TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Why MkLinux?

Volume Number: 13 (1997)
Issue Number: 10
Column Tag: Tools Of The Trade

Why MkLinux?

by Rich Morin

Or, is grep really worth 500 MB of disk space?

So What Is MkLinux?

MkLinux is a port of the GNU System to the Power Macintosh. It provides a Unix-like user and programming environment, with hundreds of useful commands (software development and document preparation tools, network servers and tools, and other utilities. With very few exceptions (e.g., the boot code), all of the source code for MkLinux is freely redistributable.

The MkLinux port is based on the Linux 2.x kernel, which is used as a "single server" for the Mach 3 microkernel. Thus, the Linux kernel runs as a user-mode process, handling OS "personality" issues, while the Mach microkernel handles low-level I/O and resource allocation tasks. This two-part design has assorted benefits, including the ability to debug a new Linux server (as an application) while running the system on a older (trusted) server.

Because MkLinux has pre-emptive multitasking and runs as a "native" OS, it makes quite efficient use of the Power Macintosh hardware. A Power Mac 6100, for instance, is capable of serving as the local "unix box" for a dozen or more casual users and programmers. Aside from providing access to the normal range of unix tools, MkLinux supports a wide variety of network services, including FTP, HTTP, NFS, Telnet, and the X Window System.

Once a MkLinux system has booted, it is "just" a Linux system. That is, it has all of the standard Linux user and programming interfaces, system administration tools, etc. The big difference, however, is that MkLinux is running on an integrated hardware platform. Consequently, MkLinux system installation does not lose the administrator in a twisty maze of DMA vector and IRQ settings, jumpers, and other Intel-specific annoyances.

History and Current Status

Although MkLinux has been under development for a few years, it has only been available to the general public for a short while. Apple's first public announcement concerning MkLinux was made at the Free Software Foundation's First Conference on Freely Redistributable Software (February 1996). Since that time, Apple has issued several MkLinux Developer Releases. DR3, for instance, is expected to be available by the time you read this article.

MkLinux has never been a large-scale project for Apple Computer. Staffing has never exceeded five engineers, split between Apple and The Open Group Research Institute. The MkLinux Reference Release, although sponsored and assisted by Apple, was produced by Prime Time Freeware. Through the efforts of volunteers, large numbers of applications and drivers appear on MkLinux-related FTP sites. If Linux is the system where "everything is done by someone else", MkLinux is certainly well in line with this tradition.

The MkLinux user community is served by email lists, web sites, and other Internet-based facilities. The email lists are quite active; more than 5000 subscribers are currently registered. They handle MkLinux announcements, setup and programming issues, etc. The high signal-to-noise ratio of the lists reflects the cooperative attitude of the MkLinux community. The Apple MkLinux web site http://www.mklinux.apple.com contains announcements, news, online help, and pointers to other Internet-based resources.

Who Uses MkLinux?

The Macintosh is very popular in academia, whether in computer labs, professor's offices, or dormitory rooms. By making Linux available for the Power Macintosh, Apple allows these academic institutions (and associated individuals) to make better use of existing hardware. For instance, a computer science graduate student might write a device driver for MkLinux, then switch back to Mac OS to create the diagrams and write up a paper describing it.

As hinted above, MkLinux is also finding use as a network server. NuBus-based Power Macs are not considered very powerful by today's standards, but they perform quite well as MkLinux servers. In fact, a Power Mac 6100/60 is roughly equivalent in performance to an early Sun SparcStation 5 or a 90 MHz Pentium system. If the 6100 is already on hand (or cheaply available), it can be an economical and very convenient alternative to an Intel or Sparc-based system.

We are also starting to see quite a bit of interest from the Apple developer community. Developers have been quick to realize that MkLinux provides a very economical way to look at a Mach/unix system on the Power Macintosh. Better yet, both the source code and a large body of reference materials are available.

