Debunking Mac Myths (*NIX Edition)
Contributed by Gary Rogers
January 25, 2002

Apple could get quite a bit of interest and maybe even a few evangelists by inviting Linux User Groups to the Apple Stores and showing off the UNIX goodness that is OS X.

Apple recently started a campaign to elicit converts from the Windows world. Along with a page on its Web site labeled Apple Myths, the company has been distributing printed material bearing the same information.

Apple is hoping that the introduction of its new iMac and digital hub suite will convince Windows folks to drop by their local Apple store and make the switch. This strategy is well and good, but I think the Apple marketing machine could and should target another segment of the population for conversion: the Linux/UNIX user.

Just as the iMac and digital hub will appeal to Windows users trying to make their lives simpler, so too the power of OS X has attracted and will continue to draw in the people who have flocked to Linux for its UNIX underpinnings and power.

OS X's UNIX ancestry has been almost an aside for the Apple marketing department. They seem to say: "Yes, we have UNIX and Apache, but don't be afraid, you don't have to see any of that."

I understand where they're coming from: They're playing to their current market, trying to soothe them into the OS X transition.

Macs to the Max

Unfortunately, I know of a large number of UNIX geeks who still harbor the misconception that the MacOS is for grade school.

The top ten misconceptions about the MacOS (*NIX edition):
1. Mac doesn't have a CLI. No longer true. Out-of-the-box OS X supports tcsh, csh, sh and zsh. Compiling bash (which most GNU/Linux users use) is trivial for the average Linux user.

2. MacOS crashes all the time. With OS X, the MacOS doesn't crash any more frequently than any other *BSD.

3. Networking is weak on MacOS. With its BSD roots, MacOS includes all of the command-line networking utilities that UNIX people are familiar with, and the OS includes the IP Filter firewall in the kernel. It also ships with support for remote mounting NFS, SMB and even WebDAV. Heck, it's got SSH installed and doesn't enable telnet by default.

Hardware's Not So Hard

4. Mac hardware costs more than x86 hardware. Apple hardware is priced similarly to both Dell or Compaq machines. Although the Macintosh costs more when compared with a home-built machine, the notion that Apple hardware is expensive is not true. The company's computers don't cost appreciably more than a manufactured x86-based computer.

5. Macs only have a 1-button mouse. Since when has a true geek used a mouse that was supplied with a computer? OS X supports three-button mice. Almost any standard USB mouse will work with a current Mac.

6. You can't expand a Mac. This is true to some extent with the iMac, and, of course, with laptops. The PowerMac is extensible with lots of PCI cards and uses standard IDE drives and standard SDRAM. Firewire, available with all Apple computers, is a very cool expansion technology once you see it in action.

Linux on Mac

7. You can't run Linux apps on Macs. The FINK project is working on porting more and more Linux applications to the Darwin OS (OS X's base is similar to Red Hat being the base of some versions of Linux), thus making great projects like XDarwin that are laying the groundwork for getting lots of Linux apps running on the Mac. The FINK project has even ported Debian's "apt-get" to OS X, making installation a snap.

8. Developing for OS X is a pain. Not true at all. Apple's Cocoa programming environment makes application development very easy and uses Objective-C (an object-extended version of regular old C) or Java as its base. In fact, Cocoa is a direct descendant of the NeXTSTEP development environment.

9. The Mac interface is a tired old washout. Not at all. The Aqua interface of Mac OS X has more in common with NeXT and OpenStep than with the classic Mac OS (shhh ... don't tell current Mac users.) The dock should be well-remembered by any Linux diehard who has used WindowMaker or Afterstep.

Out in the Open

10. But it's not open. The base OS, Darwin, is an open source project. It's true that OS X itself is proprietary. This open source configuration is similar to X Server and up when using Linux. Although OS X allows you to run XFree86 and your favorite window manager over Darwin and be completely open source (well, mostly), once you've seen the beauty of Aqua you may think twice about going back to Gnome or KDE.

The fact is that OS X has quite a lot going for it to appeal to a Linux/UNIX user. The developer community is alive and well, as can be seen by daily trips to VersionTracker.

Spread the Word

Apple could get quite a bit of interest and maybe even a few evangelists by inviting Linux User Groups to the Apple Stores and showing off the UNIX goodness that is OS X, or maybe just by marketing to the group.

Please, Apple, embrace the Linux/open source community. OS X is what some of us have been searching for. Get the word out to the rest of the lost flock.