Unix at 40: Hanging on despite strong Linux, Windows challenges

The middle-aged OS is not expected to die any time soon, just slowly fade away

By , InfoWorld |  Operating Systems, Linux, Unix

In a twist of irony, the Unix platform celebrates its 40th birthday this year, as does the man whose work probably has done more to diminish the trendiness of Unix than anyone else: Linux founder Linus Torvalds.

Linux and Windows Server outsell Unix by volume. Indeed, given all the attention Windows and the open source Linux platform get, the battle for the mainstream server market can sometimes appear to be a duel between just these two platforms. Unix often seems like yesterday's -- or even last decade's -- news.

[ Unix may still have a future after 40 years, but the prognosis may not be so good for Solaris. See InfoWorld's report "Is Sun Solaris on its deathbed?" | Get the scoop on the new Windows Server 2008 R2 in the InfoWorld Test Center review. ]

But hold off on any Unix memorial service just yet.

Unix remains a vital cog in enterprise IT and can be expected to remain so for years to come. Figures such as Oracle CEO Larry Ellison attest to its maturity. In a recent public appearance, Ellison endorsed both Linux and the Solaris Unix OS that Oracle wants to acquire as part of its planned $7.4 billion purchase of Sun Microsystems: "We are a supporter of Linux but Solaris is the more mature OS."

A Hewlett-Packard official chimes in that Unix would have a long life similar to how mainframes have continued to thrive. "I haven't seen mainframes [go] away and people were predicting their demise, what, 10, 20 years ago," says Brian Cox, director of software planning and marketing in the HP business-critical systems group. One reason: Unix offers deep integration and higher quality of service, says Satya Scharma, CTO for the company's AIX-based Power systems.

Unix: A stable but consolidating market A sampling of Gartner server shipment numbers does show Unix trailing Linux and Windows Server, as the chart below shows. (If the chart is not visible, you can see it in the original story at InfoWorld.com.)

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