Born 30 years ago from the debris of the Multics project at AT&T's Bell Labs,
Unix has matured into the most versatile operating system in the world today.
It grew by contributions from many companies, just as Linux today grows by
contributions of many individuals. Many companies had it because, like Linux,
it was free - AT&T, a regulated monopoly couldn't legally sell it. Almost
every computer this side of the Apple II has a version of Unix that runs on it.
SCO. Many business people fondly remember "that old computer system we used to have". The one running SCO Xenix with green screen terminals. The one where you only had to call in the computer guy twice a year, not twice a week. The one in the closet that was covered with dust and spider webs because no one ever had to touch it.
Why have these reliable systems been replaced with systems requiring continuous baby-sitting? Simple, they were old - 5, 10 years old, and had never been updated, and the owner had never seen newer versions. The old computer guy didn't get to show them anything new, because he was never around. Now the business is stuck with Windows, the most costly of all computer systems. The new computer guy is there twice a week to fix it, and to preach the wonders of Microsoft, and, incidentally, to sell the latest upgrades, fixes, and add-ons that will "make it work better". Perhaps a competitor did ask the old computer guy, and perhaps he now has lower overhead costs.
The most serious threat to SCO right now is Linux, and they, like Microsoft, have yet to formulate a coherent response. Basically it will boil down to SCO providing standard, completely integrated, turnkey solutions, well supported and backed by confidence in a major corporate entity (NYSE "SCO").
Many fear the up front cost of Unix and Unix systems. In fact, the hardware costs no more than NT hardware of the same capability. Microsoft loves to tell you a PC server is a lot cheaper than a Unix box, but doesn't mention the PC serves 20 users and the Unix box 200. NT Server itself costs less then Unix, but Microsoft intends to fix that. They have already announced that Windows NT 5.0 Server Enterprise Edition will cost "the same as or higher than Unix".
Many fear the "cryptic" nature of the Unix command line interface. True, but it need be used only by the administrator. Normal users should never even see the Unix $ prompt, so their interface is the applications they are running: accounting, word processing, etc. Many Unix versions now have a GUI (windows and mouse) or menu system to handle common administration tasks. In small business, the administration tasks are few and generally handled by the dealer through a modem connection.
"There is no Unix standard - they are all different". Manufacturers of high-end computers have each developed their own versions of Unix to give their equipment particular advantages. The key is, they are all Unix, and the differences are easy to learn (even for IBM's AIX). Someone who has learned one can quickly feel at home in any other. We're not taking Chocolate, Peach and Rocky Road - we're talking vanilla with walnuts chips, vanilla with cashew chips, and vanilla with chocolate chips. For small business, there are really only two now: SCO and Linux. Someone familiar with SCO can easily learn to deal with Linux, and vice versa.
The cost of the guy with the beard and suspenders is another issue. In
small business, the few administration tasks required will be handled from afar
by an administrator (your dealer) who calls in now and then for a few minutes.
In larger organizations, the question you should ask is: "Which costs me less,
one very expensive guy sitting around reading Heavy Metal because he has the
system running like a watch, or three guys who get paid less but are running
around 60 hours a week trying to revive misbehaving systems. Obvious, you
would think, but it flies directly in the face of Microsoft's incessant
marketing message: "Windows costs less, Windows is easier to administer".
Marketing wins - in the short term.
Microsoft itself had to turn back to Unix. When they bought Hot Mail they immediately started to retire its 60 Sun servers in favor of Windows NT servers. When 200 NT servers proved incapable of handling the load (they spent so much time trying to coordinate among themselves they couldn't handle actual work), it was back to Sun.
Cisco, the major manufacturer of Internet routers, attempted to convert their network to Windows NT, but print services failed. NT came off the servers, Linux went on, and print services resumed.
In Billy's back yard (Seattle area), high tech headhunters consider a Unix
administrator a prize property. The demand is high, the supply is thin.
Conscious of this important market, Microsoft is developing an SS7 compatible version of Windows NT. When asked "What would it take to convince you to switch from Unix to Windows NT on the SS7 switches?" a telephone company executive responded, "A frontal lobotomy". I wonder - what would a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) sound like on the phone?
On a smaller scale, developers of PC based CTI (Computer Telephone
Integration) systems have turned to NT in a big way. Why? Because most of the
magazines devoted to CTI are owned by Harry Newton, who pushed NT loudly and
incessantly, as though he got a royalty on every sale. Developers just
followed the advice of "the voice of the industry". Fortunately, for those
seeking traditional telephone system reliability, CTI platforms running OS/2,
Unix and QNX are still available - Linux is coming.
Linux Since it is a variety of Unix, most of what is available on Linux is also available on Unix.
Unix should always be considered when powerful business management and accounting packages are needed. There is a very wide variety of packages available, especially packages designed for specific "vertical market" specialties. Unix based accounting packages are far faster, more flexible and more robust than networked PC packages.
Unix is king when many serial ports are required. While DOS/Windows PCs have difficulty supporting over 2 serial ports, similar PCs running Unix easily support hundreds of serial ports. If you need to manage a large bank of modems, or monitor dozens of instruments, Unix is you natural choice.
On the desktop, Unix workstations have traditionally been used for serious CAD (Computer Aided Drafting), animation and stock market trading applications, and still hold the the major position in these field, though there has been some erosion at the low end from Windows NT workstations. NT, on the other hand, risks being seriously eroded by Linux, which is less expensive, more stable and higher in performance.
In server mode, Unix is used particularly for its advanced communications and
Internet server capabilities. Most of the Internet runs on servers running one
variety of Unix or another. Unix servers support "green screen" terminals,
Unix workstations, and PCs running Windows, DOS, OS/2 and increasingly Linux.
©:Andrew Grygus - Automation Access
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