What Does Unix Mean?

Unix is a portable, multitasking, multiuser, time-sharing operating system (OS) originally developed in 1969 by a group of employees at AT&T. Unix was first programmed in assembly language but was reprogrammed in C in 1973.


Unix has been ported to more machine families than any other operating system. As a result, it has come to be identified with the concept of open systems. Unix operating systems are widely used in PCs, servers and mobile devices. The Unix environment was also an essential element in the development of the Internet and networking.

Techopedia Explains Unix

Unix was developed based on the philosophy that the power of the system comes from the relationships among programs, rather than on the programs themselves. Unix programs are written to do one thing well, and programs are written so that they work together. As such, Unix developers espouse simplicity, portability and clarity in design. In order to adhere to this philosophy, Unix systems are characterized by:

  • The use of text files for data storage
  • A hierarchical file system
  • A large number of small programs, strung together through a command-line interpreter
  • Use of shell scripts
  • The avoidance of captive user interfaces

Unix had a significant impact on other operating systems and can be credited (in whole or in part) for the following:

  • The use of high-level language in operating systems
  • Hierarchical file systems
  • Its syntax for regular expressions found widespread use
  • Unix shell inspired many of the command line interpreters that followed
  • C programming language became more ubiquitous
  • Began the movement toward modularity and reusability in software engineering
  • Helped contribute to the explosion of the Internet by making TCP/IP protocol more widely available
  • Contributed to the launch of the free software movement

Free Unix-like operating systems such as Linux and BSD now hold a large portion of the market originally held by Unix.


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Margaret Rouse

Margaret Rouse is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical, business audience. Over the past twenty years her explanations have appeared on TechTarget websites and she's been cited as an authority in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine and Discovery Magazine.Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages. If you have a suggestion for a new definition or how to improve a technical explanation, please email Margaret or contact her…