TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Apr 01 Viewpoint Volume Number: 17 (2001)
Issue Number: 4
Column Tag: Viewpoint

Viewpoint

By Rich Morin

In this month's Viewpoint, Rich Morin revisits some themes that he discussed in our first Viewpoint, two years ago. Fortunately, Apple has now released Mac OS X, so much of what used to be speculation is now reality.

I am an unapologetic fan of both Mac OS and Unix. My desktop system (cerberus) is a three-headed G3, running Mac OS. A FreeBSD server sits downstairs, providing support for email, ftp, telnet, etc. The Mac provides a pleasant user interface and a fine set of "productivity tools"; the server gives me a reliable platform for my Unix-based programming projects.

Although I find this to be a very workable combination, it can prove awkward on occasion. The FreeBSD and Mac OS environments are not tightly coupled, so moving information between them can be a nuisance. Also, Mac OS apps have a tendency to use undocumented, proprietary file formats. The idea of an integrated system, based on both Mac OS and Unix, is therefore quite appealing to me.

More to the point, I once had such a system. A/UX, which ran on the Mac II and follow-on machines (e.g., Quadras), was a very promising blend of Mac OS and Unix. Unfortunately, Apple never gave the product any real marketing support, so it never built a large customer base. Nonetheless, it was a useful and interesting "proof of concept", solving some hard problems in an elegant fashion and offering some real innovations.

A decade later, hardware advances have given us Macs that are a thousand times faster than a Mac II, disk drives that are a thousand times larger, etc. This computing power has allowed a number of "hideously inefficient" software innovations (e.g., Interface Builder, Java, OpenGL, XML) to become practical. Bringing all of this together, Apple is set to try again, in a much more splendid fashion. Apple's engineers have managed to combine great engineering with a very stylish and appealing appearance. I think they are poised to shake up the industry.

Nonetheless, Apple faces some real problems in presenting this mixture to the world. They want it to be accepted as "the next generation of Mac OS" by their users and developers. If they allow the Unix infrastructure to show through, they may scare away their traditional user base. Even talking up the Unixish benefits of the product (e.g., stability, performance, industry standard interfaces) may work against the aim of easy acceptance by their current users and developers.

On the other hand, these same Unixish aspects are critical to bringing in users and developers from Linux, Solaris, etc. Two years ago, I dared to predict that "Apple will cater to, and actively woo academic, research, and otherwise technical users; in short, the bastions of the Unix community. Apple may be quiet about it, but mark my words; it will be a large part of their planning." Apple has, in fact, been so quiet about Unix that it might as well have disappeared from their plans, entirely. They also made some discouraging decisions, such as killing off any possibility of case-sensitivity from HFS+.

On the other hand, a few positive indications have also surfaced. For one thing, Apple opted to keep UFS around, providing case-sensitive file names for situations that really need them. Then, at WWDC, Steve Jobs said that Mac OS X used a "Linux-like" kernel. At MacWorld, Apple actually used the "U-word" on the large banner that sat atop their pavilion. Finally, and most usefully, Apple made its developer tools available to Mac OS X Beta users, without demanding a stiff entry fee that might have discouraged casual developers.

None of these indications prepared me, however, for Apple's recent moves. Making the Unix command line (and a full suite of commands) available to all users is really a bold move for a company that preaches (and practices) extreme simplicity in user interfaces. Shipping a developer CD-ROM in the Mac OS X distribution is even more radical; what do they think the typical Mac OS user is going to do with Interface Builder?

Well, Joe and Sally Sikspak may not want to load the developer disc, but their son or daughter may. The BSD command set found in Mac OS X is almost indistinguishable from that of the Linux machines the kids have been using, so they'll find the basic tool set quite comfortable. In addition, however, they will be able to try out Interface Builder (a real step up from hand-coding X11 calls), Project Builder, and Apple's other innovations. In short, kids who have been hacking on Linux systems for years should find Mac OS X to be a real treat!

If Joe or Sally happens to be an engineer, the kids may have some competition for time on the machine. But then, Power Macs are cheap enough that each member of the family may have one. They are also cheap enough that Joe or Sally may decide to replace the Sun or SGI box on their desk with a G4 cube. Apple may claim that it isn't in the workstation business, that that won't keep people from buying Macs and using them as workstations!

In any case, it appears that Apple is finally ready to acknowledge the value that the Unix user and development community (formal and informal) has to offer. By making powerful development tools available to all users, they hope to entice all sorts of Unix aficionados to consider Mac OS X as a real platform. If they succeed in their effort, the results will bring some real changes to the Mac OS developer community.

Traditionally, Macintosh developers have constituted a vanishingly small percentage of the overall community. Let's say that there are 24 million Apple users. MacTech, the technical publication for developers, has a circulation of something like 20,000 - less than of the entire user community. These are generally the more serious developers in the community. Even if we expand the definition of "developer" to be as broad as possible, we only get a total of 150,000 developers (still less than 1% of the Mac community).

