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Why Unix Is Superior

Quick post, outlining what I think makes the Unix family of operating systems superior, including "unix-like" operating systems such as GNU/Linux, BSD, and others. Of course, the list isn't exhaustive- it's just something I threw together in 10 minutes. The motivation of the post was a discussion in ##unix on Freenode.

  1. The command line interface.
  2. Various shells, including their script syntax.
  3. Builtin programming language support for many languages.
  4. Common Unix utilities, such as grep, rsync, ssh, lsof, and others.
  5. All the supported filesystems (ZFS, Ext4, Reiser, UFS, etc.).
  6. Overall rock-solid stability and reliability.
  7. Lack of viruses, trojans, and other malware.
  8. Tremendous networking capabilities (PPoE, TCP/IP, etc.).
  9. Bulletproof firewall software.
  10. Overall builtin security in general (MACs, PAM, etc.).
  11. Quality user/group management.
  12. System resource usage.
  13. Both vertical and horizontal scaling.
  14. Portability.
  15. Plain text configuration files.
  16. Open source kernel and user-space software.
  17. Based on standards (POSIX, FHS, LSB, etc.).
  18. Vast selection of software choices (various text editors, MUAs, etc.)
  19. Simplicity in software design- do one thing, and do it well.
  20. Mind-blowing hardware support.
  21. Support for hundreds of languages and locales out of the box.

{ 9 } Comments

  1. Brad using Konqueror 4.5 on Kubuntu | March 27, 2011 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    Superior to what?

    I'd certainly agree it is superior to Windows in many respects, but I think some of this is a bit of a stretch. For example, user/group management in Active Directory won't really be matched in Unix until we have Samba4 + management tools.

    Perhaps you could explain why you think its better?

  2. Jens using Google Chrome 10.0.648.133 on Ubuntu | March 28, 2011 at 12:19 am | Permalink

    One point I almost laughed at is #20, "Mind-blowing hardware support".

    That is indeed ridiculous. Hardware support is arguably the biggest weakness of *NIX-style systems. I assume what you actually meant is that Linux can run on 50-something CPU architectures (including such everyday ones as spaceflight-hardened low-cycle CPUs), which may be cool from a geek point of view, but useless for anyone else. Fact is that lots of common, everyday stock hardware still does not run on Linux out of the box (sometimes not at all). If there's any operating system in the world that has "mind-blowing" hardware support, it's Windows, as much as one might like to hate it.

  3. Greg using Firefox 4.0 on GNU/Linux | March 28, 2011 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    Although in general i agree the state of Desktop Environments is absolutely pathetic. And thats what appeals to desktop users in compare to all those things on your list.
    We know that its very well possible not dealing with those horrible beasts, but that requires time to learn and customise, which many users dont afford or are unwilling to devote time on it.
    After 7 years since Ubuntu was born, not much changed in this area after all.. rather sad and Unity is a step in the wrong direction. Heres a nice article about Linux desktop evolution http://dedoimedo.com/computers/gnome-3.html not innovative, we've heard all these things already, but a nice summary.

  4. trampster using Google Chrome 10.0.648.204 on GNU/Linux | March 28, 2011 at 3:49 am | Permalink

    Reasons one and two are also come first and second on the list of why unix is not superior.

    The command line is good. The best there is. There is no question of that. But a superiority of the command line is also the the downfall of unix. The command line is so good that the GUI has suffered. Go look on AskUbuntu and count how many questions are answered with command line instructions.

    The command line is so good it is easier to answer peoples questions with command line instructions then GUI ones. It easier to do a lot of things with command line then the GUI.

    Then consider windows. It probably has the worst command line. You average user will go their entire computing life without even know what one is. And because the command line is so bad the GUI has been designed to do almost everything.

    So their you go have such a good command line is no longer an advantage for unix its a disadvantage. It scare the average user away. Again and again and again I come across something I want to do on ubuntu to find the only way to do it is via magic commands. Command that are not discoverable, not user friendly. Instead they make the geeks that have mastered them feel like they are somehow superior to the average user who has not. They have no motivating to fix this because it would take away their superiority.

