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(Pronounced yoo-niks) UNIX is a popular multi-user, multitasking operating system (OS) developed at Bell Labs in the early 1970s. Created by just a handful of programmers, UNIX was designed to be a small, flexible system used exclusively by programmers.

Due to its portability, flexibility, and power, UNIX has become a leading operating system for workstations. Historically, it has been less popular in the personal computer market.

UNIX History

UNIX was one of the first operating systems to be written in a high-level programming language, namely C. This meant that it could be installed on virtually any computer for which a C compiler existed. This natural portability combined with its low price made it a popular choice among universities. It was inexpensive because antitrust regulations prohibited Bell Labs from marketing it as a full-scale product.

Bell Labs distributed the operating system in its source language form, so anyone who obtained a copy could modify and customize it for his own purposes. By the end of the 1970s, dozens of different versions of UNIX were running at various sites. After its breakup in 1982, AT&T began to market UNIX in earnest. It also began the long and difficult process of defining a standard version of UNIX.

The UNIX Standard, Trademark

Today, the trademarked "UNIX" and the "Single UNIX Specification" interface are owned by The Open Group. An operating system that is certified by The Open Group to use the UNIX trademark conforms to the Single UNIX Specification.  The latest version of the certification standard is UNIX V7, aligned with the Single UNIX Specification Version 4, 2013 Edition.

According to The Open Group's Web site, "As the owner of the UNIX trademark, The Open Group has separated the UNIX trademark from any actual code stream itself, thus allowing multiple implementations. Since the introduction of the Single UNIX Specification, there has been a single, open, consensus specification that defines the requirements for a conformant UNIX system. There is also a mark, or brand, that is used to identify those products that have been certified as conforming to the Single UNIX Specification, initially UNIX 93, followed subsequently by UNIX 95, UNIX 98 and now UNIX 03. Both the specification and the UNIX trade mark are managed and held in trust for the industry by The Open Group."

Basic UNIX Commands

Examples of the basic UNIX commands include the following:

  • ls (Lists files)
  • ls -l (Lists files in long format)
  • cd name (Change directory)
  • cd .. (Go to directory above current)
  • cp filename1 filename2 (Copies a file)
  • chmod options filename (Change the read, write, and execute permissions on your files)
  • mkdir name (Creates a directory)

Note: Not all commands are part of UNIX itself and may not work on all UNIX machines. This page lists more UNIX commands and sources of information.

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