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Linux was written to Unix specifications, which were public, even though Unix code itself was proprietary, but it was written quite independently. Linux.org has a pretty good brief history of Linux: http://www.linux.org/threads/what-is-linux.4076/
I've heard some people say that Linux is derived from Unix.
However, I've heard others say that despite what many people think, that is not true and that Linux is its own OS.
The code that implements Linux is different than the code that implements Unix. So they are very different INTERNALLY, in how they are implemented.
However, EXTERNALLY, it is often difficult to immediately tell if you are on a Linux box or a Unix box. Most of the commands are the same, or very very similar. The directory structure is much the same (at the high level).
You can really say that Linux is the new Unix. If you look at the annual survey of web-server OSs, Linux completely dominates. The same applies in the survey of super-computers.
As for using the CLI, almost all distros (except a few very specialised ones) have the same CLI tools available, so all are suitable. You just start a terminal-emulator program, or press Ctrl-Alt-2 for a virtual terminal (Ctrl-Alt-7 or Ctrl-Alt-1 to get back to the GUI).