My Turn

OS X: More Than Just Another Unix Variant

Zack Martin - 2002.07.08

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

Apple promotes OS X as the way to get the stability of Unix with the beautiful GUI of the Macintosh platform, and I have believed that for a very long time.

However, recently, while I was in a chat room where I moderate, I was talking to a man who was discussing how that was irrelevant, and how desktop Linux was a very popular idea. I had read two of David Coursey's articles on desktop Linux and how his "Linux Challenge" had gone.

I became sparked to see how Linux compared not to Windows, but to the Mac OS. Coursey had written his opinions from a mostly Windows standpoint, but after my two week experience with Linux, I have an even greater respect for Apple's ability to make Mac OS X what it is.

Installation: Would you like a swap file with that?

I decided on RedHat on a Celeron 500 MHz machine for my tests. I figured that no-one would go out and buy a Mac new just to put Linux on it, so a low cost x86 machine seemed reasonable for a desktop user to do Internet, word processing, and email on. This is where one of Linux's points shines in my tests: Linux is free to download.

The installation went pretty smoothly, complete with little screens to entertain you (much like ones at movie theaters that come on before previews), but the installation takes a very long time - almost 3 hours. Compare that to the one hour installation that Mac OS X took on my bottom-of-the-line G3.

However, I guess that desktop Linux assumes that Linux will already be installed on the machine....

Setup/Configuration: What the heck is Xconfigurator?

Installation on my computer went really well. However, I booted into Linux and noticed one of Linux's flaws: It takes a extremely long time to start up.

After that, I chose the KDE desktop and went on with my business. KDE gave me an option of what I wanted my desktop to feel like, so I clicked "Mac OS" and went on my way. I finished booting into the KDE and saw the Mac OS X-esqe desktop background.

I decided that I would like to import some of my MP3s to listen to while testing, and I needed to change my desktop resolution. This is where Linux took me aback; I found that the KDE control center was not at all like the System Preferences in OS X. In fact, KDE Control Center does little except perform like a System Profiler, with no options to change anything.

I found out later that I have to change my system preferences from command line apps, and that the KDE/Gnome Environments are like the Desktop in Win 3.1 - they just help get around but still do most of everything configuration-wise in DOS. Not very user friendly.

Installation of software?./make, ./compile ./confused!

I decided to preview some of the software that the Open Source community is always raging about, and GIMP was already installed, so I decided to head up with OpenOffice, the free alternative to Microsoft Office/StarOffice. I downloaded it and LimeWire, the file sharing client for X/Linux. It turns out that a lot of the software on Linux uses Java, so that the software can be written once for all the Linux distros/platforms/Window Managers.

However, installing Java wasn't easy. I eventually had to build my own software from source. Editing through vi (something I learned in OS X) and using gcc. I learned that the Open Source Community is trying to move to the RPM installation standard (an installation standard that makes installation easy) but my use found that installing software in Linux is hit and miss.


I've been using Linux for two weeks, and I miss my Mac.

I fail to see how some of the key advantages of Linux pan out in the long run, especially for desktop use. Setup is a pain, almost making me wish I could pay for a piece of software to do what I just did, but the boxed Linux distros are just the download on the CD.

Linux has high system requirements to do anything GUI based, and although you can run a server through a command line on a 486, configuration is still tough - definitely not as easy as Mac OS X Server.

Linux's bounds of free software are hard to install, and if you aren't using the version of Linux the developer is, your most often OOL.

Does Linux work as a desktop OS? No.

Does it have advantages in theory? Yes.

So how do you put these advantages to work? Use Mac OS X.

Apple has put almost all of the advantages of Linux in Mac OS X, but they also made it better. Apple's window manager is light years ahead of X11, and it isn't a shell - it's a fully integrated part of the operating system that allows GUI controls, not command line ones.

Most of the free software can be ported to the Mac with not much hassle at all, and then the user gets the hardware/software matching that only Apple can provide.

In the end, I respect Linux and its users. I think that Linux has great advantages, but none of these port over well for desktop users.

I also have respect for Apple - they aren't just throwing marketing at us. They really have put a great front end on a great core: Unix!

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