October 21, 2013, 12:22 PM — The next time you buy a computer, you'll likely get one tied to the ancient computing past --- Unix. Yes, you heard that right, Unix. Here's why.
Unix was originally developed at AT&T's Bell Labs research center in the early 1970s, became a favorite in universities, and from there migrated to commercial tech startups. A darling of programmers, it was notably user-unfriendly. I first encountered it in the pre-Web Internet days, when I had to use it to access a variety of now-vanished Internet resources. It made DOS look simple.
So why might your next computer run Unix? Because the descendents of Unix now rule the computing world. Various variants of Unix were used by Apple to develop its Darwin operating system, which in turn is at the core of both Mac OS X and iOS. The free open-source Linux operating system is also a Unix-like operating system, and Android is a Linux-based operating system.
And these days, Android, Mac OS X, and iOS rule the computing world, not Windows. Smartphones and tablets, after all, are merely computers in a small, convenient, mobile form factor. And a recent Gartner report shows just how much the descendents of Unix dominate computing. In 2012, 505.5 million Android devices and 212.8 million iOS and Mac OS X devices shipped, for a total of 718.3 million devices, compared to 346.5 million for Windows. And that doesn't take into account any other variants of Unix, such as Linux servers and computers. By 2014, 1.12 billion Android devices and 338.1 million iOS and Mac OS X devices will ship, according to Gartner, for a total of 1.46 billion devices, compared to 363.8 million for Windows, which means that descendants of Unix will outsell Windows by better than a four-to-one margin.
Luckily for you, you won't have to face Unix's original dauntingly convoluted commands. Instead, you'll find various user-friendly graphical interfaces driven largely by touch. They're big productivity boosters. But if you look underneath them, you'll find some of the guts of an operating system first developed 40 years ago.