Now, let's look at the Unix community (including Linux, *BSD, Solaris, etc). I don't know the total size of this community (nobody does, actually :-), but it's clearly in the millions and quite possibly in the tens of millions. Now, how many of these folks are "developers"? Well, that's a hard question, because the definition is a lot fuzzier than is is in the Mac community.

I would guess that at least half of the Unix community (i.e., users, system administrators, programmers) have written some shell or Perl scripts. I would not be surprised to learn that the majority of Unix users have written and compiled a few C programs. Just using the command line, which essentially all Unix users do, is in fact closer to programming than most Mac users ever come. In short, it's a very different user community.

Capturing a million or so of these users for the Mac could be a real coup for Apple. The raw numbers aren't that impressive; a million additional users would only add about 4% to Apple's user base. Most of these folks would qualify, however, as potential Mac OS X developers. They might be scientists, engineers, students, or hobbyists, but many of them are in a position to create new software (and retrofit old software) for the platform.

Although existing Mac OS developers could view this as unwanted competition, I think this would be misguided. Instead, I hope that the current band of developers will recognize the newcomers as a source of cross-fertilization and useful lore. Unix is, after all, an enormous, decades-old, distributed laboratory for computer science research. It would be very surprising if the old-line Unix hackers didn't have some interesting tricks to show the Mac OS developers.

Also, the Mac community has been largely unaffected by the "Free Software" and "Open Source" movements. Freeware, in Mac parlance, is proprietary, binary-only software which is distributed at no charge. This kind of distribution is almost unknown in Unix circles, where "free software" always allows inspection, modification, and redistribution of the source code. An influx of Unix-style free software might well change the thinking of many Mac OS users and developers.

By the same token, Mac OS developers have a great deal to show (and tell) the newbies. Mac OS X may change some things about the UI, but a lot of the principles of Mac interface design will carry right through into the new system. More to the point, if we want Aqua to avoid the anarchic state of X11 applications, some advice and counsel will be quite necessary!

In short, it's a win-win situation. We all get to play with some really nifty development tools, on some really terrific hardware. We also get to try out thousands (literally!) of Open Source programs, either under their original command-line and/or X11 user interfaces or with new, Aqua-based front ends.

 
AAPL
$116.47
Apple Inc.
+0.16
MSFT
$47.98
Microsoft Corpora
-0.72
GOOG
$537.50
Google Inc.
+2.67

