MacOS X is Unix

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OS X is cool because UNIX is cool. Not because UNIX is a particularly well done OS, UNIX has tons of anachronistic design choices and has plenty of legacy issues that aren't pretty or modern. But UNIX does have many strengths to counteract those issues. The Mac was not UNIX, Jaguar is UNIX.

  • 👍The biggest strength of UNIX that virtually all college educated developers learn on UNIX. That gives it a huge domain base and size of market especially in App and OS development, Scientific areas and network administration. UNIX is the test-bed for most of these technologies. If Apple wants to move a new OS forward, they are going to be borrowing from UNIX anyway, so why not make their OS UNIX derived?
  • 👍 There is also openness about code (open source), and API's and design that has permeated UNIX. (College Marxists meet code). Many have contributed to UNIX, and still do. When you give it away for free, others use it. This has snowballed for many decades. UNIX evolves, and you can stay closer to the cutting edge if you don't have to port everything to a different platform.
  • 👍UNIX is also very stable, in almost all senses of the word. It can be a bitch to setup, and maintain but Apple is hiding much of that. However, once setup and configured properly, it will work, and can survive bad software practices (like poor QA) pretty well. You can set things up and just leave them, and know that when you come back, they'll probably still be running. Better than Windows, far better than Mac, and nearly as good as IBM mainframe type solutions. This stuff is robust. On a desktop and in many other markets, this is going to make a significant difference.
  • 👎However, when I mentioned stability I also meant it as in "not changing". While little things evolve in UNIX, and change constantly, it has been UNIX for 30+ years (arguably 40). In many ways it takes a lot less time to change from versions of UNIX than it does between versions of Windows. That stability is incredibly comforting to many programmers, network administrators, academics, researchers and just plain users. They want to know their machines; and sometimes they have had a longer relationship with them than anything or anyone else. Learning a new UNIX takes them a few hours, days or weeks, depending on level of intimacy they want, but they then know all sorts of things in incredible detail. UNIX plays to human nature and the dislike of change, and the thirst to know, and the drive to have control over one's destiny and environment. UNIX does that better than any other OS out there. OS X can ride on that. And users know that whether OS X lives or dies, most of the knowledge they gain learning about UNIX can be applied in the future. That's emotional stability for people, and they love the platform that provides that.
  • 👎Which brings up the main issue: Jaguar is still a UNIX (and not a Mac). It is the best UNIX I've ever used (and I've used bunches) but I can't just upgrade blindly and expect things to work like a Mac. Many things require special versions of Apps or tools to run on Jaguar, many apps die after the upgrade, and the OS itself has issues after an upgrade. And don't move things around on OS X; I did that and confused the shit out of the OS. It seems that many Applications are not mine to control but rather the OS's. Same with naming. I have bunches of things that lost their bundles, or where they were supposed to be. There are whole hidden hierarchies and voodoo; deep paths that I don't have control over. Some UNIX types will blame this on me but they're missing the point; this is my OS, not theirs. It should behave like I own it, not that I'm beholden to the ivory tower and Apple to decide where things go, what they can be called, and what I will do. So one of the first things I notice that I've lost is trust that I can change things and it will still work, and faith in the robustness in the OS (as far as upgrading and not having things change). OS X (including Jaguar) is far more fragile towards change than the MacOS used to be.

    Don't get me wrong, the pre-X MacOS had plenty of quirks or bad versions that would screw things up too. But users could move anything (except for a little caution in the System Folder). There was a 1:1 mapping between what I saw in the Finder and what was there. I could drag-install and uninstall. I had trust that it was hard to break things and easy to fix them if I did. Jaguar isn't like that, like UNIX it is based on, it is configuration fragile. For newbies who don't muck with much, it's fine. Mac Power users will be frustrated by not being able to configure and tweak. But UNIX folks can't fathom why you would want to move something, or not spend days fixing problems if you do. And Jaguar isn't worse than Windows in that regard. So none of that is the end of the world, but I think it will be a while before we can get that stability and trust back. Or people just adapt to the new reality that Apple doesn't want to give you that much control.


I'm both a big UNIX fan, and one of its detractors. UNIX is the old war-bird of Operating Systems -- which is ironic since it really isn't an Operating System any more -- but more on that later. UNIX was created as a private research project by AT&T's Bell Laboratories (Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie) in 1969. Since AT&T wasn't really in the computer business they had the wise marketing plan of giving away the source code to UNIX for free. UNIX wallowed around and was basically only popular in education and research labs because it was inferior to other commercial OS's of the time. But since Universities could modify this Operating System freely, many programmers cut their teeth (in school) using it, and researchers came from academia so they used it too. This legacy has totally defined what UNIX is, and what it is good for -- and bad at. It wasn't good, it was free. But perfect is the enemy of good enough, and UNIX was always "Good enough" that people used it, added to it, and it sort of became a defecto solution until it got near universal adoption. These same pragmatic compromises are similar to why TCP/IP and HTML became the Internet. more...

Mac OS X 10.2 - Jaguar
Mac OS X 10.2 - Jaguar. What's cool, and what isn't? The short story is Apple acquired NeXT, Steve Jobs came with it, he had a palace coup and replaced old Apple's Not-Invented-here problems and leadership with NeXT's Not-Invented-here problems and leadership. NeXT did some things better, many things worse, and had even more arrogance and inflexibility than the old Apple. But they did have more competent management, a stronger vision, and a willingness to just ship "good enough for now", fix it later. With Jaguar released, I was pretty happy. There are a lot of improvements in it, and progress is obviously being made. Then I hear the people saying that, "it is a good as a Mac", or that Apple is killing MacOS 9, and I wrote this article to list the things I like, and don't like about the new OS. Where it has caught up or surpassed the old one, or just isn't there and may never be.