Linux-centric coverage a disservice to overall Unix community

I should preface the following by saying that I have absolutely nothing against Linux nor the Linux community. In fact, Linux was my point of entry to the world of Unix, and for that very reason I am thankful it exists. I also see it as an invaluable hotbed for new ideas and permutations.

Over the past few years, however, I have seen just how far and wide the world of UNIX and Unix-like operating systems extends. In this realm there is a legacy of innovation and code-sharing going back 40 years. (In the early years, the code-sharing was done as a matter of unofficial practice, even though it had yet to be codified by way of licenses such the GPL or BSD. Of course, the one legal caveat back then was the requirement to have an AT&T site license.)

This spirit of sharing and innovation was intensified with the emergence of Berkeley Unix (aka BSD), which became the Unix of choice in the 1980s and spawned the current BSD descendants. This same community spirit has since grown to include many other projects, such as OpenSolaris, Plan 9 from Bell Labs and countless others, not to mention Linux.

All this just to say that while I’m glad to see Linux in the Unix-like landscape, it isn’t the only proverbial kid on the block. (As much as the Free Software Foundation can argue that most of what we refer to simply as “Linux” is in fact the GNU system, the number of Berkeley tools rolled into it also speaks to the “compilation tape” nature of Linux. Hence the reason I shudder when I read about Linux having been written “from the ground up” by Torvalds and his developer community.)

To go by what the media says, however, you’d assume that Linux is the only free (as in freedom) alternative to UNIX(tm). A recent article on OS News demonstrates this frame of mind, Is the Linux Desktop Too Much Like Windows, Mac OS X?, by Thom Holwerda. (

For starters, the article is mainly concerned with window mangers and desktop environments, as opposed to actual Linux distributions and how their maintainers package or configure these desktops. And because the article is framed as being about the “Linux” desktop, without any mention of other OS’s, one who doesn’t know any better would assume that KDE, Gnome, Xfce et al are exclusively the domain of Linux-based systems.

I don’t mean to single out Mr. Holwerda, as he has lot’s of company in this regard. His article is but one of many that distorts reality by not acknowledging other Unix systems and developer communities.

The effect of this situation has come to light a few times in my day-to-day life, particularly when I start explaining FreeBSD to someone and they cut me off and say “Oh, you mean Linux.”


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