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Cobook 3.0.7 - Intelligent address book....
Cobook Contacts is an intuitive, engaging address book. Solve the problem of contact management with Cobook Contacts and its simple interface and powerful syncing and integration possibilities.... Read more
StatsBar 1.9 - Monitor system processes...
StatsBar gives you a comprehensive and detailed analysis of the following areas of your Mac: CPU usage Memory usage Disk usage Network and bandwidth usage Battery power and health (MacBooks only)... Read more
Cyberduck 4.6 - FTP and SFTP browser. (F...
Cyberduck is a robust FTP/FTP-TLS/SFTP browser for the Mac whose lack of visual clutter and cleverly intuitive features make it easy to use. Support for external editors and system technologies such... Read more
Maya 2015 - Professional 3D modeling and...
Maya is an award-winning software and powerful, integrated 3D modeling, animation, visual effects, and rendering solution. Because Maya is based on an open architecture, all your work can be scripted... Read more
Evernote 6.0.1 - Create searchable notes...
Evernote allows you to easily capture information in any environment using whatever device or platform you find most convenient, and makes this information accessible and searchable at anytime, from... Read more
calibre 2.11 - Complete e-library manage...
Calibre is a complete e-book library manager. Organize your collection, convert your books to multiple formats, and sync with all of your devices. Let Calibre be your multi-tasking digital... Read more
Herald 5.0.1 - Notification plugin for M...
Note: Versions 2.1.3 (for OS X 10.7), 3.0.6 (for OS X 10.8), and 4.0.8 (for OS X 10.9) are no longer supported by the developer. Herald is a notification plugin for Mail.app, Apple's Mac OS X email... Read more
Firetask 3.7 - Innovative task managemen...
Firetask uniquely combines the advantages of classical priority-and-due-date-based task management with GTD. Stay focused and on top of your commitments - Firetask's "Today" view shows all relevant... Read more
TechTool Pro 7.0.6 - Hard drive and syst...
TechTool Pro is now 7, and this is the most advanced version of the acclaimed Macintosh troubleshooting utility created in its 20-year history. Micromat has redeveloped TechTool Pro 7 to be fully 64... Read more
PhotoDesk 3.0.1 - Instagram client for p...
PhotoDesk lets you view, like, comment, and download Instagram pictures/videos! (NO Uploads! / Image Posting! Instagram forbids that! AND you *need* an *existing* Instagram account). But you can do... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Ubisoft Gives Everyone Two New Ways to E...
Ubisoft Gives Everyone Two New Ways to Earn In-Game Stuff for Far Cry 4 Posted by Jessica Fisher on November 21st, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Golfinity – Tips, Tricks, Strategies, an...
Dig this: Would you like to know what we thought of being an infinite golfer? Check out our Golfinity review! Golfinity offers unlimited ways to test your skills at golf. Here are a few ways to make sure your score doesn’t get too high and your... | Read more »
Dark Hearts, The Sequel to Haunting Meli...
Dark Hearts, The Sequel to Haunting Melissa, is Available Now Posted by Jessica Fisher on November 21st, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Meowza! Toyze Brings Talking Tom to Life...
Meowza! | Read more »
Square Enix Announces New Tactical RPG f...
Square Enix Announces New Tactical RPG for Mobile, Heavenstrike Rivals. Posted by Jessica Fisher on November 21st, 2014 [ permalink ] With their epic stories and gorgeous graphics, | Read more »
Quest for Revenge (Games)
Quest for Revenge 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: The great Kingdom of the west has fallen. The gods ignore the prayers of the desperate. A dark warlord has extinguished... | Read more »
Threadz is a New Writing Adventure for Y...
Threadz is a New Writing Adventure for You and Your Friends Posted by Jessica Fisher on November 21st, 2014 [ permalink ] In the tradition of round-robin storytelling, | Read more »
SteelSeries Stratus XL Hardware Review
Made by: SteelSeries Price: $59.99 Hardware/iOS Integration Rating: 4 out of 5 stars Usability Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars Reuse Value Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars Build Quality Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars Overall Rating: 4.31 out of 5 stars | Read more »
ACDSee (Photography)
ACDSee 1.0.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Photography Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: Capture, perfect, and share your photos with ACDSee. The ACDSee iPhone app combines an innovative camera, a powerful photo... | Read more »
ProTube for YouTube (Entertainment)
ProTube for YouTube 2.0.2 Device: iOS Universal Category: Entertainment Price: $1.99, Version: 2.0.2 (iTunes) Description: ProTube is the ultimate, fully featured YouTube app. With it's highly polished design, ProTube offers ad-free... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for $17...
 B&H Photo has the 2014 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale today for $1749. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only. B&H will also include free copies of Parallels Desktop... Read more
27-inch 3.5GHz 5K iMac in stock today and on...
 B&H Photo has the new 27″ 3.5GHz 5K iMac in stock today and on sale for $2299 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $200 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available... Read more
21-inch 1.4GHz iMac on sale for $979, save $1...
B&H Photo has the new 21″ 1.4GHz iMac on sale for $979.99 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $120 off MSRP. B&H will also include free copies of Parallels Desktop... Read more
13-inch 1.4GHz/256GB MacBook Air on sale for...
B&H Photo has lowered their price on the 13″ 1.4GHz/256GB MacBook Air to $1059.99 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $140 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price for this... Read more
Save up to $400 with Apple refurbished 2014 1...
The Apple Store has restocked Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 15″ Retina MacBook Pros for up to $400 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping... Read more
New 13-inch 1.4GHz MacBook Air on sale for $8...
 Adorama has the 2014 13″ 1.4GHz/128GB MacBook Air on sale for $899.99 including free shipping plus NY & NJ tax only. Their price is $100 off MSRP. B&H Photo has the 13″ 1.4GHz/128GB MacBook... Read more
Apple Expected to Reverse Nine-Month Tablet S...
Apple and Samsung combined accounted for 62 percent of the nearly 36 million branded tablets shipped in 3Q 2014, according to early vendor shipment share estimates from market intelligence firm ABI... Read more
Stratos: 30 Percent of US Smartphone Owners t...
Stratos, Inc., creator of the Bluetooth Connected Card Platform, has announced results from its 2014 Holiday Mobile Payments Survey. The consumer survey found that nearly one out of three (30 percent... Read more
2014 1.4GHz Mac mini on sale for $449, save $...
 B&H Photo has lowered their price on the new 1.4GHz Mac mini to $449.99 including free shipping plus NY tax only. Their price is $50 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this new... Read more
Check Apple prices on any device with the iTr...
MacPrices is proud to offer readers a free iOS app (iPhones, iPads, & iPod touch) and Android app (Google Play and Amazon App Store) called iTracx, which allows you to glance at today’s lowest... Read more

Jobs Board

*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
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC)- Retail S...
**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
Project Manager, *Apple* Financial Services...
**Job Summary** Apple Financial Services (AFS) offers consumers, businesses and educational institutions ways to finance Apple purchases. We work with national and Read more
*Apple* Store Leader Program - College Gradu...
Job Description: Job Summary As an Apple Store Leader Program agent, you can continue your education as you major in the art of leadership at the Apple Store. You'll Read more
*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
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.