UNIX taking the lead (part 1)

UNIXThere are times when I hear someone say something that should have been obvious, but it just makes me pause (more dumbfounded than usual) due to the the way it shifts my thinking about a significant portion of my universe. The statement in question was made by Andy Ihnatko on a recent MacBreak Weekly (Epi173) where he off handedly said that he thought the biggest thing over the last decade (at least technology wise) was the dominance of UNIX and UNIX-like OSes (Linux, BSD, etc).

What? Well…umm…that can’t…but…if you look at it like…huh. He’s right.

He was talking primarily about consumer devices. Since it was MacBreak Weekly it is easy to start with the fact that MacOS X is basically UNIX under the hood with much of Darwin coming from FreeBSD, meaning that every Mac product sold over the last decade from desktop to laptop to iPhone and iPod Touch which has a version of Mac OS X installed has UNIX under the hood. Add to that the OS running the iPod and just about every other mp3 player out there has dreamy, linuxy center and we are already talking millions of products over the last decade.

But what about today’s announcement of the Google Nexus One…Android is a linux-based OS, so we add more products from the last couple of years from the G1 to the Droid that add to the numbers. Many of Nokia’s phones as well as other major phone manufacturers who are using a Linux variant to power their devices. Netbooks started out with Linux OSes to keep the prices down and even some of the tablets that are being announced this week at CES are boasting Linux. Ooo…tablets! E-readers are as far as I can tell are all Linux-based. So in 10 years we went from scoffing at the dead or dying Linux desktop solutions to not being able to remember what size socks we wear without a UNIX-like OS device in our pocket.

On the back-end (aka server-side) UNIX dominated 10 years ago and Linux dominates today so it has remained fairly stable, but what about the sheer ‘vastness’ of that dominance. The internet has grown and Linux with it. Heavy hitters like Google and Amazon run their and everyone else’s services on Linux variant OSes. Others like major ISPs (including ours), universities, heck even Microsoft themselves were caught running UNIX on some of their servers. Most folks have a NAS or direct connect storage array in their network config and while we are connecting to them with Windows boxes, the brains of these devices are…yep…you get the idea. But all of this raises the question for the next post of ‘how has the geospatial industry almost completely left behind support for UNIX-like OSes’…which I will talk about in part 2 next week.


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Jesse is Instructor in Geography and a PhD candidate in Geography focusing on the integration of phenomenology and geospatial technologies to study prehistoric cultural landscape. He is a GIS Professional and Registered Professional Archaeologist and holds an MA in Geography and a BS in Anthropology with a concentration in archaeology.