Essay, Research Paper: Unix 


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“UNIX was the first operating system designed to run on ‘dissimilar’
computers by converting most hardware specific commands in machine language into
an independent programming language called ‘C,’” Jon Wolfe writes in the
Nashville Business Journal. (Wolfe 29) UNIX was the basis of AT&T’s
telephone system and the government’s wide area network system. Then it became
the basis of communication between engineers and scientists, and eventually the
basis of communication for everyone worldwide (World Wide Web (Web)). It has
held this remarkable spot since 1969. However, in the 1990s there are
competitors in the market, namely, Microsoft Corporation with its Windows NT
product. But UNIX-based software suppliers are not just turning over and letting
the competitors win. UNIX supporters are many, and UNIX remains, and will remain
a major player in the marketplace. The unique advantage of the UNIX operating
system when it was introduced was that it could (and still does) run on
dissimilar machines, unheard of prior to 1969. UNIX also can run more than one
program at a time, store complex graphics and databases, and link to other UNIX
and mainframe computer systems, including DOS since the late 1980s. UNIX-based
systems control various programs written by many companies to distribute
information between multiple computers within the network. This minimizes user
costs and eliminates system-wide hardware crashes. Some of the original UNIX
programs are “still evident today.” (Wolfe 29) UNIX was developed at
AT&T in 1969, primarily for controlling the phone network and handling
government communications. Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Sun Systems, other U.S.
companies and international companies now sell versions of UNIX that work best
on their computers. UNIX at first worked over ARPnet, “named after its sponsor
from the Pentagon.” (Sembawang 1997). The ARPA network grew throughout the
1970s when computer networks from various organizations, both nationally and
internationally, began to link to ARPAnet, mostly for transferring engineering
and scientific research data. “With the advent of satellite transmissions, the
first international network connection was made with the University of London
(England) and the Royal Radar Establishment of Norway in 1973.” (Sembawang
1997) In 1979, the National Science Foundation established the Computer Science
Research Network (CSnet), which connected to ARPAnet through a gateway. This
system was used for e-mail and sharing technical information. (Sembawang 1997)
In the early 1980's, the NSF created its own network, NSFnet, which added
educational links for schools and libraries. However, access to NSFnet was
limited to these government or government research organizations. (Sembawang
1997) In 1992, NSF created Advanced Network and Services, Inc. (ANS), used to
manage the NSFnet, which opened up the Internet to everyone. ANS also opened up
the potential for multimedia on the Internet through the World Wide Web. (Sembawang
1997) Once the potential was there, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics
(CERN) began a project to create the international internet. The CERN project
operated on TCP/IP transfer protocols developed inside a Berkeley UNIX system.
The project was started in the mid-1980s and completed in 1990. By 1993, the
internet had become a world-wide phenomenon. (Segal 1995) The Web allows users
to easily browse through hypertext and multimedia located on various computers
and main frame systems around the world. Prior to the CERN project, internet
users had to know UNIX programming language and move around in a cumbersome UNIX
shell environment. (Segal 1995) The Web can best be described as a “global
interactive, dynamic, cross-platform, distributed, graphical hypertext
information system that operates over the internet. (Lemay 4) It operates on
many protocols, including FTP, Gopher, UseNet, WAIS databases, and TELNET. Most
of the text transferred over the internet is written in hypertext markup
language (HTML). Graphics are transferred via standard generalized markup
language (SGML) through the UNIX operating system. No one owns the web, but a
consortium of U.S. and European individuals and organizations who support its
operation, called the World Wide Web (W3) Consortium, established the protocols
and languages that will be supported on the web. (Lemay 12). Popular browsers
include Netscape, NCSA Mosaic, Lyna, MacWeb and WinWeb. A URL (home pages, BBSs,
etc.) is a pointer to a posting on a Gopher, UseNet or FTP. All of these are
currently transferred over the UNIX operating system. “Today, the Internet is
still growing in terms of size and number of connections. It is estimated that
there are now about 50 million Internet users worldwide, from as many as 100
countries.” (Sembawang 1997). UNIX has enjoyed a long, exclusive history, but
Microsoft is trying to establish Windows NT as the premier Web server and
replace UNIX’s dominant position as the internet’s operating system.
Although the internet was originally developed around UNIX, some companies who
design software for the internet are becoming “reluctant to embrace UNIX for
this purpose.” (Harvey (74(2)) A major reason for moving to NT instead of UNIX
is that the UNIX operating system is expensive, whereas Microsoft Windows NT is
affordable to everyday users. (Harvey (74(2)). The other major advantage of
Microsoft Windows NT is “significantly easier to install and maintain.”