Apple's original motivation in sponsoring MkLinux, by the way, came from its Higher Education sales force. It seems that they got tired of hearing about the fact that Intel-based PCs were more versatile (running both Windows and Linux). So, when the MkLinux skunk works project got started, the Higher Ed folks were quick to support it.

MkLinux Basics

If you are already familiar with Intel-based Linux systems, feel free to skip down to the next section: a running MkLinux system is essentially indistinguishable from a running Intel-based Linux system. If you have used other unix-based systems, all you need to know is that (Mk)Linux provides extended versions of most traditional BSD and System V commands.

If you're still with us, you're probably wondering how much of a learning curve you're facing before you can be a productive MkLinux user and programmer. As usual, the news is mixed: the bad news is that it could take you years to learn everything about the entire system. The good news is that you can master the basics in a few hours and that you don't really need to know everything about MkLinux to be quite productive on it. So, let's get started...

Like MS-DOS, MkLinux has a command-oriented user environment. Although X Windows provides the ability to run graphical applications, it does not have the pervasive GUI-based semantics, let alone the consistent user interface guidelines, found in Mac OS. Hence, MkLinux windows tend to be "glass teletypes", used to communicate with a command line interpreter.

Unlike MS-DOS, however, MkLinux supples several command line interpreters, or "shells", along with hundreds of shell-oriented commands and "little languages". By combining these tools, either on the command line or as saved "shell scripts", you can make MkLinux do some pretty amazing things.

Let's say that one of your directories contains several hundred files, each of which contains one or more C routines. You want to look at some examples of how the routine "foo" is used, so you ask the MkLinux "grep" command to take a look:

rdm@mklinux 1: grep foo *.c
bar.c:  x = foo(...);
baz.c:  y = foodp(...);
baz.c:  z = foo(...);
...

Although the first line looks just fine, the second line shows that we weren't sufficiently precise in our search. So, we use the "-w" flag to tell grep to look for the "word" foo:

rdm@mklinux 2: grep -w foo *.c
bar.c:  x = foo(...);
baz.c:  z = foo(...);
...

There seem to be quite a lot of matching lines, however; let's just get a list of the file names:

rdm@mklinux 3: grep -lw foo *.c
bar.c
baz.c
...

How many files are there? Let's ask the MkLinux word count (wc) utility for a count:

rdm@mklinux 3: grep -lw foo *.c | wc -l
42

Now let's suppose that we want to copy all of the matching files off to a separate directory, for detailed examination and/or modification. MkLinux lets us do this very easily:

rdm@mklinux 4: mkdir hax
rdm@mklinux 5: cp `grep -lw foo *.c` hax

There are hundreds of commands in the MkLinux repertoire, yielding a staggering number of combinations. And, because sequences of commands can be saved as "shell scripts", creating new commands is a trivial process. MkLinux shells have most of the common programming constructs, including variables, control flow operators, etc. If you want more programming power, however, you can always drop into a language such as awk or perl.

The creation and (re-)use of simple commands is fundamental to the MkLinux way of doing things. Rather than try to create monolithic programs that can do every conceivable task, MkLinux programmers create small, general-purpose tools and combine them into task-specific commands and scripts.

In the example above, for instance, cp has no need to know anything about string searching and grep has no need to know anything about file copying. The combination, however, is able to do a rather powerful and specialized function (string-based file copying) with little effort.

Legal Issues

As an Apple developer, you are probably familiar with GCC, GDB, GNU Emacs, and other tools that have emerged from the GNU Project. As an implementation of the GNU System, MkLinux contains hundreds of these tools. In addition, it includes a great deal of BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution), Mach, and X Window System code. In short, MkLinux is a compilation of compilations, including a variety of software and associated legal restrictions.

Software developed by the GNU Project is (almost always) covered by the terms of the GNU General Public Licence (GPL). In addition, many programs developed by third parties (e.g., GhostScript and Perl) are also available under the GPL. Thus, if you plan to use MkLinux (or any other GNU software), a basic understanding of the GPL is advised.

