Deciphering Terms Often Used By IT Consultants: Unix and Linux

Personnel from IT consulting firms that join a team on a staff augmentation or project work basis may use terminology that is less than familiar to managers and business owners even when IT department staffers understand it.  Among the terms likely to be confused by non-specialists in computer infrastructure are Unix and Linux.  Both refer to computer operating systems that in some cases can be used instead of a Microsoft Windows platform.  Although the two systems are related, they are profoundly different in certain key ways.

Unix: a primer

Unix originated as a text-only computer interface used to operate large stationary computers known as mainframes.  Because it lacks any graphical components, a traditional Unix interface can look quite odd to those who are accustomed to using a mouse to click on icons and open folders.  Unix dates from the 1960s and is used to this day by certain hardware vendors such as Solaris and AIX.  Unlike Windows, it is not completely standardized; each hardware vendor tends to adjust Unix to suit the needs of the moment.


Linux is based on the Unix framework and it became popular after the internet made wide-scale collaboration possible.  A world community of programmers that use it and want to see it improved has suggested many of the elements that make up Linux.  Because of this interaction, Linux tends to evolve much more rapidly than other operating systems.  Linux can be installed on Windows-based computers as an alternate operating system or it can actually function as the sole OS on a system.  While this can help to cut licensing costs, companies may find that the software they need for business needs cannot run on Linux and requires Windows instead.

New call-to-action