Alternative Operating Systems - Part 2

Eager to find out what Unices you can find for free or on the cheap? I've dug up a couple of choices to keep you busy for a while.

With all the hoopla over Linux it's easy to forget the "other" one: BSD. BSD is a free, easily available Unix-workalike. It's not Unix (Unix is now owned by Caldera who acquired it from SCO late 2000), but it's close enough that people intermix BSD and Unix without feeling ashamed. I won't go into the history of BSD and System V (Unix) since there are several sites that you can goto and read up on it if you're interested.

 

Now, when we speak of BSD there are 3 (ok, there are probably more, but the big ones are 3) distributions or flavors. FreeBSD is probably the biggest of them, it's focused on working well on Intel hardware. NetBSD is focused on being portable and it boots on everything from the latest PDAs to really ancient hardware. OpenBSD, which happens to be my favorite and the one I run, is focused on security. So what is the difference between the BSDs and Linux? First there's the licensing issue. Linux is released under the GNU GPL (General Public License) and the BSDs are released under a BSD-type license. The most important difference between them is that GNU GPL does not allow you to take Linux, make modifications and NOT publish the modifications. BSD-type licenses such as those used by all three mentioned varieties allows this. Whether that's right or wrong or a moot point is entirely up to you (and RMS).

 

Linux, or GNU/Linux as the Free Software Foundation insists you should call it is in fact only the kernel of a Unix-like operating system. Much like os2krnl it doesn't do much on it's own. All the tools surrounding Linux in distributions in general come from GNU/FSF. Now, before there was Linux the GNU project started another kernel project which is now starting to near stability: HURD. In comparison to Linux or BSD the HURD is very hard to install and is at this point mainly for developers, still it has an interesting design and Debian, builders of a Linux distribution, are planning a Debian/HURD distribution which should make the HURD more appealing to new users.

 

If you're willing to spend money for Shipping and Handling the horizon expands and you can lay your fingers on other Unix implementations including UnixWare which is what AT&T Unix has become these days. First there's Solaris from SUN, it has reached version 8 after magically jumping from version 2.6 to version 7 in one giant leap. If you've browsed through Unix history it might be of some value to know that Solaris is a System V implementation of Unix. SCO has of this writing still OpenServer and UnixWare available for a S&H fee for home users, when that expires is anyones guess since Caldera now owns the 2 products together with SCO's former services. UnixWare IS real Unix. For the historically inclined SCO has also, generously, made old UNIX source code available for download, if you're interested in the dark magic that is kernel development you would do well to study them since the same ideas are very much alive in the operating system field today. Operating Systems still try to solve the same things Unix did (and continues to do).

 

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