(Harvey (74(2)). Also, UNIX requires additional utility software such as NetWare
which is already built in to Microsoft Windows NT. (Harvey (74(2)). There are a
few companies that have already switched to NT, such as Irvine, California’s
Platinum Software Corp. However, they will lose 175 customers in the process who
are tied into Sun Systems, which do not operate on Windows NT. “A lot of
Platinum UNIX customers are on Sun Microsystems, Inc. platforms,” Mark
Lefneski, a Toronto independent consultant, said. (King 4) The cost of replacing
that hardware is a strong consideration for most companies considering a switch
to Microsoft Windows NT. Other users are not so quick to jump on the NT
bandwagon. They believe that Microsoft's BackOffice, “which comprises the NT
operating system and SQL Server database, will be less robust than the
UNIX/Sybase combination.” (King 4). UNIX designers have responded to the
competitive threat by upgrading software and hardware to run “very large
databases (VLDB).” (Nash 67) VLDBs can either store several hundred gigabytes
or a few terabytes of data. UNIX retail companies are also reducing the price on
hardware and software in combination with Informix Software, Inc. in Menlo Park,
California, Oracle Corp. in Redwood Shores, California, and others. The reduced
price “makes VLDB a viable option for UNIX shops.” (Nash 67) Kim Nash,
writing for Computerworld, states that UNIX still needs to develop software
interfaces for planning and running even larger inventory systems. (Nash 67) TRW
is working with a UNIX system that maps consumer credit histories better than
current systems. TRW’s system is a combined “UNIX-based Oracle and
mainframe-resident IBM DB2 databases.” (Nash 67) TRW is now using VLDBs to
process transactions, whereas “most UNIX-based VLDBs are used for data
warehousing....” (Nash 67) Nash writes: “'s craze for data
warehousing the technology hula hoop of the 1990s that will result in UNIX
users' pushing the outer limits of database size, according to Richard Winter,
an analyst at The Winter Corp., a consulting firm in Cambridge,
Massachusetts.” (Nash 67) According to Winter, writes Nash, “grocery stores,
clothing chains, discounters and other consumer-oriented companies to find out
why people buy what and when.... ‘That's really just a series of sophisticated
database queries on very large amounts of data,’ he said.” (Nash 67) Other
enhancements enjoyed by UNIX upgrades include quicker file transfer. Jay Milne
of Network Computing writes that when NFS (Network Filing System) is installed,
UNIX speed is increased by placing the burden of file transfer on the UNIX
server while program processing is still retained on individual workstations.
Milne says that NFS is integrated in the UNIX operating system and is
“...available on a variety of platforms, including Novell NetWare, Microsoft
Windows NT, Digital VAX and IBM OS/2.” (Milne 162). UNIX systems are widely
used by banking institutions and other public service industries as a means of
doing business with their customers over the Internet. In one example, customers
of Kansas City Power & Light Co. in Kansas City, Missouri can access their
accounts to determine how much electricity they’ve used, and the company is
experimenting with “online bill payment.” (Wagner 59) Although the company
sees security as a major concern, they find no reason to “stay off-line.”
The claim that internet security devices, such as encryption and firewalls are
“relatively safe” security devices. Mitch Wagner writing for Computerworld
writes that “Marriott and Kansas City Power & Light shelter legacy systems
from the Internet by allowing access only at ‘mirror’ sites servers outside
the firewall that contain duplicates of the data stored on internal sites.
‘It's like having a lock on your door,’' said Ray Pasley, supervisor of
network services at Kansas City Power & Light.” (Wagner 59) Wagner writes,
“...the risk of being off-line outweighs the risk of being online, because
customers are increasingly demanding online access to data and will take their
business to companies that have a dynamic online presence, Pasley said.”
(Wagner 59) It is obvious that with public demand for internet services,
combined with the fact that the internet is UNIX-based, there is no immediate
threat to the UNIX operating system. UNIX has served many different government
and scientific entities in the past and continues to be enhanced by software
designers in order to better serve customers by being responsive to today’s
marketplace. UNIX serves, and will continue to serve the world through the Web.

Lemay, Laura (1995). Teach Yourself Web Publishing with HTML In 14 Days. Indianapolis IN. Nash, Kim S. “UNIX Databases Handling Larger
Loads.,” Computerworld. (1995) : May, pp. 67. Segal, Ben. “A Short History
of Internet Protocols at CERN.,” CERN PDP-NS. (1995) : April.
Sembawang Media (1997). Wagner, Mitch. “Firms:
Open the store, lock the safe.,” Computerworld. (1997) : April, pp. 59. Wolfe,
Jon. “Enhancing skills takes more than a keystroke..,” Nashville Business
Journal. Vol. 11. (1995) : August, pp. 29.
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