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That was always my understanding. In older mainframe operating systems, the command interpreter was more integral to the OS. In Unix, it's just a process. Its function is to run programs for the user, so it is in some sense a shell around the OS seen by the user.

That's the way I see it and to extend the analogy a bit further Unix, et el. are like a hermit crab that can trade one shell for another if there is a good reason to do so.

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