What is Unix? I've known Unix long enough to know that the trademark and industry usage want the name rendered in all capital letters (UNIX), although many publications (mine included) don't like it that way. Having written about Unix for a couple of decades, I've come to take for granted that everyone knows what Unix is. Certainly no one would ask me what Unix is. I get jabbed all the time to define Linux (kernel) whenever I use the term, and I've been asked why I don't refer to Intel Macs as PCs (proprietary platform). But nobody has ever seen me refer to Unix and written to say, "What do you mean, Unix?"
I wish someone had. Figuring that the economy would make Unix vendors the ready pan of market analysts praying to get something right, I had in mind to write a sort of You Don't Know Unix column. The trouble with an in-your-face headline like that is that it turns embarrassing when the author has to admit he couldn't meet his own challenge. The simple question I asked myself on Monday morning became the deep thought into late Tuesday afternoon. I had all kinds of clever things to say in defense of Unix, but none of it was relevant to IT, and IT deserves a relevant look at Unix as something other than a culture, a history, or a meaningless banner over all operating systems in the "not Windows" category.
[ The Big Three became the Big Four in Summer of 2007, when Apple's Mac OS X Leopard attained Unix 03 certification. See the InfoWorld Test Center's reviews: Mac OS X Leopard: A perfect 10 and Leopard Server: The people's Unix. ]
The fact is, Unix matters to IT, and for a reason that may not occur even to those shops that already have it. Unix matters for a reason that escapes analysts' notice. I missed it, too. It's that little circle with the R in it. IBM, Sun, Fujitsu, HP, and Apple sell proprietary enterprise operating systems branded AIX, Solaris, HP-UX, and Mac OS X Leopard. These are very different. Mac OS X Leopard is very, very different.