The GNU GPL allows both non-commercial and commercial distribution, in either source or binary format, of materials it covers. It requires, however, that distributors of binary code make the source code economically available, upon request. It also prohibits any other restrictions (including collection copyrights) from being placed on the materials.

Thus, although you are free to examine, modify, redistribute, and use GPLed code, you are not free to turn it into proprietary code. In general, software developed using GNU tools is not affected by the GPL, save that use of libraries may "contaminate" developed code. For detailed information on the GNU Project and the GNU GPL, see the GNU web site http://www.gnu.org.

Much of the remaining freeware in the MkLinux distribution is covered by "University-style" licenses, such as those used by CMU, MIT, and UC Berkeley. These licenses require that the source code retain a notice showing its origins, but say nothing restricting the code's inclusion into commercial products.

Finally, you should expect to find a few "unique" licenses, ranging widely in both style and terms. You are on your own when dealing with these notices. Although these licenses normally allow free use within a given organization, their terms for distribution may prohibit external distribution, even for non-commercial purposes. So, be sure to read the fine print!

Porting Issues

Because MkLinux is closely based on Linux, it is able to build most Linux source archives with little trouble. The problems that do surface tend to stem from basic architectural incompatibilities such as byte ordering or the need for particular hardware. Finally, because of the Mach-based internal structure of MkLinux, Linux driver code does not port at all trivially.

Most Linux programs are written in an architecture-independent manner. At worst, they contain a few #ifdef statements. A few Linux programs, however, make assumptions about the ordering of bytes within words, etc. Because PowerPC CPUs address differently than Intel CPUs, this can cause programs to malfunction. There is also an assumption, on Intel-based platforms, that variables of type char are signed. MkLinux assumes that chars are unsigned, but a compiler option can be used to change this assumption.

If the source code comes from another variant of unix (e.g., BSD or System V), things can get a bit trickier. Although most unix system calls and library functions are standardized, each flavor of unix tends to have a few unique (or modified) interfaces. Linux is quite popular, however, so you should expect to find Linux-oriented #ifdef statements in most common freeware packages.

Porting non-trivial software from Mac OS, on the other hand, is likely to be a real challenge. The MkLinux system calls and library functions have many of the same capabilities of Mac OS routines, but their exact nature, names, and calling sequences are apt to to be very different. Be prepared to look up a lot of function definitions!

Worse, the event-driven model favored by Mac OS applications is not found in most MkLinux programs. Some window-based applications may be written in an event-driven manner, but that's about it. And, although X may look a bit like the Finder, it is a radically different environment, sharing few of the Finder's basic assumptions and rules. In short, you should treat MkLinux as a Linux system that happens to run on a Power Macintosh, rather than a weird variant of Mac OS.

MkLinux Resources

As noted above, MkLinux is well served by email lists, FTP sites, and web servers. The best starting point is Apple's MkLinux web server http://www.mklinux.apple.com. Look around this site for general information, late-breaking news, mailing lists, online help, and links to related sites. As the MkLinux community grows, volunteers will take up more and more of the burden of disseminating MkLinux-related information, but the Apple web site is likely to remain as the best starting point for any search.

The Linux community is well served by printed documentation, software collections, and online information resources. With the exception of some kernel- and hardware-related material, most of these resources are quite applicable to MkLinux. More generally, much of the unix literature is relevant to MkLinux. After all, MkLinux is basically a free version of unix.

All modesty aside, however, the definitive work on MkLinux is "MkLinux: Microkernel Linux for the Power Macintosh" (Prime Time Freeware, 1997, ISBN 1-881957-24-1, $50 MSRP). This Apple-sponsored product combines a 360-page introductory and reference manual with a MkLinux distribution CD-ROM and an HTML-basedreference CD-ROM, covering Linux, Mach, NeXT, and the Power Macintosh. For more information, visit the Prime Time Freeware web site http://www.ptf.com.


