The Unix Influence on Mac OS X

Mac OS X offers a wide range of choices for network management and system administration. You can continue to point and click, of course, but to get the most mileage out of Apple's OS, it's best to know as much about Unix as you can. Learn how and when to use Unix-based commands like 'sudo' and 'su' in this Managing Mac Networks article.

 By Jacqueline Emigh
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The Macintosh OS first rose to fame on the back of its slick graphical user interface (GUI). While the familiar graphical tools still greet users, Apple's most recent Mac operating system, the Unix-based OS X, also features a command line interface (CLI). As a result, many Mac network managers and systems administrators are eager to learn how to take advantage of Unix commands.

For complete and effective OS X management, administrators really "must know Unix," contends Schoun P. Regan, CEO of The Mac Trainers. In a packed classroom at the recent MacWorld Creative Pro Conference in New York City, Regan led a two-day OS X tutorial heavy on instruction in Unix commands, root setup, and "the sticky bit."

When it debuted two years ago, OS X was the first release in the history of the Mac to have Unix at its core. Apple's custom Unix system, Darwin, is based on BSD Unix and the Mach kernel. Advantages of Darwin include the CLI as well as protected memory, dynamic memory allocation, preemptive multi-tasking, application multi-threading, symmetric multi-processing, and open standards networking.

"Literally thousands of BSD commands and applications are supported. Most users will access these commands through the Terminal Application utility. Basically, when using commands you bypass graphical elements and 'talk' directly to the operating system," Regan said.

Some Mac managers have vehemently opposed inclusion of the Unix command line in OS X. "Has Apple gotten away from what people like most about the Mac OS? Let's see, if your Mac is acting funny, just go to a command line and enter a few totally unintuitive commands and you will be all set," wrote one administrator, in an Internet newsgroup.

Many administrators, though, disagree. "The only real difference is that now, the system is a lot more open for users who really want to get under the hood," responded another.

'Commanding Presence' for Unix

Like Rhapsody, an early development edition of OS X, the commercial OS X includes Terminal Application, a CLI that supports a variety of Unix command shells. Apple has also included tcsh as the default command shell.

For some time prior to the release of the original OS X, however, it was unclear whether the commercial product would follow in Rhapsody's footsteps. The possible omission of a command line did not sit well with some administrators, particularly those managing large crossplatform environments.

"Why is Apple willing to ignore nearly 30 years of Unix admin experience built up in the marketplace?" asked one admin. "One of the great virtues of Rhapsody (and potentially of Mac OS X) is that Unix people in IT organizations could start pulling Macs in as fully participating members of the infrastructure, amenable to the same administrative procedures that applied to the other Unix boxes they already had."

Page 2: Command Line Offers Speed and Power

This article was originally published on Jul 31, 2003
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