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Yeah, But It's Real Unix

Can someone explain this for me? Honestly, I'm lost, and I don't understand the basis for the argument.

When attending my local university about 4 years ago, I was discussing with another student about the advantages of having a Solaris Unix computer lab. We had one in our Computer Science department building, but the faculty were not taking advantage of it. The discussion was about replacing the Solaris lab with Windows XP machines running Linux in a VM. The other student argued against this saying it was a bad idea. When I queried as to why, I was given the response "Because Solaris is real Unix".

Move forward in time about 2 years later, to a job site at a previous employer. Everything they were running was IBM AIX Unix. It was in their mainframe, servers, and even on a number of workstations scattered throughout the building. Hundreds, if not thousands, of dumb terminals throughout the company, were also connecting to these AIX machines in corporate. I was discussing the infrastructure of the company with another coworker from the IT department, and he started complaining about the licensing burdens of AIX, and how is was costing the company a pretty penny. I mentioned making a slow migration transition to Linux, and it was shot down with the argument "Yeah, but AIX is real Unix".

Now, just recently, I got into an email conversation with an old friend that I haven't seen in a long time (I was 10, the last time I saw him). We began discussing what has been happening in our lives, where our careers are taking us and what lay ahead in the future. I found out that he has gone into software development, and he is doing contract work for the military. I also found out that he is using FreeBSD as his main operating system at home. When I asked him about it, how he likes it, and that I was running Ubuntu Linux on all my machines. He replied mentioning that "FreeBSD is real Unix".

So, I present the question: What does it mean to be running "real Unix"? Is there something magical under the hood, that I am unaware exists? From what I can tell, Linux contains most, if not all plus a lot more, tools that the old Unix operating systems contain. It holds the same file structure, minus a few differences, that exist even between Unix variants themselves. Interaction is the same, and albeit, superior to Unix. From what I gather, Linux administration and experience is no different than Unix administration and experience. So maybe we should start by defining what "real Unix" is to begin with? Because I am failing to see the difference.

{ 22 } Comments

  1. Peteris Krisjanis | May 23, 2007 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Nothing difficult, I guess. Real answer would be "I am too leet to admit that I run 0.3% market share OS, so I say it is real Unix. Linux is stinkin popular anyway, so it must be punished (for not waiting to AIX/Solaris/FreeBSD to catch up)".

    No offense, but every time I hear this answer I think - this human simply are too shy to admit that it runs something rare. Come on, FreeBSD and AIX - there is nothing to be ashamed about. AIX have been most secure and stable commercial Unix for years and FreeBSD has excelent network stack. Solaris has it's own advantages too - even now with open sourced stuff and all new tech thingies inside it.

    I use Linux, not because it is "real Unix", but it just suits my need best - and I am self-educated in using it.

  2. Karl Lattimer | May 23, 2007 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Isn't it ironic that even though Linus strives for posix compliance throughout the linux kernel he doesn't get the recognition that linux is in fact the ONLY _REAL_ UNIX.

    BSD/Solaris/AIX and even SCO UNIXWARE deviate from the POSIX spec more than Linux would ever, I suppose Minix was also a _REAL_ UNIX, but that is long since dead (or almost).

  3. dystopianray | May 23, 2007 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    When people say 'real unix' they are mostly referring to operating systems that are direct descendants of original unix source code as opposed to linux which was created largely from scratch.

  4. anon | May 23, 2007 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    this argument is based on the heritage of the code, i suppose (apart from irrational stuff).

    "gnu" as well as "linux" stuff was written from scratch, wheras freebsd and solaris (presumably) can trace their code back to a couple of decades ago.

    what practical advantage that has is clearly arguable 😉

  5. woofball | May 23, 2007 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Officially the only thing you can call Unix is one that has been licensed properly. Not that almost anyone does that, really. Some people call their descendant from X, which used to be Unix, a Unix. It's pretty silly imho.

    I could understand the Solaris. I could also understand the AIX. FreeBSD I could not. The reason is that what I see to be Unix more than just adhering to certain standards is stability and vendor support.

    AIX for instance costs a lot, but you also get a rock solid platform with awesome documentation and support. Some of the "real" Unixes have had so good man pages for instance that it makes me want to literally cry when I see some of the ones on my Linux installations.. Not to mention the real hard books, and what is covered in the certification courses and so on.

    I have not noticed them being that good ever on any Linux or FreeBSD. Granted, there's a learning curve in competencies and the product is slightly dumb in its own cute way, it can work like nothing else.

