LINUX and The Mac (Pinky and the Brain?)


LINUX and The Mac
LINUX and The Mac
One is a genius, the other's insane... (which is which? :) )

Steve Jobs to Richard Stallman...
"Gee Richard, What are we gonna do tomorrow night?"

Whenever anyone thinks out loud about the future of computing and what direction the industry will be taking in the future, one word pops up, LINUX.

When people talk about solutions to Microsoft’s stranglehold on the industry, they don’t mention open standards. They don’t mention the Department of Justice. They certainly don’t mention the Macintosh OS or Mac OS X.

If “they” are willing to consider just for a moment, that there is a possibility of freedom from Microsoft in the future, they bring up LINUX.

If you scan the Internet today, there are probably many news articles and deeply thought out editorials concerning LINUX, the future of LINUX, how LINUX is impacting the world of embedded systems, IBM spending billions on LINUX and on.

If anything about Apple appears, and it’s not on a Mac Centric website, and it’s positive, it’s a big surprise in and of itself.

This is because LINUX is open source, it’s out there, it’s mature, it’s one hell of a server OS, it’s free (for the most part), and it runs on existing PC hardware.

Mac OS X still requires a Macintosh. This may or may not be a good thing and I don’t want to argue whether or not Mac OS X should be ported to the PC. What I do want to suggest is that there needs to be effort made, on the part of Apple and others, to promote the fundamental kinship that exists between Mac OS X and LINUX now.

Ironically, using the Mac under OS X is more like using LINUX than it is not.

I use both the Mac as a productivity/development box and a LINUX box as my own private little server. For the most part, the screen on the LINUX box stays dark. I tend to pop open the Mac’s terminal application and telnet into my LINUX server when I need to.

I’ve written scripts that run under the BASH shell for the Mac to automate a lot of the communication that I do with the LINUX box.

Here’s the kicker. Sometimes I forget which system I’m using. I’ll be in the terminal application, forget that I just connected to the LINUX box and start looking around for files (in directories that are duplicated on both systems). I’ll scratch my head sometimes for several seconds before I realize, “Oh yeah, I’m on the LINUX computer.”

I listened last week as many LINUX proponents claimed that GNOME and KDE are more user friendly than the Macintosh OS. They claimed that LINUX has stolen the mantle of most user friendly and most innovative from Apple.

You only have to sit down and use Aqua next to GNOME or KDE to see that this just isn’t anywhere close to being true. One of the big arguments in the USENET NewsGroups has to do with 2 mouse buttons making LINUX so much easier, if you can believe that.

Nonetheless, LINUX gets all the respect, in all areas except one.

If you ask anyone what the primary weakness of LINUX is, they will tell you that it is too difficult for the average person, and that it will never achieve dominance on the desktop.

Apple, however, may actually ship more UNIX based computers than anyone else in the next year. Apple has an easy to use desktop environment. Everyone complains that productivity apps just don’t stack up under LINUX. Well the Mac has Office and a whole hell of a lot more.

The point of all this, is that there has to be some kind of partisanship or concord that can be achieved by Apple with the LINUX world.

What if Macs were marketed as the ultimate client and LINUX as the ultimate sever? What if Apple marketed two types of servers? You could get a Mac running OS X server or you could get a Mac running Yellow Dog or Mandrake maybe...

Heck, IBM is about to spend a billion dollars on promoting and bolstering LINUX as its server platform of choice. IBM will likely pick up the Motorola chip division. IBM and Apple already have a common interest in the PowerPC. There is synergy there for sure. On the one hand they compete. On the other hand, they have more than one common enemy.

I think a dream organization might be one that had lots of Macs on the
desktop and LINUX running in the server room. IT staffers that are familiar with LINUX will have a very easy time moving to OS X. If Apple were to bring AppleShare to LINUX, this might make the combination very appealing, especially to people who are about to start new ventures, or spend a great deal of money migrating to XP and paying the blood money to M$ from there on.

Macs as development stations and LINUX as servers would be a great web development world. Bringing WebObjects to LINUX would also help to bring that outstanding yet barely used technology to the forefront.

I believe Apple has far more to gain by looking for ways to embrace the LINUX community. The LINUX community is full of passionate developers. I’d be willing to bet that if handled properly, it wouldn’t be difficult to bring these people over to OS X.

I believe the only disadvantage would the possibility of angering M$. Apple needs Office and IE, unfortunately. I notice that Apple, as a company, is conspicuously quite when it comes to Microsoft.

I just don’t think Apple will be able to remain relevant on its own, even if it is the most innovative computer company out there.

How do you feel?



Dis Member
The major sticking point in this equation is the GPL. But for that, and complications/fears arising from that, Apple could have shipped something resembling OSX a couple years ago, with MkLinux replacing BSD.


Dis Member
It's still around, barely - The R1 release has been 'nearly ready' for about a year, with periodic postings to the mklinux listserv that there were only a few more things to do and it should be ready within a week or so. I eventually just gave up & found an old 7200 and put debian on it.

I think Apple just hired the only person that was actively working on it (AFAIK) to work on Darwin.

Which sucks really, cause it's still the only *nix that runs on the first generation ?100 ppc macs.


Senior Lurker
Heheh xphile, see the rant I wrote in response (well, sort of in response :D ) to your message in the latest Mac OS X on PC thread (

I completely agree. Unfortunately Apple either has a long road ahead of it if it's trying to slowly break back into the market, or it's going to have to do some serious reshaping to survive the long-term (though the short-term still looks great!) - and that may include becoming a software-only company. Innovative case design and OS X.1 are a great couple of first steps, but they're going to have to continue the same pace (new, innovative, etc) to keep alive.

When I first started reading about OS X years ago I was really hoping for a lot of synergy between the Linux crowd (and the unix crowd in general) and OS X. There's definitely been a lot of great reactions, but not as explosive as I'd expected (or would have liked).

I actually have a lot of concerns about the future of Linux as a viable, developing OS, (way too OT for this thread), but I think you're describing a market that Apple should be working hard to develop and market to. An excellent example of the possible future of OS X - as you said, it and Linux have an awful lot in common...

As far as angering the M$ beast, let's hope that the DOJ keeps its sanity and continues the breakup - your statement should be much less of a concern in a world of mini-M$es. Though I'm sure that the concern about its effect on an IT industry with a really bad head cold are building up the political pressures to try to maintain the status quo...