The best of both worlds?

Regular readers of this column know that I'm quite a fan of the Apple Computer Inc. operating system and have been since the first version came out in 1983. I've also been a Unix geek for even longer. I cannot imagine how I would get my work done without Mac OS and Unix.

Up to now I've been using Tenon Intersystems' MachTen, a Unix program that runs as a Mac OS application, to enable me to have both on the same platform. With it, I can run Mac applications yet have a full-fledged Unix at my command. Now I can get the whole package from Apple - I picked up and installed a copy of OS X, Apple's new operating system, yesterday.

In Mac-mode, OS X improves on the current Macintosh user interface in a number of subtle and not so subtle ways - it's just different enough that it will take time to get used to some of it. Because OS X is installed with OS 9.1, the current Mac operating system, just about all current Mac applications can run in OS 9.1 mode. Some new applications can run in native OS X mode and benefit from the new user interface. But if all you got with OS X was the revised user interface it would not be that interesting or relevant to most readers of this column.

The thing that should be interesting to those of you who still use Unix (or Linux) is that under the covers OS X is a full-blown Unix system. Apple does not make this obvious in its documentation but Unix is there and can be used via a command line interface just like any other Unix versions. The command line interface is accessed through the "Terminal" application.

This is a quite complete Unix version, including a full development environment (442 applications in /usr/bin, 31 in /bin, 54 in /sbin, and 114 in /usr/sbin). I have not been able to discover that any BSD 4.4 application is missing, and many gnu applications are included.

So far I can find that only one of the Unix applications I depend on was not included and that is ssh. But the sources for ssh can be downloaded and compiled following the instructions in Articles/Workbench/OpenSSH-2.3-Mac OSX.html.

Meanwhile Tenon ( has developed a nice X Window server and a set of tools that can be used if you want to use OS X as a production Web server.

With only a day's worth of playing around, I'm sure I have not found many of the inevitable bugs or omissions but it sure looks good so far. If I were Apple, I would make OS X available for Intel platforms - that would make for an interesting contest. Next step, put OS X on my new Titanium G4 PowerBook - I can hardly wait!

Disclaimer: With 365 years behind it, Harvard knows how to wait even if I don't and the above is my own evaluation.

Bradner is a consultant with Harvard University's University Information Systems. He can be reached at

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