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  • OS Landscapes

    Some people believe that Unix will shortly be phased out. They cite its greater cost as the primary driving actor in this prediction. However, Unix has some advantages that may mitigate its high price tag.

    Unix was created in the 1960’s by AT&T’s Bell Labs, and became commercial in the mid-1970’s. Although it has a variety of customers, Unix has been primarily used by large corporations due to its cost. This high cost is the result of each Unix system being custom written for each separate client. There are estimated to be approximately 5.5 million installations. It even has bragging rights for being the system used by the popular Apple OS X.

    Linux was released in the early 1990’s, after being developed from a Minix (mini-Unix) framework. It is an open source product that began being used by small-to-medium companies, but now more companies are migrating from Unix to Linux. Google uses it to process their search algorithms and their Android mobile OS. Proponents claim that it is somewhat more secure because it is open source, which leads to constant innovation. It is free to use and modify, but vendor assistance can be purchased separately.

    With the Unix system, vendor assistance is included in the cost. Servers start at US$ 25,000 – US$ 250,000 for a mid-range system, and can run up to US$ 500,000 for a high-end system. Since Linux is free, and clearly the market leader with approximately 25 million installations (not including Android), why would people continue to use Unix? Or is it the Blackberry of operating systems?

    The obvious downside to Linux is that open source means inconsistencies and constant change. So while customers may have to wait for a patch when a problem is discovered, they also know that Unix provides published standards that can be relied upon. This makes it simpler to operate for both users and vendors. Unix is targeted only toward a particular hardware architecture, so it can be utilized to use every feature.

    Unix is still the platform of choice for the financial infrastructure, and large operations requiring 24/365 coverage. Instead of being phased out, it is likely to continue to be the “luxury” model of operating systems, particularly given how risk averse financial institutions are.

    When people begin to argue about the pros and cons of Apple’s iOS mobile operating system versus Google’s Android, they will probably start with the tiny details that impact their daily lives. iOS devotees claim that the pop-up window notification trumps the Android notification bar, or that they can’t live without the message counter. They swear FaceTime beats Skype mobile. But how else does iOS stack up against Android?

    iOS is Unix based, whereas Android uses the open source Linux. In some ways, the debate here mimics the Unix/Linux debate for larger platforms. Because Linux is open source, Android offers a wide variety of different features and price points. With iOS, there isn’t much choice. However, that lack of choice provides some benefits. When upgrades become available for iOS, they are generally available for all devices. This happens in a more piecemeal fashion in the Android ecosystem. Apps made for the iPad are generally made specifically for that platform. Apps made for Android tablets tend to simply be scaled-up versions of their mobile phone cousins.

    Android’s variety may continue to be a strong selling point as Google moves further into the ubiquitous computing space. With Andriod@Home (home automation), ingestible diagnosis sensors, internet blimps, self-driving cars, Google glass, and Android watches, the company is aggressively investing in segments that computerize previously unconnected parts of our life.

    The fact that their phones connect seamlessly with the present array of Google offerings (Google calendar, contacts, docs, drive, etc.) also makes them more than competitive with Apple’s iCloud service. These selling points seem more important than the iPhone’s mute switch or its generally longer battery life. These are features that will eventually be improved in the Android choices.

    iOs is less likely to be the victim of malware, because Apple verifies the IDs of their app developers. On the other hand, the Android applications are isolated from its main system, making it less vulnerable to bugs. Google Now is generally considered faster and more useful than Siri, but that may change with the iPhone 6. Android is rated as being more stable with fewer crashes. The list goes on.

    Finally, there is the cost. While there are luxury phones using Android that run several thousand dollars, the iPhone is generally more expensive than Android devices. Apple used to be able to justify their higher cost on the basis of superior quality, but companies like Samsung now seem to be meeting those same quality standards.