proprietary software operating system. As said above, it was developed by Bell Labs for its own use but over the years was licensed to other tech companies. The Unix OS works primarily on Command Line Interface, though, recently, there have been developments for GUI on Unix systems.

Unix is not free. Different flavors of Unix have different cost structures according to vendors.

Unix is not as flexible as Linux. It has less compatibility with different types of hardware. Unix installation requires a strict and well-defined hardware machinery and works only on specific CPU machines.

Since Unix OS is not a freeware and therefore its source code is not available. You cannot modify and sell your version of Unix therefore.

Unix installation is comparatively much costlier than Linux since it requires special hardware and can be run only on specific CPU processors. It is mostly used in big data servers around the world.

Unix comparatively supports very fewer Filesystems. It supports the following File systems:

zfs, js, hfx, gps, xfs, gps, xfs, vxfs

The Unix Operating System is not portable. There are comparatively less distributions or versions of Unix operating systems.

Different versions of Unix are as follows:

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

The Unix OS is mainly used on large server systems, mainframes, expensive and high-end computer systems at big MNCs and institutions. Unix is being developed, maintained and updated by AT&T developers. They don’t encourage open source developments.

Linux operating system

Linux operating system

Most gadgets that you can think of except your laptop or PC run on some Linux distro. Linux is an open source operating system based on Unix. Linux is basically the name of the Kernel and was developed in 1991.

The Linux kernel is developed by the community and Linus Torvalds oversees things. In addition to the command line interface, Linux has a graphical user interface like Windows operating system and applications to make it a complete operating system.

The Linux OS has both Graphical User Interface (GUI) as well as Command Line Interface (CLI). Linux comes with KDE and Gnome as its GUI environment. The Command Line Interface is optional in Linux.

Linux can be freely distributed, downloaded freely, distributed through magazines, Books etc. There are priced distros for Linux like Red Hat Linux also, but they are normally cheaper than Windows.

Linux is a very flexible operating system and is compatible with most hardware systems. Linux OS can be installed and executed on almost anything that has a processor.

Since it is so fluid and agile, Linux can be installed on a wide variety of computer hardware, ranging from mobile phones, tablets, and video game consoles, to mainframes and supercomputers.

Linux OS is an open source OS, its source code is available for free. You can, therefore, read, modify and implement it on your machine. However, you cannot sell it as it comes under the GNU GPL License.

Linux is highly scalable and supports a really large set of file systems. Linux installation is generally very economical as compared to Unix since it does not require special hardware for it to run and the operating system itself is either free or very inexpensive.

The File systems supported by Linux are as follows:

xfs, ramfs, nfs, vfat, cramfsm ext3, ext4, ext2, ext1, ufs, autofs, devpts, ntfs and many more.

There are comparatively more distributions or versions of Linux operating systems. The distributions available for Linux are as follows:

  • Redhat
  • Kali
  • Slackware
  • Debian
  • ArchLinux
  • Solaris
  • Ubuntu
  • CentOS
  • Fedora

The Linux Kernel was created by Linux Torvalds in 1990s. However, the complete OS with GNU GPL license also had a huge contribution by Richard Stallman.

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.

The Linux OS mainly focused on home-based PCs and laptops. However, due to its popularity and stability, it started being used in offices and high-end systems including mobile phones, servers, and even embedded systems.

The developments in Linux are contributed by a community of developers worldwide without any cost. However, the authority to implement the development lies with the founder of Linux – Linus Torvalds who has been releasing updates to its Kernels.

BASH (Bourne Again Shell) is the Linux default shell. It can support multiple command interpreters. Linux is considered to be very secure. Linux has had about 60-100 viruses listed till date, however, none of them actively spreading nowadays.

Linux was originally developed for Intel’s x86 hardware. However, now the ports are available for over two dozen CPU types including ARM.

Unix vs Linux – Difference between Unix and Linux

Linux Unix
The Source Code of Linux is freely available to its Users. The Source Code of Unix is not available for the general public.
Linux primarily uses Graphical User Interface with an optional Command Line Interface. Unix primarily uses Command Line Interface.
Linux OS is portable and can be executed in different Hard Drives. Unix is not portable.
Linux is very flexible and can be installed on most of the Home Based Pcs. Unix has a rigid requirement of the Hardware. Hence, cannot be installed on every other machine.
Linux is mainly used in Home Based PC, Mobile Phones, Desktops, etc. Unix is mainly used in Server Systems, Mainframes, and High-End Computers.
Different Versions of Linux are: Ubuntu, Debian, OpenSuse, Redhat, Solaris, etc. Different Versions of Unix are: AIX, HP-UX, BSD, Iris, etc.
Linux Installation is economical and doesn’t require much specific and high-end hardware. Unix Installation is comparatively costlier as it requires more specific hardware circuitry.
The Filesystems supported by Linux are as follows: xfs, ramfs, nfs, vfat, cramfsm ext3, ext4, ext2, ext1, ufs, autofs, devpts, ntfs The Filesystems supported by Unix are as follows: zfs, js, hfx, gps, xfs, gps, xfs, vxfs.
Linux is developed by an active Linux Community worldwide. Unix is developed by AT&T Developers.

Example of Unix: Solaris



Now that you have a good idea of the general differences between Linux and Unix, let’s take a look at some more specific examples.

First, let’s compare Solaris, a Unix distro made by Oracle (formerly made by Sun Microsystems), with Linux. Linux is more portable, meaning that it can run on more system architectures (think x86 and ARM) than Solaris can.