Rich Morin, rdm@ptf.com, is the editor of "MkLinux: Microkernel Linux for the Power Macintosh", published by Prime Time Freeware (http://www.ptf.com). A 30-year veteran of the computer industry, Rich writes for both SunExpert and UNIX Review magazines. His home system is a three-headed Power Macintosh 7100/80, running Mac OS. It is, however, networked to several local UNIX (MkLinux and SunOS) boxes.

 
AAPL
$95.60
Apple Inc.
-2.55
MSFT
$43.16
Microsoft Corpora
-0.42
GOOG
$571.60
Google Inc.
-15.82

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

OneNote 15.2 - Free digital notebook fro...
OneNote is your very own digital notebook. With OneNote, you can capture that flash of genius, that moment of inspiration, or that list of errands that’s too important to forget. Whether you’re at... Read more
iStat Menus 4.22 - Monitor your system r...
iStat Menus lets you monitor your system right from the menubar. Included are 8 menu extras that let you monitor every aspect of your system. Some features: CPU -- Monitor cpu usage. 7 display... Read more
Ember 1.8 - Versatile digital scrapbook....
Ember (formerly LittleSnapper) is your digital scrapbook of things that inspire you: websites, photos, apps or other things. Just drag in images that you want to keep, organize them into relevant... Read more
OmniPlan 2.3.6 - Robust project manageme...
With OmniPlan, you can create logical, manageable project plans with Gantt charts, schedules, summaries, milestones, and critical paths. Break down the tasks needed to make your project a success,... Read more
Command-C 1.1.1 - Clipboard sharing tool...
Command-C is a revolutionary app which makes easy to share your clipboard between iOS and OS X using your local WiFi network, even if the app is not currently opened. Copy anything (text, pictures,... Read more
Knock 1.1.7 - Unlock your Mac by knockin...
Knock is a faster, safer way to sign in. You keep your iPhone with you all the time. Now you can use it as a password. You never have to open the app -- just knock on your phone twice, even when it's... Read more
Mellel 3.3.6 - Powerful word processor w...
Mellel is the leading word processor for OS X and has been widely considered the industry standard since its inception. Mellel focuses on writers and scholars for technical writing and multilingual... Read more
LibreOffice 4.3.0.4 - Free Open Source o...
LibreOffice is an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing tool) compatible with other major office suites. The Document Foundation is coordinating development and... Read more
Freeway Pro 7.0 - Drag-and-drop Web desi...
Freeway Pro lets you build websites with speed and precision... without writing a line of code! With it's user-oriented drag-and-drop interface, Freeway Pro helps you piece together the website of... Read more
Drive Genius 3.2.4 - Powerful system uti...
Drive Genius is an OS X utility designed to provide unsurpassed storage management. Featuring an easy-to-use interface, Drive Genius is packed with powerful tools such as a drive optimizer, a... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Dawn of the Immortals Review
Dawn of the Immortals Review By Jennifer Allen on July 31st, 2014 Our Rating: :: RESPECTABLE EXPLORATIONUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Dawn of the Immortals might not re-invent the wheel, but it does tweak it a little... | Read more »
80 Days Review
80 Days Review By Jennifer Allen on July 31st, 2014 Our Rating: :: EPIC ADVENTUREUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad A fantastic and fascinating re-envisioning of the classic novel by Jules Verne, 80 Days is a delightful... | Read more »
Battleheart Legacy Guide
The world of Battleheart Legacy is fun and deep; full of wizards, warriors, and witches. Here are some tips and tactics to help you get the most enjoyment out of this great game. | Read more »
Puzzle Roo Review
Puzzle Roo Review By Jennifer Allen on July 31st, 2014 Our Rating: :: PUZZLE-BASED TWISTUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad A different take on the usual block dropping puzzle game, Puzzle Roo is quite pleasant.   | Read more »
Super Crossfire Re-Release Super Crossfi...
Super Crossfire Re-Release Super Crossfighter Coming Soon, Other Radiangames Titles Go 50% Off Posted by Ellis Spice on July 31st, 2014 [ | Read more »
Hexiled Review
