A friend of mine recently upgraded her Mac to OS X 10.1.5 and I’ve been spending a little time helping her get some useful Free Software stuff added on. Being able to click up a terminal window on a Mac is pretty cool. The BSD-based Darwin is a bit weird when you’re used to Linux but it’s not bad. You can’t log in as root or su to root on OS X. Apache and SSH were included but there are a few other things that I thought it would be useful to add. I looked at several projects that are porting Free Software to the Mac and decided Fink looked like the best place to start.

The only thing I found odd about Fink was that they chose to port the Debian packaging system instead of using the native OS X system. This means you end up having to manage two completely different sets of packages. The Fink packages all install in a different directory than the native stuff and this makes it easier to avoid conflicts. This was also my first experience with the Debian package system. I’m an RPM man, myself but I found apt-get to be pretty cool (it does have some advantages over RPM). On the other hand, dpkg is as counterintuitive as vi. After playing with it for about 15 minutes without being able to figure out what it was trying to tell me (much less getting to the point of actually installing a package) I finally gave up and had to use control-c to get out of it (which is, at least, a little better than vi – the first time I started vi, I spent a half hour trying to find a key combination that would let me exit and finally had to kill it from another terminal).

The Apache that comes with OS X is a fairly basic setup but they provide pretty straightforward instructions on their website for setting up mod_perl, PHP, and even Tomcat. So I ended up keeping it rather than using the alternate Apache package from Fink.

The OS X GUI is pretty slick too. It’s way ahead of Gnome and KDE (okay, I haven’t actually tried the Gnome 2 release yet). The downside to all this is that it costs quite a bit, only runs on Mac hardware, and it’s non-free. So I’ll be sticking with Linux for now. But I think for the first time, I might recommend a Mac over a Windows box when there are no other choices.


Slashdot mentioned the SETI@home project today and it made me wonder why I haven’t been putting some of my idle processor cycles to work for a good cause. I visited the SETI@home site, downloaded the Linux and Solaris versions of their client programs and now have a PII450/Linux and Ultra10/Solaris box busy processing radio telescope data in their spare time. It seems to take about 60 seconds of file transfer time to keep a machine busy for 5 or 6 hours. I added the SETI@home logo at the bottom of my home page. So if you’re interested in helping out, click it and download a client for your machine. It’s easy to set up and even works on old, clucky platforms like Windows and MacOS.