There was a time when giant computers freely occupied the back warehouses of the research institutions and major universities of the Earth. These computers, maintained by armies of grad students, were so expensive that even professors and executives had to share them.
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Since they had to share them, an operating system was created that allowed multiple applications to run at the same time by many different people. It had protected memory allocations to prevent errant programming students from bringing down the entire system and allowed multiple processors to be used. This OS, used in mainframes in the 1970s, was and is called UNIX.
Jordan Hubbard, Apple’s manager of BSD technologies, is a product of this august background from the University of California, Berkeley. During his keynote this morning at the O’Reilly Mac OS X Conference, he told the latest youth of the UNIX tribe the long and heroic history of UNIX, including two UNIX wars and how UNIX lost the desktop to Microsoft.
More importantly to Mac users, especially the developers at the conference, he described his hopes for the successful convergence of the Mac OS X and UNIX communities.
“I think that Mac OS X can win the war that we lost,” Hubbard said. “Twenty-five million users is a very compelling argument to win back ISVs (independent software vendors).”
Hubbard also said that UNIX users represent a small but significant percentage of the world’s computer users. These users, if they switch to Mac OS X or use both, could potentially add a few percentage points to Apple’s desktop share.
“It makes more sense than taking on the whole world at one time,” Hubbard said, “not that a two front war doesn’t make sense. Actually, (between Apple and UNIX users) it’s not really a war — more of an overlap.”
Mac OS X offers a great deal to UNIX users without asking them to give up much of what they have. According to Hubbard, Mac OS X offers UNIX users better power management and the opportunity for truly portable computers. Mac OS X’ I/O Kit offers more devices for UNIX plus plug and play configuration and “a lot of things other UNIXs are still trying to get right.”
Mac OS X also brings far superior OpenGL performance and compatibility to UNIX, increasing the ability of users to play games and work with three dimensional graphics. Hubbard said that the benefits of UNIX users using Mac OS X extends past OpenGL to all multimedia, something that UNIX developers backed off from because of their computing culture.
In addition to compatibility and performance, Hubbard said that Mac OS X grants UNIX users access to applications like Maya that UNIX users only dream about, and, if they even get them, cost thousands of dollars. Hubbard also likes to have Office on the desktop again, but only because it is such a pervasive application.
All of the above, plus “sexy hardware,” has Hubbard convinced that the convergence of the Macintosh and UNIX worlds in Mac OS X will be a real success.
During a question and answer session after his keynote, Hubbard was asked by UNIX users about things that Apple could do to make porting their applications to Mac OS X easier.
For example, O’Reilly Managing Editor Derrick Story asked Hubbard if there would ever be an official port of Mac OS X to other, cheaper hardware. Hubbard declined comment on that issue, but other members of the audience pointed out that UNIX users typically build their own hardware and many scoff at the price of a new Macintosh.
Hubbard pointed out that many more UNIX standards and features have been embraced as he’s worked with Mac OS X.
Hubbard said that Apple is debating whether to add more UNIX features to attract additional UNIX users. During the conference, Hubbard met with the people responsible for the Fink project, which is trying to port the full package of open source UNIX software to Darwin and Mac OS X.
Another difference between the Mac and UNIX cultures is that UNIX users are not accustomed to buying software — especially system software.
UNIX users are also usually prepared to add features to programs they like or fix bugs as they spot them. One UNIX user said that he loved iPhoto, but he was disappointed that it could not rotate preview shots 90 degrees. If iPhoto was a UNIX application, he would simply code in the missing feature, but since it’s an Apple application, he has to go ask Apple.
Filing bug reports and feature requests is not something that UNIX users typically do, and the UNIX user asked if this could potentially be a problem. Hubbard said that Apple was much more responsive to bug reports and feature requests than other vendors. Moreover, if a user joined the Apple Developer Connection, they could be confident that their issues would be addressed.
Hubbard also said that Apple would continue optimizing and improving Mac OS X’s performance while still maintaining compatibility with older hardware.
“One of the benefits of working with Motorola is that the hardware won’t get faster,” Hubbard joked.
Finally, a user asked Hubbard if he thought that the Xserve and Mac OS X were created to move Apple into an enterprising computer niche. Hubbard said that he saw the Xserve as more of a small office, studio or home server, and that he didn’t see Apple taking on Sun with the Xserve.