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
$105.01
Apple Inc.
+0.18
MSFT
$45.45
Microsoft Corpora
+0.43
GOOG
$539.20
Google Inc.
-4.79

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

BusyCal 2.6.3 - Powerful calendar app wi...
BusyCal is an award-winning desktop calendar that combines personal productivity features for individuals with powerful calendar sharing capabilities for families and workgroups. BusyCal's unique... Read more
calibre 2.7 - Complete e-library managem...
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
Skitch 2.7.3 - Take screenshots, annotat...
With Skitch, taking, annotating, and sharing screenshots or images is as fun as it is simple.Communicate and collaborate with images using Skitch and its intuitive, engaging drawing and annotating... Read more
Delicious Library 3.3.2 - Import, browse...
Delicious Library allows you to import, browse, and share all your books, movies, music, and video games with Delicious Library. Run your very own library from your home or office using our... Read more
Art Text 2.4.8 - Create high quality hea...
Art Text is an OS X application for creating high quality textual graphics, headings, logos, icons, Web site elements, and buttons. Thanks to multi-layer support, creating complex graphics is no... Read more
Live Interior 3D Pro 2.9.6 - Powerful an...
Live Interior 3D Pro is a powerful yet very intuitive interior designing application. View Video Tutorials It has every feature of Live Interior 3D Standard, plus some exclusive ones: Create multi... Read more
The Hit List 1.1.7 - Advanced reminder a...
The Hit List manages the daily chaos of your modern life. It's easy to learn - it's as easy as making lists. And it's powerful enough to let you plan, then forget, then act when the time is right.... Read more
jAlbum Pro 12.2.4 - Organize your digita...
jAlbum Pro has all the features you love in jAlbum, but comes with a commercial license. With jAlbum, you can create gorgeous custom photo galleries for the Web without writing a line of code!... Read more
jAlbum 12.2.4 - Create custom photo gall...
With jAlbum, you can create gorgeous custom photo galleries for the Web without writing a line of code! Beginner-friendly, with pro results Simply drag and drop photos into groups, choose a design... Read more
ExpanDrive 4.1.7 - Access remote files o...
ExpanDrive builds cloud storage in every application, acts just like a USB drive plugged into your Mac. With ExpanDrive, you can securely access any remote file server directly from the Finder or... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

nPlayer looks to be the ultimate choice...
Developed by Newin Inc, nPlayer may seem like your standard video player – but is aiming to be the best in its field by providing high quality video play performance and support for a huge number of video formats and codecs. User reviews include... | Read more »
Fighting Fantasy: Caverns of the Snow Wi...
Fighting Fantasy: Caverns of the Snow Witch Review By Jennifer Allen on October 24th, 2014 Our Rating: :: CLASSY STORYTELLINGUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Fighting Fantasy: Caverns of the Snow Witch is a sterling... | Read more »
A Few Days Left (Games)
A Few Days Left 1.01 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.01 (iTunes) Description: Screenshots are in compliance to App Store's 4+ age rating! Please see App Preview for real game play! **Important: Make... | Read more »
Toca Boo (Education)
Toca Boo 1.0.2 Device: iOS Universal Category: Education Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0.2 (iTunes) Description: BOO! Did I scare you!? My name is Bonnie and my family loves to spook! Do you want to scare them back? Follow me and I'll... | Read more »
Intuon (Games)
Intuon 1.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $.99, Version: 1.1 (iTunes) Description: Join the battle with your intuition in a new hardcore game Intuon! How well do you trust your intuition? Can you find a needle in a... | Read more »
Ravenous Rampage (Games)
Ravenous Rampage 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Partia 2 (Games)
Partia 2 1.0.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $5.99, Version: 1.0.1 (iTunes) Description: Partia 2 is a SRPG (Strategy Role-playing) video game inspired by Fire Emblem and Tear Ring Saga series. In a high fantasy... | Read more »
Puzzle to the Center of the Earth Review
Puzzle to the Center of the Earth Review By Campbell Bird on October 23rd, 2014 Our Rating: :: SPELUNKING PUZZLESUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Do some puzzles to make some platforms in this smart and fun free-to-play... | Read more »
Puzzle to the Center of the Earth – Tips...
Dig this: Would you like to know what we thought of all this puzzling-around the deep recesses of the planet? Check out our Puzzle to the Center of the Earth review! Puzzle to the Center of the Earth is a surprisingly deep and challenging puzzle... | Read more »
Sleep Attack TD Review
Sleep Attack TD Review By Jennifer Allen on October 23rd, 2014 Our Rating: :: A TRUE TWISTUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Sleep Attack TD is a tower defense game with a difference – you can rotate the layout – and it’s... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $949,...
Best Buy has the 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro available for $949.99 on their online store. Choose free shipping or free instant local store pickup (if available). Their price is $150 off MSRP. Price is... Read more
Save up to $125 on Retina MacBook Pros
B&H Photo has the new 2014 13″ and 15″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to $125 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only. They’ll also include free copies of Parallels... Read more
Apple refurbished Time Capsules available sta...
The Apple Store has certified refurbished Time Capsules available for up to $60 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each Time Capsule, and shipping is free: - 2TB Time Capsule: $255... Read more
Textilus New Word, Notes and PDF Processor fo...
Textilus is new word-crunching, notes, and PDF processor designed exclusively for the iPad. I haven’t had time to thoroughly check it out yet, but it looks great and early reviews are positive.... Read more
WD My Passport Pro Bus-Powered Thunderbolt RA...
WD’s My Passport Pro RAID solution is powered by an integrated Thunderbolt cable for true portability and speeds as high as 233 MB/s. HighlightsOverviewSpecifications Transfer, Back Up And Edit In... Read more
Save with Best Buy’s College Student Deals
Take an additional $50 off all MacBooks and iMacs at Best Buy Online with their College Students Deals Savings, valid through November 1st. Anyone with a valid .EDU email address can take advantage... Read more
iPad Air 2 & iPad mini 3 Best Tablets Yet...
The new iPads turned out to be pretty much everything I’d been hoping for and more than I’d expected.”More” particularly in terms of a drinking-from-a-firehose choice of models and configurations,... Read more
Drafts 4 Reinvents iOS Productivity App
N Richland Hills, Texas based Agile Tortoise has announced the release of Drafts 4 for iPhone and iPad. Drafts is a quick capture note taking app with flexible output actions. Drafts 4 scales from... Read more
AT&T accepting preorders for new iPads fo...
AT&T Wireless is accepting preorders for the new iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3, cellular models, for $100 off MSRP with a 2-year service agreement: - 16GB iPad Air 2 WiFi + Cellular: $529.99 - 64GB... Read more
Apple offering refurbished Mac Pros for up to...
The Apple Store is offering Apple Certified Refurbished 2013 Mac Pros for up to $600 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each Mac Pro, and shipping is free. The... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Apple Inc. (U...
…important role that the ASC serves is that of providing an excellent Apple Customer Experience. Responsibilities include: * Promoting Apple products and solutions Read more
Senior Event Manager, *Apple* Retail Market...
…This senior level position is responsible for leading and imagining the Apple Retail Team's global event strategy. Delivering an overarching brand story; in-store, 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
Project Manager / Business Analyst, WW *Appl...
…a senior project manager / business analyst to work within our Worldwide Apple Fulfillment Operations and the Business Process Re-engineering team. This role will work Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.