Solaris is known for better stability and hardware integration, but Linux has a vast array of distros to manage even the complex hardware. Linux also has a much faster rate of development than Solaris.

There are also several other differences between them, but this can occur even among different Linux distributions. For example, they use different package managers, different default file systems, and more.

There are also various differences in the respective kernels on how they deal with things such as I/O and network, but those differences are extremely technical.

Usage of Linux and Unix

Linux OS is great for small- to medium-sized operations, and today it is also used in large enterprises where UNIX was considered previously as the only option.

A few years back, Linux was considered an interesting academic project, but most big enterprises where networking and multiple user computing are the main concerns; people didn’t consider Linux as an option.

But today, with major software vendors porting their applications to Linux, and as it can be freely distributed, the OS has entered the mainstream as a viable option for Web serving and office applications.

But there are some circumstances where UNIX is the obvious choice or used to be. If an enterprise used massive symmetric multiprocessing systems or systems with more than eight CPUs, they needed to run UNIX in the past.

UNIX was far more capable in handling all the processes more effectively than Linux. However since 2004 more of the world’s biggest supercomputers now run Linux than Unix.

Since 2011 Linux powers over 90% of the top 500 servers. It runs also on the biggest (as of 2011): RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science Cores: 705024 Power: 12659.89 kW Memory: 1410048 GB

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  1. I think it’s important to differentiate AT&T-based, especially post-1986 standardization efforts, and the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD), especially the post-1993 4.4BSDLite that the, now, Unix System Labs (USL) agreed to be free of IP issues. Why? The latter is completely open source and redistributable.

    The article here fails to note this, and states that UNIX is proprietary as a result. There’s a very, very strong asterisk to the contrary, given BSD UNIX which is still extremely popular, even in the Enterprise world. And I say this as a guy who almost does Red Hat exclusively in my career, open source BSD UNIX relases are not going anywhere in several Enterprises.

  2. All your facts are wrong this is a very badly written article. There are so many wrong things that it’s futile to enumerate them. Linux does not have versions Linux is just one and a single Linux. Distributions are not different veraons, they are different bundles with the same Linux inside. Linux command line is not optional!!!!

  3. The IBM Unix OS is not AIS but it’s called AIX…
    In the table above you mentioned Solaris as a Linux distro but it’s not… as you explained later it is developed by Oracle (SUN Microsystems before that) and it is UNIX.
    Also there is x86 version of Solaris that can be installed on a PC or laptop (not to mention that there is no much scence in this unless someone wants to learn Solaris or develop software without buying Sparc server).
    The CLI on Linux is not optional – it’s always there but you choose in what to boot the Linux: CLI or GUI and also in the GUI you have the CLI emulator and also while in GUI you can switch to another terminal running CLI.

    You only mentioned BSD as a Unix. It’s free and it’s mostly used on x86 architecture CPUs and it also have GUI (the most popular from Linux are available also for BSD like KDE).
    And let’s not forget the most popular BSD based OS in the world: Mac OS 😉

    Alex G.

  4. You left out the BSD family entirely, which is UNIX and is open source. (Some would say BSD’s license is more free than GPL, although I won’t argue either way here.)

  5. Good article on comparing the major differences between Linux and UNIX.

    There is one typo on the IBM UNIX operating system which is named AIX not AIS.


  6. Wow! I have never seen such a misinformed article. It’s pretty much all incorrect. First, there are many Unixes, not just the one “developed by AT&T.”. The AT&T of today is related pretty much in name only to the AT&T of the 70s and 80s when Unix was developed. Modern Unixes are developed by both open-source communities and commercial entities. Solaris, the example you discussed, is developed by Oracle.

    There are MANY free and open source Unixes. All of the BSDs are open source. So is Illumos and other OpenSolaris forks.

    Unix is portable by design. It was one of the features of the OS that caused it to gain so much popularity. It runs on everything from toasters to PS4s to mainframes and everything in between.

    UFS was the standard Unix filesystem decades and had only rudimentary support in Linux.

    I don’t know where you got any of your information from, but I would suggest reading the Wikipedia article on the Unix wars. I would also recommend deleting this article. Then install FreeBSD and see what Unix is really all about

  7. Oh yeah, one other thing. Linux has more market share in the server space than any given Unix but you failed mention servers as a user case for Linux in your article.

  8. There’s still quite a lot of Unix servers running production systems in government and the private sector. Solaris, for example has some unique security features and configurations available. Although certainly there are still legacy systems running on obscure hardware (Sparc maybe?), Nevertheless many modern Unix flavors are running on the same 32-bit intel or 64x architectures as Linux or Windows.

    Also there are some popular and well-maintained free and open-source Unix systems out there. See FreeBSD or OpenBSD for example.

  9. Wow….so many mistakes….AIS? Iris? Solaris is not a distribution of Linux. Plenty of Unix OS are actually free: FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, OpenIndiana, just to name few. Why gps listed twice? Autofs is not a file system. Linux is not mainly focused on home PCs. GUI on Unix is not recent development.

  10. I have been working with IBM AIX for 20 years, and I also work with Linux, windows, MAC OS, if this article was to be graded, a solid F is appropriate.

  11. I have been working with IBM AIX for 20 years, and I also work with Linux, windows, MAC OS, if this article was to be graded, a solid F is appropriate.

  12. As mostly a complete layman, I started to become skeptical of this article when I saw grammatical mistakes and just how incomprehensible the “main event” was: the untitled table with Linux and Unix “facts.” Good thing memory runs on repetition, or I’d be leaving dumber than I came. The comments saved me, if there’s truth in consensus.


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