Pros & Cons of the Unix Operating System

By Carlos Mano

UNIX is an operating system that is most commonly found in universities, research laboratories and large government institutions. It was written in 1969 by Kenneth Thompson at Bell Labs. It differed from other operating systems of the time in several ways. Unlike most of the other operating systems, UNIX was free, as well as machine independent, meaning that it could be run on any machine.

How UNIX Works

There are no icons and no mouse with UNIX. The user is presented with a command line prompt. The user types a command, such as "GREP," a function that looks for phrases in select documents, or "LPQ," which allows you to look at the printer queue. This is one of the main complaints about UNIX: users must learn a lot of commands. Once you do learn the commands, you have a lot more control over the computer than you do with other operating systems. UNIX was the first operating system to come with a full screen editor (EMACS), as well as the first operating system to fully embrace the Internet.


UNIX has a lot of pluses besides being free and runnable on almost any machine. You have more control over the computer with UNIX. Operating systems like Mac OS and Windows are icon and mouse based; using them, you can activate only what the operating system allows you to activate. On UNIX, you can do any of the things that the operating system can do. This means, or course, that you can really mess things up if you don't know what you are doing. Another freedom, and danger, that you have with UNIX is that you can change the operating system to make it more compatible with what you want to do. If you know what you are doing, UNIX can be powerful and customizable, and now that it has been around for such a long time, most of the bugs are out and it is very reliable.


Using UNIX successfully is going to mean having a UNIX expert on site. Even something as simple as installing new products and updates can be complicated if you are not a UNIX expert. The command nature of the UNIX system is difficult, especially for beginners, so if you have a shop where newbies need to get up to speed quickly, UNIX might not be a good choice. This is why UNIX is most popular in places where there are sophisticated users. Because UNIX is customizable, different dialects of UNIX have sprung up. For example, when the Berkley UNIX group didn't like the way UNIX classifies users, the Berkley users changed the OS code. Standard UNIX users use "cgup" as the command to change groups; the Berkley users use "NewGroup." This means that an expert UNIX user at one location might be facing a steep learning curve at a new place.