[linux-elitists] Why haven't you switched to MacOS X yet?

Rick Moen rick@linuxmafia.com
Wed Jan 8 20:48:59 PST 2003

Quoting Michael Bacarella (mbac@netgraft.com):

> Wow, that explains why MacOS X reminded me so much of NeXT.
> I really thought their relationship was simply ideological and
> not a direct lineage.

Yes, you'll note that the line of descent isn't exactly stressed in
Apple Computer-funded infotainment materials (their Web site, etc.).  
That's probably because Apple doesn't want to make its camp-followers 
nervous with a too-complex story for mere reasons of historical accuracy.

> So where does FreeBSD come in?

Hoo-boy.  If I try to explain that in any detail, the detail-freaks are
probably going to swoop in to argue from all over the local galactic
cluster.  But, here's part of it.  (There is some degree of surmise in
the following.  I will attempt to be accurate in all major points.) 

Apple had to update NeXTStep, as the BSD fork it was based on was pretty
archaic.  Providentially for them, at the time this work got underway, 
Wind River's custody of FreeBSD and employment of many of its core team
was going badly sour, and would soon fall apart entirely.  Therefore,
Apple hired many of them as development staff, the best-known of them
being Jordan Hubbard.  They have gradually replaced many parts of the
userland code with modern FreeBSD codebases, and also borrowed from the
FreeBSD kernel for some pieces of Darwin's xnu one (which, as the other
guy and I were discussing, is a BSD personality layer heavily
interconnected with an otherwise underlying modified CMU Mach

Generally, Apple Computer's PR materials about this have, as far as I
can recall, been factually accurate as far as they go -- but (of late,
usually) completely omit all mention of the NeXTStep period.  Which, in
turn, means these discussions keep repeating in various on-line locales.

> I thought they had taken some verson of FreeBSD, appropriated
> userland, and literally ported the entire kernel to work against some
> unholy Mach/PPC setup.  Polish off with proprietary display system,
> UI, libraries, and serve.

A lot of people have arrived at that (not correct) conclusion.  Which is
why, on the rare occasions when I dip into repeats of this discussion, I
take some pains to explain the role of Steve Jobs's NeXT, Inc. and its
very eccentric BSD fork.

I should stress that I really, _really_ liked that fork at the time --
and that Objective-C is something I actually experimented with and was
able to grok, which is more than I can say for C++.  My lingering
affection for NeXTStep 4.0 is one reason why I favour the Window Manager
window manager to this day (it being an X11 approximation), and would be
absolutely delighted if GNUStep and Display Ghostscript ever succeed in
getting us off X11.

(Please see my remarks on GNUMail.app and Aileron, in
http://linuxmafia.com/~rick/linux-info/applications-muas.html .  If
you've used OS X's Mail.app, that's the re-release of NeXTStep's
Mail.app, which independently inspired the above and other open-source
imitations for the X11 environment.)

> Maybe I'm getting my timelines mixed up here.  Isn't it the
> case that Apple assists the mkLinux project for awhile, gets
> Linus to come down for a meeting, Jobs and Tevanian can't convince
> him to join forces, mkLinux support is dropped soon after, and
> they begin courting the FreeBSD crowd instead?

The earlier part of that sounds vaguely familiar, but is the sort of
corporate soap opera I don't follow very closely.  Again:  code and
licensing, licensing and code.

Yes, the mkLinux kernel and the MkLinux distribution (note distinction)
both owe their existence to Apple Computer sponsorship, which included a
little but not a lot of help with support for Apple hardware.  The
result is GPLed code, and has been a major help for all Freenixes on
PowerMacs and other PowerPC machines.  (See:
http://linuxmafia.com/~rick/faq/#powermaclinux)  And I don't know how
much support Apple still gives for mkLinux/MkLinux development.  It's
very likely much reduced from what it once was.

But I think Apple's FreeBSD involvement -- and related marketing noise
-- has more to do with (1) Apple's acquisition of (or reverse
acquisition by, as you might prefer) NeXT, Inc., followed by (2) the
tactical opportunity presented by subsequent troubled times at Wind
River Systems, Inc.

> We all know that Apple is just like a typical company, but even
> so that kind of behavior leaves me with an unsavory opinon.

In the long term, whether the company stays or goes, turns rotten or
smells like a rose... well, you've heard my refrain.

Cheers,                   I once successfully declined a departmental retreat,
Rick Moen                 saying that on that day I planned instead to advance.
rick@linuxmafia.com                  -- Alan J. Rosenthal, in the Monastery

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