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0.1. The Unix Family of Operating Systems

An operating system (or "OS") is a set of programs that controls a computer. It controls both hardware (things you can touch, like keyboards, screens, and disk drives) and software (application programs that you run, like a word processor).

Some computers have a single-user OS, which means that only one person can use the computer at a time. Many older OSes (such as MS-DOS) can also do only one job at a time. But almost any computer can do a lot more if it has a multiuser, multitasking operating system such as Unix. These powerful OSes let many people use the computer at the same time and let each user run several jobs at once.

Unix was invented more than 30 years ago for scientific and professional users who wanted a very powerful and flexible OS. It's been significantly developed since then. Because Unix was designed for experts, it can be a bit overwhelming at first. But after you get the basics (from this book!) you'll start to appreciate some of the reasons to use Unix:

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