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Windows NT vs. Unix. COSC513 Operating Systems 6/3/2000 Tao Peng. Unix. Unix was originated at Bell Labs in 1969 OS of choice for science, engineering, research, and higher education

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Windows NT vs. Unix

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Windows NT vs. Unix

COSC513 Operating Systems


Tao Peng


  • Unix was originated at Bell Labs in 1969

  • OS of choice for science, engineering, research, and higher education

  • A family of operating systems which includes AIX, BSDI, Digital Unix, FreeBSD, HP-UX, IRIX, Linux, NetBSD, OpenBSD, Pyramid, SCO, Solaris, SunOS, etc.

  • Is a mature, technically superior group of operating systems with a proven record for performance, reliability, and security in a server environment.


  • The de facto choice for delivering services that are not file and print-related

  • Its strong preemptive multitasking and protected memory support make it well-architectured as an application server

  • Standard for building large-scale application servers such as Internet services, enterprise messaging systems, database management systems and transaction processing systems for a simple reason: Unix solutions are capable of handling the load.

  • Success was confined to expensive high-margin hardware

Windows NT

  • Introduced in 1997, proprietary product.

  • Actually two products: Microsoft NT Workstation and Microsoft NT Server.

  • The Workstation: is designed for users, especially business users, who need faster performance and a system a little more fail-safe than Windows 95 and Windows 98).

  • The NT Server: The Server is designed for business machines that need to provide services for LAN-attached computers. Is probably the second most installed network server operating system.

MS claimed NT benefits

  • NOS of all trades--a single OS to support all client/server solutions—from file and print services to network infrastructure and management to application services.

  • GUI-style management--Its slew of GUI-based management applications simplify server administration—reducing support costs.

  • Runs all the popular software in a familiar environment

  • MS promotion: with ever-reducing prices of PC processing power, NT will eventually be able to match the performance of high-priced Unix RISC workstations and servers at a much lower price

NT will not take over Unix

NT and Unix each has its specific strengths and weaknesses. Technically, Unix is superior to NT.

Unix Strengths

  • Scalability:used on various hardware platforms, from workstations to supercomputers

  • Management: managed at a very low level through a character-based interface, making it easy to access all administrative functions remotely. X windows is network-enabled, letting any GUI utilities be accessed remotely.

  • Large Scale directory services: Lacks a standard directory service, but products like NIS and DCE directory services integrate closely with the OS and offer Unix-specific schemas by default

Unix Weaknesses

  • Not standardized: incompatible versions of Unix--applications written to one environment must be ported to another. Most portable Unix applications are not multithreaded

  • Cost--capital: scalable, high performance RISC solutions are very expensive compared to PC hardware

  • cost--management: complex OS requires experienced administrators. Most versions have simplified installation processes and each vendor offers different management utilities

NT strengths

  • Low cost: primary market for NT is the PC platform

  • Standardization: controlled by a single vendor--all versions of NT share the same APIs and system calls; most NT applications are multithreaded

  • Multiplatform support: available on multiple platforms(x86 and Alpha); standardized APIs mean that porting to another NT version means a simple recompilation

  • Strong ISV support: software vendors strongly support NT, resulting in a large software library

  • Cost--administration: driven by relatively easy-to-use GUI utilities

  • Client/Sever: offers both a NOS and application server solution out of box

NT weaknesses

  • Scalability: tied to PC platform. Available for Digital Alpha, but most applications focus on the dominant PC market. Scalability is largely driven by the Intel architecture

  • Scripting: lack of solid scripting utilities and character-based applications

  • Remote management: managing an NT server remotely requires specialized GUI utilities. Severely restricted functionality, if limited to a character-based interface

  • Directory services: Limited to NT domains, which don’t tie into non-NT networking


Multi-user aspect

  • Once a user is logged on to the NT network, all he/she can do is access files and printers, the NT user can only run special applications that have been written in two pieces, i.e. client/server applications

  • When a user logs into a Unix server, he/she can then run any applications (provided being authorized), thus taking the processing load off his/her workstation. This also includes graphics-based applications since X-server software is standard issue on all Unix operating systems.


Email Programs

  • With NT, users have to buy a separate software package in order to set up an email server

  • Unix comes with built in Sendmail program

    Scripting Languages

  • Unix is equipped with scripting languages (Bourne Shell, Korn Shell, C Shell, etc) and a cron facility for scheduling jobs to run at fixed intervals

  • NT only has limited cmd.exe scripting environment

System Management(1)

Administration of the Sever

  • Users can run any Unix application and even manage the Unix server from any of the following clients:

    Any of a variety of character mode terminals, most typically ANSI or VT100 series

    Any PC with an operating system that includes a Telnet client

    Any X terminal

    Any PC running X server software

    Any workstation running any version of Unix that supports X11R6, including anything from an UltraSPARC running Solaris to a 386 PC running FreeBSD

  • Users can not manage an NT server from the same

    Software to manage NT server will only work with a MS OS

    capable of understanding them

System Management(2)


  • Unix does not require a GUI to function. NT does. And graphics require incredible amounts of disk space and memory

  • With Unix, you can run GUI tools over the network-enabled X Window System, and now through Java versions of system control tools

System Management(3)

Configuration Changes

  • Any Unix with loadable module support is by nature more appropriate for a server environment because almost all configuration changes do not require system restarts.

  • Even insignificant changes to a Windows NT configuration require a shutdown and reboot in order to make the changes take effect. e.g. changing the IP address of your default gateway or changing the type of modem you use for a dial-up PPP connection. None of these limitations exist in Unix.

Directory Structure--Unix

organized standard set of directories

  • /root directory

  • /devdirect access to devices

  • /binsystem executable files

  • /sbinsystem administration executable files

  • /libsome shared libraries

  • /usr/binstandard executables not needed at boot

  • /usr/sbinsystem administration executables not needed at boot

  • /usr/libshared library files

  • /usr/includeshared header files

  • /usr/localmiscellaneous programs you install

  • /usr/X11R6the starting point for the X directory tree

  • /etcconfiguration files

Directory Structure--NT

Having to maintain compatibility with its roots in DOS and Windows 3.1

  • \boot files, some boot configuration files

  • C:\temptemporary installation files

  • C:\winntNT system files, boot and program configuration files, user configuration files and access control, commonly used applet programs

  • C:\winnt\systemNT system files, driver files, shared libraries, configuration files

  • C:\winnt\system32system files, shared libraries, program files, configuration files

  • C:\winnt\system32\driversmore drivers

  • C:\winnt\system32\drivers\etc more configuration files

Future of Contention

  • Successful marketing can often distract customers from considering their need for functionality.NT is often chosen for budget reasons in small-to-medium-scale application server environments since many customers are not willing to pay for the more expensive hardware required by most commercial flavors of Unix.

  • Unix is increasing in popularity, due to its economy, scalability, stability, technical superiority and, in some cases, freely available open source. This presents a direct threat to NT market penetration in the enterprise-server space.

  • Environments where performance or scalability is the primary concern will most likely continue to support Unix.

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