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Some interesting computer systems for the home user. The beauty of this software is that it is completely free of cost, being developed and distributed under a liberal open source licensing system such as GNU General Public License (GPL). I have been installing Linux since 2008 (Ubuntu 8.04) and Unix since 2010 (Solaris 10). The Operating Systems have improved steadily over the years and are a match for, or better than, Windows and Mac OS.

Both Linux and Unix have large free software repositories, available from a desktop menu, to supply almost any software. Each distribution comes pre installed with the typically used software such as an Office suite, internet, music, video, graphics and games. There are also plentiful programs for software development plus operating system management. Currently I use Ubuntu 10.04 and PC-BSD Unix.

Distrowatch for information on Linux and Unix distributions: Distrowatch

1. The Linux Operating System

The Gnu/Linux Computer Operating System (Linux OS) is Open Source and is thus free to distribute and use. It has similar functionality to Unix OS and Mac OS-X, also of Unix derivation. Linux was named for LINus UniX. All versions of Linux are available as either free downloads from websites or from computer magazine cover disks. Ubuntu Linux is an offshoot of Debian Linux and uses a similar setup. It has become a highly developed OS, with modern utilities, an advanced desktop and a substantial software repository.

2. The Unix Operating System

The Unix Computer Operating System (Unix OS) was originally developed as a professional operating system for the 'Big Iron' computers such as the PDP-11 as used by universities and businesses. Sun Microsystems (Solaris and Open Solaris), Illumos Foundation (OpenIndiana) and Berkley Software Development (PC-BSD, Open-BSD, etc) offer free home PC versions available as downloads from the websites noted in the article.

3. Microcomputers and Microcontrollers

A microcontroller is a programmable microchip capable of replacing a group of discrete logic devices. The classic version of this would be the PIC micro, which has an externally programmable EEPROM to store a program which determines the functionality of the chip. They contain a CPU, memory and an internal logic set by the operation of the loaded program to create a simple computer operation. Examples are the Microchip Technology PIC chips and the Arduino development system.

A microcomputer contains at its heart a microcomputer CPU chip and extra chips for Input/Output management (ie keyboard and display). The later versions have this contained in the one chip, making for a Single Chip Micro. They typically emulate most of the functions of a desktop PC and use an operating system, such as Extended Basic, Linux or Unix. Examples are the Maximite (running MMBasic or RetroBSD Unix and C or Forth languages) and the Raspberry Pi (running Linux and Python or C languages).

4. RetroBSD Unix on a Microcomputer

Russian Serge Vakulenko wrote the code for the implementation of BSD v2.11 Unix for the PIC 32 bit microcontrollers. Australian Geoff Graham designed the small Micromate microcomputer that it operates on. Both are available locally and for less than $AUS100 you can obtain a fully working text only Unix system, as described in this article.