    Linux for instance has not even existed for long time enough to have been able to prove it really is stable. The mere existence on the timeline of Linux is less than the record uptimes on some of the "real Unixes". I've heard of couple systems going in production past 15 years, and one (which is most likely the world record, and was in banking & investment sector crunching some really valuable data) over 20 years. To make this even harder, everything in Linux has basically changed too often. You could say there has been "x Linuxes", pick your own guess of number of the main kernel revisements.

    And yeah, some people like getting that virtual +1 penis size by calling their toys "real Unix". It's fanboyism at its purest.

    Is "real Unix" worth it then? Perhaps, but that depends on your real needs and whether you are a lame little kid or not. There are places where will be no Linux/FreeBSD/Windows installations in decades still because the risks of changing are simply too high. Some are building presently new AIX based installations, and Solaris too. They are nice platforms for certain stuff.

  6. John | May 23, 2007 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    There are actually two ways that a OS can claim the trademark "UNIX." One is to be based off the original code. The BSD's share their ancestry with the original UNIX, and can therefore claim to be "Real UNIX." The other way is to go through the lengthy and costly standardization process with The Open Group, the organization that owns the UNIX trademark.

    Linux would most likely pass this standardization process pretty easily, but why bother? The Linux name holds more corporate weight than the UNIX name does these days.

    Does being "Real UNIX" mean that *BSD/AIX/Solaris/HP-UX/Unixware/etc. is better than Linux? Not at all.. my experience is that the various linux distros go the extra mile for usability that most "Real" Unices do not. Most "Real" Unices use the abortion known as CDE as their graphical environment.

  7. Vek | May 23, 2007 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Sounds all too familiar... when I was there a couple years ago, UCI had a lab with a bunch of 'solaris graphics workstations'. We'd sit there coding for hours in some horrible GUI or something (it was locked down and we could not install KDE or Gnome or anything useful) to make something that barely ran ultra slowly in OpenGL, while longingly looking just 3 rows down at the brand new pentium 4's with ridiculously good video cards.... which we couldn't use because 'these are graphics workstations, they're obviously better and what the real world uses for graphics'.

    Universities are soooooo slooooooow.

  8. jldugger | May 23, 2007 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Truly written by someone who's never tried to migrate an application from "real UNIX" to Linux. Or from any UNIX or another UNIX. Linux is different enough that many times applications that were written for much older UNIXes will need to be modified. And Linux has changed considerably a couple times. It may change again, who knows.

    This sort of stuff matters for the commercial UNIX systems people buy for reliability. Real UNIX in these cases means "well tested". But for most BSD users, Real UNIX just generally feel like that heritage is worth something. It's not.

    But try doing a migration on your own sometime and see what breaks. You might be lucky enough to discover that your software vendors stuck with POSIX specs rather than tying their software to the OS they sold it to you on.

  9. Paul cartwright | May 23, 2007 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    well, I used to work for AT&T and I installed AT&T Unix SYS V .
    now I run SUSE on my desktop and XP/Kubuntu on my laptop. The only reason I haven't switched to Kubuntu on my desktop is that my wife doesn't like change.I think the only real difference between the perceived REAL UNIX & LINUX is that the REAL UNIX didn't have a GUI. We did everything from the command line. As far as I am concerned, Kubuntu **IS** the new UNIX with a GUI.

  10. Footsteps | May 23, 2007 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    First of all, AIX ain't UNIX. 🙂

    Second, if you're in a big AIX shop administering and promoting AIX servers then you probably don't know much about UNIX. Or you're an IBM salesman.

  11. treb0r | May 23, 2007 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    I've known a few people over the years who cock a snook at GNU/Linux and swear by the various BSDs instead. One guy I know used to go on about the academic background to BSD, and how the sheer number of GNU/Linux developers would never outweigh the more advanced skills of the BSD community. ESR predicted that the opposite would inevitably happen. I think it obviously has.

    On the other hand, don't forget kids, Gnu's Not Unix...

  12. Aaron | May 23, 2007 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    jldugger- You're absolutely correct. I have never done a migration from Unix to Linux, so I don't know what's involved or how difficult it would be. Knowing what was being run in that shop tells me that it would be difficult. That's why I suggested a slow migration. During the migration, things would be tested along the way, making sure that nothing was broken, and that everything worked well.

    However, my experience with Unix has been decent. I am familiar with most Unices and the tools on them. They aren't much different than a standard Linux box, so I can't imagine that it would be that hard. But I am inexperienced, so I'll take your word for it.

