Yesterday I spent a large chunk of time with my tax lady seeing what the damage was going to be regarding my 2000 taxes. I was at her office for much longer than expected because she was having major problems with her Wintel system. But that’s another story ….
Though my “IRS blues” time ate into my planned experiments with Mac OS X, I did have enough foresight to carry some light reading about the next generation operating system along with me and thought you should be aware of two that would be worth your while.
One of the most incredible things about Mac OS X is how well Apple has hidden its UNIX underpinnings. Whether you love Aqua or not, this certainly isn’t your father’s UNIX, to paraphrase an advertising slogan.
That’s one of the things that make the article,
Is Mac OS X a Threat to Linux?
by Chuck Toporek, O’Reilly Open Source editor, such a fascinating read. (And, yes, I realize that UNIX and Linux are different critters, but the similarities were tracks in my train of thought.)
Toptorek opined that the roll out of Mac OS X was viewed by some as a “new beginning that could squash all thoughts of a desktop Linux [a free Unix-type operating system originally created by Linus Torvalds with the assistance of developers around the world] for the general public.”
“What’s this, ‘Apple out-maneuvering Linux?’ you say? Well, maybe not as a server platform for the immediate future, but just think about this for a second: Would it be possible for Apple to deflate the hopes and dreams of developers worldwide of bringing Linux to the desktop?” he wrote. “The short answer to this is yes, but it’s more complicated than that.”
Before Mac OS X the lines between the Macintosh operating system and Linux were very distinct. For instance, Linux users could peek into the core of their operating system; Mac users couldn’t. But Mac OS X users can, thanks to the operating system’s BDS-based core. “At the core of Mac OS X is a kernel built on the Mach 3.0 kernel, BSD 4.4, and Darwin (Apple’s open source kernel project), giving network and system administrators the ability to use Unix programs and add them to their Macs,” said Toporek. “When combined, these components offer a rock-solid operating system that’s hard to beat. (OK, I know that Mac OS X has its fair share of bugs, so no flames, please.)”
With OS X’s BSD core, Macintosh users will now be able to use GNU software, allowing us to run tools like Emacs, vi, Apache, and XFree86. By the way, GNU is a “recursive acronym for “GNU’s Not Unix,” and is pronounced “guh-NEW”. Variants of the GNU operating system, which use the Linux kernel, are now widely used; though these systems are often referred to as “Linux”, they are more accurately called GNU/Linux systems. Anyway, as Toporek points out, if you’re looking for a place to download ports of GNU tools that run under Mac OS X, go to the GNU-Darwin Project on
He added that a group that stands to lose a chunk of the market is the Mac-based Linux distributions, such as MkLinux, LinuxPPC, or Yellow Dog Linux (YDL) from Terra Soft Solutions. Up to now, these were your best options for running Linux on the Mac, with LinuxPPC and YDL leading the pack.
“But OS X changes this landscape significantly,” Toporek said. “The downside to running Linux on your Mac in a dual-boot configuration (as with Windows) is that if you want to access any of your Mac apps, you had to either reboot, or install and run Mac-On-Linux. Neither option is ideal, but now OS X allows you to work in the command line, and run your Mac apps right along with them — no rebooting required.”
And, despite the power of UNIX and efforts to make it more user friendly, its GUIs (graphical user interfaces) are “at times, buggy and less desirable for most people,” he added. Linux has a way to go before it can truly be accepted as a desktop platform, Toporek said.
“In my opinion, Apple’s Mac OS X has the best of both worlds,” he wrote. “It allows you the ability to run traditional and widely used desktop applications, such as Microsoft Office, while at the same time giving you the power and strength of BSD Unix to run GNU tools under (or on top of) OS X … So, will people start to move away from the ‘Linux-on-the-desktop’ mentality and migrate to Apple’s Mac OS X? It’s hard to say, since it still requires you to have native Apple G3 or G4 hardware. If Apple were to migrate its OS onto x86 hardware, yes, Apple could take over the desktop market with Mac OS X. Apple just has to play its cards right — and soon.
Read Toporek’s entire article for more on these points, as well as details on such things as running the X Window System on top of Mac OS X and Linux GUI projects.
Meanwhile, a fascinating
— which I recommend mainly for developers — at the StepWise site tells you how to create “docklings” on Mac OS X.
A dockling is a lightweight component, packaged in the Mac OS X bundle that can provide constant visual feedback through its icon as well as a pop-up menu, which can execute command, according to author Brain Webster. Three docklings (Airport, Monitors and Battery) are included with Mac OS X, in the Dock Extras folder in the Applications folder.
And, developers, if you do create docklings, please make them attractive. We certainly don’t need a bunch of ugly docklings (sorry, couldn’t resist).