Hexiled Review By Rob Thomas on July 31st, 2014 Our Rating: :: HEX SELLSUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad In space, no one can hear you… spell? Hexiled is a neat concept for a word scramble puzzle, but it doesn’t go too... | Read more »
Summoners War: Sky Arena Passes 10 Milli...
Summoners War: Sky Arena Passes 10 Million Installs! Posted by Jessica Fisher on July 31st, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Deep Loot Review
Deep Loot Review By Jennifer Allen on July 31st, 2014 Our Rating: :: DIVE DEEPUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Dive deep in this fun explore-em-up that’s a little grind heavy but ultimately quite entertaining.   | Read more »
Despicable Me: Minion Rush is One Year O...
Despicable Me: Minion Rush is One Year Old, Gets its Biggest Update Yet Posted by Jennifer Allen on July 31st, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Fish & Shark Review
Fish & Shark Review By Jordan Minor on July 31st, 2014 Our Rating: :: FLAPPY FISHUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Fish & Shark’s beauty is only scale deep.   | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Save up to $130 on an iPad mini with Apple re...
The Apple Store has Certified Refurbished 2nd generation iPad minis with Retina Displays available for up to $130 off the cost of new models, starting at $339. Apple’s one-year warranty is included... Read more
iPad Cannibalization Threat “Overblown”
Seeking Alpha’s Kevin Greenhalgh observes that while many commentators think Apple’s forthcoming 5.5-inch panel iPhone 6 will cannibalize iPad sales, in his estimation, these concerns are being... Read more
Primate Labs Releases July 2014 MacBook Pro P...
Primate Labs’ John Poole has posted Geekbench 3 results for most of the new MacBook Pro models that Apple released on Tuesday. Poole observes that overall performance improvements for the new MacBook... Read more
Apple Re-Releases Bugfixed MacBook Air EFI Fi...
Apple has posted a bugfixed version EFI Firmware Update 2.9 a for MacBook Air (Mid 2011) models. The update addresses an issue where systems may take longer to wake from sleep than expected, and... Read more
Save $50 on the 2.5GHz Mac mini, plus free sh...
B&H Photo has the 2.5GHz Mac mini on sale for $549.99 including free shipping. That’s $50 off MSRP, and B&H will also include a free copy of Parallels Desktop software. NY sales tax only. Read more
Save up to $140 on an iPad Air with Apple ref...
Apple is offering Certified Refurbished iPad Airs for up to $140 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free. Stock tends to come and go with some of these... Read more
$250 price drop on leftover 15-inch Retina Ma...
B&H Photo has dropped prices on 2013 15″ Retina MacBook Pros by $250 off original MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.3GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $2249, $250 off... Read more
More iPad Upgrade Musings – The ‘Book Mystiqu...
Much discussed recently, what with Apple reporting iPad sales shrinkage over two consecutive quarters, is that it had apparently been widely assumed that tablet users would follow a two-year hardware... Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $999,...
Best Buy has the 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro available for $999.99 on their online store. Choose free shipping or free instant local store pickup (if available). Their price is $100 off MSRP. Price is... Read more
Save up to $300 on an iMac with Apple refurbi...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished iMacs available for up to $300 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free. These are the best prices on... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
Sr. Product Leader, *Apple* Store Apps - Ap...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
Sr Software Lead Engineer, *Apple* Online S...
Sr Software Lead Engineer, Apple Online Store Publishing Systems Keywords: Company: Apple Job Code: E3PCAK8MgYYkw Location (City or ZIP): Santa Clara Status: Full Read more
Sr Software Lead Engineer, *Apple* Online S...
Sr Software Lead Engineer, Apple Online Store Publishing Systems Keywords: Company: Apple Job Code: E3PCAK8MgYYkw Location (City or ZIP): Santa Clara Status: Full Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.