    Footsteps- Why isn't IBM AIX Unix? AIX transcended from System V. AIX itself is an acronym standing fro Advanced IBM UniX. Please enlighten us how IBM AIX is not Unix.

  13. Gianni | May 24, 2007 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    Basicly what they are saying is that Unix (BSD, AIX, ...) are the new Linux.

    Remember when using Linux was for nerds ? That's old shit! Now you must use something else 🙂

    I think that's what we call progress.
    Just my 2c.

  14. Footsteps | May 24, 2007 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    Use AIX for a short time, then you'll see. AIX ain't UNIX is the battle cry of the heterogenous unix environment admin.

  15. Wilmer | May 24, 2007 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Real Unices are a PITA to use and the people who use them want appreciation for their braveness. That's all. 😛 These are also the people who say "People who love Unix use FreeBSD. People who hate Windows use Linux." and similar bullshit. Apparently Linux is too famous and "mainstream" so they have to find something else, something more obscure. 🙂

  16. Oliver | May 25, 2007 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Wow - lot of nonsense, "Linux is real UNIX" etc. First UNIX is just a trademark and BSD was a patchset and later a system of it's own (in the 70s). FreeBSD is a BSD fork, it's an open-source derivative of original AT&T UNIX! Solaris or the former SunOS is a fork of BSD. *BSD is about quality and ... Linux ... ask Andrew Morton for example 😀

    Read it, it's no Linux kid, it's a real UNIX developer since three decades, with code in NetBSD, Linux and FreeBSD.

  17. muz | May 25, 2007 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    My response: "freebsd? Is it an obscure version of linux?" haha

  18. randomwalker | May 27, 2007 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Real Unix is hard to use. That seems to be important to some people. I don't know why.

  19. Lonnie Olson | May 30, 2007 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    "real Unix" just means it was derived from the official AT&T Unix.
    Linux was not derived from this original source. It was
    intended to imitate Unix on an x86 processor. Hence Linux is
    a Unix imitation... not "real Unix".

    Now to the even more important question, is using a "real Unix"
    operating system the most important reason to choose an OS?
    Absolutely not! Each Unix derivative has it's own pros and cons.
    Just as Linux has it's pros and cons. Those should all be
    weighed together. "real Unix" is a snobs response, that's all.

  20. Amy Rose | June 6, 2007 at 2:18 am | Permalink

    This sounds like elitism. But who really cares about it, in the grand scheme of things? I am happy with Kubuntu (but my opinion must not count because I'm not a CS or IT student; my major has nothing to do with computers).

  21. Michael Jensen | October 20, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Real Unix == Anything descended from the AT&T Research UNIX releases

    All of the real unixes (including the BSDs) are complete OSs, developed together as a cohesive whole. Linux is just a work-a-like kernel. How close Linux is to Unix is completely dependant on the distribution. Some distros e.g. SlackWare are pretty close Sys V UNIX, others like the Ubuntu (what I am currently using, as it my options at work where either Windows or Ubuntu) are quite a bit different to UNIX Unix.

    There is actually quite a bit of Unix that has always been public domain software, and all of the Research editions have since been released under BSD like license(they didn't used to be).

    p.s. AIX is descended from AT&T System III UNIX and with amount of vendor gratuitous changes done towards the end of Sun and Oracle have continued to do to Solaris, it's closer to the mythical pure UNIX now than Solaris is. It's really too bad as Solaris used to be a be pretty decent and standard System V. (SunOS 4 is still better than either)

  22. Weenie | October 31, 2015 at 2:55 am | Permalink

    According to a conspiracy theory long popular among ITS and TOPS-20 fans, Unix's growth is the result of a plot, hatched during the 1970's at Bell Labs, whose intent was to hobble AT&T's competitors by making them dependent upon a system whose future evolution was to be under AT&T's control. This would be accomplished by disseminating an operating system that is apparently inexpensive and easily portable, but also relatively unreliable and insecure (so as to require continuing upgrades). In this view, Unix was designed to be one of the first computer viruses (see virus) — but a virus spread to computers indirectly by people and market forces, rather than directly through disks and networks. In 1983 Ken Thompson published a Paper known as reflections of trusting trust, that same year a young man left the MIT artificial intelligence labs and gave the world Unix for free based on AT&T's Unix clone of System_V and the Bugs in the compiler have never stopped coming, in contrast to the single CVE or Bug found in Bell-Labs Unix which was a local exploit - in it's entire lifetime.

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