What’s the difference between UNIX and Linux?

A lot of people often get confused between UNIX and Linux, even to the point of thinking that the name Linux is just another name for UNIX. While it is true that both operating systems share a good number of characteristics and even have shared beginnings and foundation, being told that both are one and the same is nothing farther from the truth. The truth is that, while both are operating systems, UNIX is different from Linux and Linux is different from UNIX.
The most basic difference between the two is their origin and foundation. UNIX system dates back to the late 1960’s designed as licensed operating software and has since evolved into a number of different versions and for different environments, such as Hewlett-Packard’s HP-UX and Sun’s Solaris. Linux, on the other hand, began in the early 1980’s and was intended to be a free software alternative for the commercial UNIX. As such, it can be said that Linux is born out of UNIX.
Another difference between the two is the way they behave in specific environments and support applications. This is because, while UNIX and its variants run on one architecture only, Linux is able to run and perform well of a wider range of platforms. As such, Linux, perhaps also because of it being open source and free to use, is widely used as an operating system for a huge number of computer hardware, software, game development, mainframes and tablet PC’s. UNIX, on the other hand, has become the favourite OS used in workstation, internet servers and PC’s of Solaris, Intel and HP among others. Aside from this, the UNIX name has become copyrighted where only big time companies are allowed to use.
Thirdly, it can be safely said, that among the most basic difference between UNIX and Linux is that UNIX is commercial in nature while Linux is a free software.

What other differences do Linux and UNIX have?

To better illustrate how truly different Linux and UNIX are, it would be best to compare both in terms of features that are common to both. Here is a list of how different they are according to:


  •  Linux – Linux is an Open source software and a Free Operating System.
  •  UNIX – UNIX is an Operating system that is used by big companies and enterprises as well as universities.


  •  Linux – It can be freely distributed, downloaded and used.
  •  UNIX – Commercially distributed with each variant having different cost.


  •  Linux – Intended to be used by everyone, from home users to developers and computer enthusiasts.
  •  UNIX – Intended for servers, mainframes and workstations.


  •  Linux – Linux can be installed on a wide range and variety of computer hardware, ranging from mobile phones to mainframes and supercomputers.
  •  UNIX – UNIX is designed as an OS intended for internet servers, workstations and PC’s as well as the backbone infrastructure of many high availability solutions.


  •  Linux – Developed by Open Source Development via sharing and collaboration of features and codes.
  •  UNIX – Most UNIX variants are developed by AT&T and by other commercial vendors.

 GUI (Graphical User Interface)

  •  Linux – Linux makes use of two GUI’s, namely the KDE and Gnome but has other alternatives as well such as LXDE, Xfce, and Mate, among others.
  •  UNIX – Originally, UNIX was command based but has later developed a GUI named Common Desktop Environment, although most UNIX distributions now come with Gnome.

 File Support System

  •  Linux – Linux supports Ext2, Ext3, Ext4, Jfs, ReiserFS, Xfs, Btrfs, FAT, FAT32 and NTFS.
  •  UNIX – Unix supports the jfs, gpfs, hfs, hfs+, ufs, xfs, and zfs formats


  •  Linux – Linux has about 60 – 100 identified viruses to date, though none are known to be actively spreading.
  •  UNIX – UNIX has about 85-120 viruses to date.

Threat Detection and solution

  •  Linux – Being community driven makes threat detection and solution a quick process with Linux.
  •  UNIX – Being proprietary in nature means that users often need to wait a while before issues are resolved.


  •  Linux – Linux works on a wide range of processors.
  •  UNIX – Works on a smaller circle such as x86/x64, Sparc, Power, Itanium, PA-RISC, PowerPC, among others.


  •  Linux – Linux was originally designed for Intel x86 hardware.
  •  UNIX – UNIX is made available for PA-RISC and Itanium machines.

What things do Linux and UNIX commonly share between them?

Although, it is already an established fact that Linux and UNIX are really two different systems; the fact that they shared the same beginnings still remains. As such, though they are completely different, UNIX and Linux still shares a number of common applications and characteristics, such as:

  •  Various office applications such as OpenOffice.org;
  •  Development tools like Perl, PHP, Python, GNI c/c++ compilers;
  •  Shells like ksh, csh and bash;
  •  GUI, file and windows managers like KDE and Gnome; and
  •  Posix Interface.

What single characteristic makes one choose one OS over the other?

The most basic characteristic that should be reason enough to make one user choose Linux over UNIX or UNIX over Linux is its user-friendliness. Linux is, by far, considered to be more user-friendly compared to UNIX systems.

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