    Stop pretending the command line is a Unix advantage it probably was once. Now it's just a barrier to wide spread adoption.

  5. LGB using Google Chrome 10.0.648.204 on GNU/Linux | March 28, 2011 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    @Jens: I personally think that this article is more about the sever usage, at least the selected facts suggest that (I would not name a system "superior" as desktop where the CLI is the first point, even if you know that I mainly use only terminal windows and a browser, and not too much, but I think most people who needs a desktop would not share this habit of mine!). And if you see the problem from viewpoint of servers, it's quite different story. I am OK with Linux (and even Solaris!) as desktop since years, I only want to say that maybe it's not a "typical" desktop needs what I need, even a vt100 terminal is enough for me, I still have one at home, and used sometimes :) :)

  6. Aaron using Google Chrome 10.0.648.133 on GNU/Linux 64 bits | March 28, 2011 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    I guess I can understand how you guys would think I'm specifically referring to the desktop, seeing as though this blog is syndicated on a desktop-based planet, however I'm not. The Unix history stretches much further back than desktops. While they certainly can be thought of with this list, the Unix history primarily deals with servers, mainframes, supercomputers, etc. So, with that in mind, let me address some of the points that were raised.

    @Brad- Active Directory is more than user/group management, so it's really not comparing apples to apples. LDAP and Kerberos-based solutions for the Unix world give Unix an advantage for user and group management. If we want to talk about what competes with Active Directory, that would be in a separate discussion for a separate post.

    @Jens- Yes, "mind-blowing hardware support". I'm not talking just video cards and audio cards. I'm talking 50+ CPU architectures, USB, Firewire, Fibrechannel, SCSI, SAS, i2o, small embedded systems like wrist watches to massive mainframes and supercomputers. The hardware support that Unix has is absolutely "mind-blowing". Sure, you can't get your video card to work with GNU/Linux, but that's because you're operating system (or you) is hell bent on Free Software. Install the proprietary driver from the video card vendor, and a whole new world opens up.

    @trampster- You'll notice that I specifically did not mention the GUI. The lack of a robust, clean, polished GUI is what kept Unix off the desktop, even with today's fancy Compiz and 3D effects. Windows won that war, no doubt. But, the GUI dumbed down the operating system experience by leaps and bounds. Now, not only can your regular user not navigate the command line, they have trouble navigating the GUI. Major desktop operating system vendors have kept the user from exercising their brain. It's all about being "user-friendly", whatever that means. So yes, IMO, the command line does make Unix superior, because users are actually forced to think, read documentation, and experiment. It's never a disadvantage. The barrier to wide spread adoption is OEMs, not the command line.

  7. Greg using Firefox 4.0 on GNU/Linux | March 28, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Personally i wasnt confused assuming you are talking about desktops. When you say though "GNU/Linux, BSD, and others are superior" there is not much left to compare it to that isn't UNIX-like.
    Most of it is MS Windows, and its primary usage is the desktop. Plus the command line is not exactly irrelevant, even on desktops. Quite the contrary.

  8. Sporkman using Firefox 3.6.16 on Ubuntu 64 bits | March 28, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    I'm a big fan of pipes + character streams. That, plus the powerful BASH scripting shell.

  9. Aaron using Google Chrome 12.0.712.0 on GNU/Linux 64 bits | March 28, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    @Greg- Okay. That's good you weren't confused. But, there is quite a bit left that still is not Unix-like: Windows, OpenVMS, BeOS/Haiku (which I'm actually really excited to watch the development of) early Mac OS (although OS X has changed that), and others, even if they may be practically non-existent (which might be part of the reason?).

    Regarding the command line, even Microsoft recognized the ability for developers and administrators to build custom solutions through scripts, and thus created PowerShell. They were really the only operating system vendor that did not ship a powerful command line interface for years and years, thinking that the GUI was a total replacement for the CLI. Even Apple thought the same thing, until OS X released.

    In fact, that reminds me of a paper I once read that every operating system eventually becomes Unix-like. I should pull that out, and blog on it for the next post. It's incredibly interesting.

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