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UNIX is a kernel-type developed by AT&T and Bell Labs in the early 1970's. Originally a non-free system, many forks were made leading to the *nix (or UNIX-like) systems we see today, such as the GNU/Linux system, GNU Hurd, The Berkeley Software Distribution (and its many derivatives), etc.
UNIX was originally created by the same people who invented the C Programming language. Their goal was to make a cheap, easy-to-use system written in their new language. This is where the UNIX Philosophy comes from. Most of the people who made UNIX went on to make the superior system Plan 9.
The UNIX Philosophy
(Not to be confused with The GNU Philosophy)
In the age of UNIX, computers were very slow and expensive to run. This is where The UNIX Philosophy came from. The UNIX Philosophy simply states that a single program should be dedicated to one single thing, and do it well. This allowed many small programs to be a part of the UNIX system, all working together to perform basic system tasks. Piping, timesharing, and a variety of other goodies all went into the UNIX system.
What does RMS think?
RMS never liked UNIX. He only chose UNIX for The GNU Project because he thought it was a good-enough model, and better than anything else at the time. However, he commonly uses UNIX and other *nix systems since the early 1980's. UNIX was standard and what everyone knew. If he started later, he probably would have made a clone of Macintosh or a clone of Windows. RMS' dislike for UNIX and the UNIX philosophy has brought hatred from usergroups outside GNU to GNU-made software, calling him a political activist rather than a programmer, and stemming a phrase GNU's Not Usable. GNU suffers from a lot of bloat, and other usergroups believe that the average GNU programmer is more concerned about the license than the code. Prove them wrong.