Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I find these two words appear together often, especially mentioned as tool and utility for the Unix operating system. So I am wondering about the difference between them.

share|improve this question
1  
Please can you expand your question with examples of where you have seen tool and utility used in a way that confuses the meanings. –  Matt Эллен Apr 26 '13 at 7:59
add comment

4 Answers

They are used pretty interchangeably when talking about software. One explanation from Wikipedia:

Utility software is system software designed to help analyze, configure, optimize or maintain a computer. A single piece of utility software is usually called a utility or tool.

"Tool" is sometimes reserved for items that are more robust, such as having a GUI or more functionality. One example of this distinction can be found in the description of the Visual Studio power tools:

Power Tools are a set of enhancements, tools and command-line utilities.

However, that distinction is mostly a matter of preference.

share|improve this answer
1  
These two words are pretty much synonymous, but only in certain contexts, that of computer software. In other contexts this, naturally, won't work - a hammer is a tool, but it's certainly not a utility. In the US, utilities is used to describe the money paid for electricity, water, heating and other such household services, while tools is meaningless in that context. Context is everything. –  Avner Shahar-Kashtan Sep 2 '12 at 14:04
1  
@AvnerShahar-Kashtan: Yes, I agree. Since the OP mentioned Unix, I felt that was the desired context and constrained my answer accordingly. Your explanation seems like it would be a good alternate answer for the broader meaning. –  Lynn Sep 2 '12 at 14:14
    
I think that your answer gave the OP everything he needed, but I just wanted to have a comment with disambiguation in case some future searcher in without the OP's context. :) –  Avner Shahar-Kashtan Sep 2 '12 at 16:22
add comment

Both tool and utility are nouns, but, while tool is a concrete noun, utility is an abstract noun, meaning the use one gets out of something. In computing, of course, both are Metaphors, since all computing terms are metaphors. But they're different metaphors.

Tool refers to the classic book Software Tools by Kernighan and Plauger, and the popular movement it spawned, leading ultimately to UNIX™ as the premier "tool"-based operating system.

Utility, on the other hand, refers to a particular kind of low-level "tool" programs, the "utility programs". This is the same construction as "utility outfielder" -- on the other hand, "utility crew" is a different construction that refers to the extension of Utility/ies to refer to electric, gas, water, sewage, and other common civic services.

"Utility programs" are the ones that do general-purpose software scutwork, like copying, compressing, sorting, and filtering. Many UNIX™ tool programs are utility programs -- rev, sort, ls, mv, head, etc.

share|improve this answer
    
It's a trade mark. In all caps. –  John Lawler Sep 2 '12 at 18:13
    
I’m aware of that. I’m also aware of the wars about it. Ken and Dennis always used Unix, and that’s good enough for me. The lawyers can go hang. People use Unix to mean anything that acts like Unix, including MacOS and Linux. That’s the common, and most normal, use. If you want the trademark, put a ™ there. –  tchrist Sep 2 '12 at 18:15
    
I'd intended to, but my Apple "Special Characters" folder needs to be restarted again. So sue me. –  John Lawler Sep 2 '12 at 18:19
    
@tchrist: A lot of people referring to "Unix-like" operating systems would use the term *nix. –  Matt Apr 25 '13 at 14:40
    
In a community where everyone is familiar with regular expressions, no problemo. Anywhere else, "Huh?". And how does one pronounce that, by the way? /'starnɪks/? /'splætnɪks/? /'æstərɪsknɪks/? –  John Lawler Apr 25 '13 at 15:15
show 2 more comments

tool:

something that helps you to do a particular activity.

because in Unix there are certain tools that executes some specific activity.

utility

to use something in an effective way.

Same way there are some utilities that provides the user to do something very efficiently and effective way.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Regarding apps, utility is a type of tool handling infrastructure as maintenance (copying, formatting, partitioning, compressing, defragmentation). A tool is an app in general with a practical use, like an algorithm calculating some input.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.