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Who can (or should) use Unix?

With its capability for information handling, Unix is a viable choice for an operating system.

Editor's note: This excerpt is from the introduction to Meckler's soon to be published Unix and Libraries.

Who can or should use Unix? Anybody - at least anybody who has the resources (or access to them) to do so and the enthusiasm to make the most of it. Such resources would mean either access to a mini- or mainframe computer, or a 386 microcomputer (the number 386 refers to the latest family of faster and more versatile CPU chips for PC-compatible microcomputers).

While Unix has been around for at least a decade as a large computer operating system, it has only been with the recent advent of 386 microcomputers that it has become advisable for Unix to be used as a personal computer operating system.

Unix has been run on 286 micros, and probably even the older 8086s, but experienced users suggest quicker and more powerful machines. Anybody who has recently purchased or intends to purchase a 386 microcomputer might consider Unix as the operating system. This includes, by the way, users of Macintosh computers, which are equivalent in power to PC-compatible micros.

Perhaps more likely users at the moment are those who Work in environments that use mini- and mainframe computers which are currently running Unix. This would probably include users in business/corporate and academic settings.

Although it has been said that Unix has by far its largest and longest establishment in the academic setting, it is not unlikely that businesses with great computing demands could have a Unix-based system running their administrative automation. Certainly it is possible that the number of business-oriented Unix installations can and will increase in the future.

As mentioned, the most likely place to find Unix is in the academic setting. Universities and colleges have relied on Unix because it supports research and it has been available for little or no charge. Traditionally, administrative computing (salaries, grades, etc.) and some research have been performed under IBM-based operating systems on IBM mainframes, while scholarly computing has been performed on a variety of mini- and mainframes often using Unix.

Within the academic setting there can be several ways to get access to an account on a Unix-based computer. It may be that the campus computing center leases or otherwise provides access to Unix-based accounts for students, staff or faculty. Or it may be that a research department would allow access if there were a benefit or service that could be given them. An appeal to a faculty member to get current awareness services electronically might result in access to an account to do so. Or, a pitch to a systems engineer on creating an online file that others can search might do the same.

Electronic Formats and Access in Libraries

So why use Unix in libraries? Unix has features that allow it to easily accommodate information as text, that allow several tasks to be handled together, and that allow many users to access the same information simultaneously.

Libraries handle information. Perhaps many people still think of libraries as buildings that house shelf after shelf of books, but librarians know that's really only one side of the library business these days. Librarians do much more than simply buy books for users to read. Librarians' time is increasingly spent with dealing with electronic formats and access.

Handling information is nothing new to librarians. In the role of cataloger, the librarian used extensive rules to determine points under which material could be accessed and stored. In the role of reference librarian, the retrieval of material was accomplished by using the tools developed to handle the information. Librarians, then, have developed many principles and devices of manual storage and retrieval.

On a large scale, the MARC project of cataloging materials in a machine-readable format represented the entrance of libraries into the automation scene. Cataloging and computing mixed very well, as evidenced by the widespread use of OCLC by libraries that tapped in to share resources.

But with automation have come interesting problems related to manipulating, storing and retrieving information about books and other materials. The easier it is to solve these problems, the better the service for the users. And because it has certain features that accommodate the handling of information, Unix can certainly help solve problems.
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Title Annotation:Unix operating system
Author:Brandt, D. Scott
Publication:Computers in Libraries
Date:Feb 1, 1991
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