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The History of How UNIX Started and Influenced Linux

The History of How UNIX Started and Influenced Linux

The history of UNIX is a fascinating journey, revealing how a powerful operating system came to influence the development of Linux and the open-source movement. A story that begins in the late 1960s and continues to impact the world of technology today. The significance of this tale cannot be overstated; it is the story of how two groundbreaking operating systems have shaped the digital landscape and provided the groundwork for countless innovations in the realms of software and hardware alike.

Let’s try to get it all by exploring the origins of UNIX, its evolution, and how it has impacted the computing world, especially in relation to Linux. Join us as we delve into this captivating story that has shaped the way we interact with technology today.

The Birth of UNIX

To understand the birth of UNIX, we need to go back to the 1960s when Bell Labs, General Electric, and MIT collaborated on a large-scale operating system project called Multics. The goal was to create an extremely interactive, multi-user, and time-sharing system. However, the project faced numerous challenges, and Bell Labs eventually withdrew from it.

Despite Bell Labs’ departure from the Multics project, two of its researchers, Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, remained inspired by the idea of an interactive, multi-user system. Using their experience and insights from Multics, they began developing a new operating system on a disused PDP-7 minicomputer. This new system would later become known as UNIX.

The Evolution of UNIX

In November 1971, Bell Labs compiled the programs and launched the 1st Edition of Unix, which was then followed by the release of Unix 2nd Edition in July 1972. It is noteworthy that these preliminary versions of Unix share a significant similarity with modern-day Linux systems.

In 1975, Version 6 of UNIX was introduced. This version was particularly significant because it was the first to be widely distributed outside of Bell Labs. Universities and research institutions adopted it, leading to a surge in its popularity. The open exchange of ideas and code fostered a sense of community among developers, promoting further innovation.

System III and System V

As UNIX continued to evolve, AT&T (the parent company of Bell Labs) released System III in 1982, followed by System V in 1983. These versions introduced several key features that are still in use today, such as the System V init system and the STREAMS networking API. System V became a popular commercial UNIX variant, laying the groundwork for future UNIX-based systems.

Berkeley UNIX and the BSD Variants

In parallel to the development of System V, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, were working on their own version of UNIX, known as Berkeley UNIX or BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution). BSD introduced many important features, such as the Fast File System, TCP/IP networking, and virtual memory. The BSD variants went on to inspire many other UNIX-like systems, including FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD.

UNIX’s Influence on Linux

In 1991, a computer science student by the name of Linus Torvalds started developing a new operating system. Inspired by UNIX, he aimed to create a free and open-source system that could run on a wide range of hardware. He started by developing a kernel, which is the core component of an operating system, and later released it under the name Linux.

GNU and the Open Source Movement

Linux’s development owes a great deal to the GNU project, which was initiated by Richard Stallman in 1983. The project’s objective was to develop a completely open-source and free operating system, similar to UNIX. Although the GNU project had developed numerous tools and utilities, it lacked a kernel. The arrival of Linux filled this gap, and the combination of GNU utilities and the Linux kernel gave birth to the popular GNU/Linux operating system that we know today.

Key Similarities and Differences between UNIX and Linux

UNIX and Linux share many similarities, primarily due to Linux being heavily influenced by UNIX. Both operating systems are designed to be multi-user and multitasking, and they have a similar file system structure and command-line interface. Additionally, many programming concepts and tools are shared between the two systems.

However, there are some key differences between UNIX and Linux. UNIX is a proprietary system with several commercial variants, whereas Linux is an open-source project with numerous distributions developed and maintained by various organizations and individuals. This open-source nature of Linux has led to greater community involvement and rapid innovation in the operating system.


The historical journey of UNIX and its impact on Linux underscore the significance of teamwork, creativity, and the free flow of thoughts. From its humble beginnings in the 1960s, UNIX laid the foundation for modern operating systems and inspired the development of Linux. As a result, Linux has become an essential part of the computing landscape, powering countless servers, desktops, and embedded devices.

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