Computers & Tech

How ‘Unix’ is OS X?

UNIX. You often hear this term among the computer specialists and geeks alike. What is it?

Many years ago, I read that Apple, instead of building a new kernel of their own to replace the aging one used in Mac OS 9, they decided to use a Unix kernel instead. I couldn’t understand why. At the time, I always believed that Apple preferred to stand apart from the lot. That was certainly the case in the mid 90s. Hardly anyone had an Apple device. Now the exact opposite is true. Times have changed.

So … What is UNIX?
Version_7_Unix_SIMH_PDP11_Emulation_DMRUNIX is an operating system. Plain and simple. It is a modular operating system developed in the 1970s that is so advanced that it can be run on a variety of systems & platforms.

Linux is a clone of Unix and if you think about it for a moment, if you are currently using an Android phone, you’re using Linux.

So what was Apple’s intention by switching over to Unix?

There were a couple more parts to the video, but I just wanted to focus on the Unix part with this article.


Apple’s ad to attract Unix / Linux developers to their new OS.

As the above ad suggests, Apple was attempting to attract more developers to the platform.
Once OS X was finally released, I read a review of a guy who never liked Apple computers and considered them toys. He was a developer on Unix and was thinking of buying an iMac for his wife. At the store, when he learned about the new Unix kernel, he tried a few things and soon fell in love with Apple’s new OS X. Instead of buying one computer, he bought two.

To be honest, I asked the very same question on a forum; how much of Unix is really in Mac OS X? As you can imagine, quite a few people had different views and while the responses came in, I felt like I had opened up a can of worms. Even though I’ve posted on quite a few stuff, I’m no professional or expert. Looking at the replies, there seemed to be serious discussion going on about the actual history of OS X’s Unix kernel and where it came from. Opinions also varied on how capable it was as compared to the respective kernels used in FreeBSD and Linux.

Adding fuel to the fire, I asked what could you do with a normal Linux distro, that you could not do with OS X. Again I got a few sarcastic replies, but I didn’t think that I made my question clear. If someone had  macbook that could run OS X and Linux /FreeBSD natively, what could he/she do with Linux /FreeBSD, that was not possible on OS X.

One of the biggest things that would be noticeable is that with Linux / FreeBSD, you could choose and customise your operating system to be optimal and make the best use of the hardware. There is a limitless supply of GUIs, programs, etc; more than suitable to fit whatever need.

So, How “UNIX” is OS X?
The answer… At the heart, every single bit of it. While this will still be debatable, OS X’s core may not look and feel like Unix in the traditional sense. But from what I’ve been told, in the right hands, it is just as capable and functional as anything from FreeBSD or Linux.
However the beauty of OS X is that it seems to get the best of both worlds. So those who know how, can take advantage of the usual Unix and FreeBSD features. And yet, if you need to use MS Office, Photoshop or any other mainstream software, you can run it natively. FreeBSD and Linux will need emulators like ‘wine’. While they do have their alternatives, which are capable in their own right; they still seem to lack the fit and finish of the paid & established products.

Frankly I do believe that as stated in my previous article – “Operating Systems – Does it matter what you use?“,

“Honestly the difference in between the Operating systems are not that big anymore. It really does not matter what you use. Whatever you want to do, you will be able to do it, no matter what system you are using. Granted some Operating systems are better at some things than others.”

Most of us who are using OS X, are probably not really exploring its full potential. While we use it for mostly for, media production, etc., there is a lot more than what meets the eye. So far, only a select few were bold enough to venture and scratch the surface have been able to explore it. There may be a steep learning curve, but I for one am willing to take the plunge to its depth.

4 replies »

  1. Not being a computer geek, I only got about half of what you said, but I do have a question. Does running the UNIX operating system on the Mac make is more susceptible to viruses? One of the upsides of owning an apple computer is that the virus situation seems to be controlled. When I used Microsoft and had to buy Norton or Mcafee, my computer was slow, or more susceptible to crashing, or would suddenly freeze up, and I think it was the anti-virus software although it could have been a series of crappy computers but I tried different ones. As they say, once you go Mac you never go back and there’s been no reason for me to in six years. Have a great day and thanks for the info. :0)

    • Thank you for the comment. UNIX is basically a family of operating systems that was developed in the 70s. You can find more information about it here – Unix . For the most part, it is an operating system that was favored by computer geeks because it is more technical and more secure. A lot of the stuff we call normal today like networking and the internet was actually on UNIX long before anyone else had it. There are computer geeks who are not fans of Apple and Mac OS. They look at an Mac as a toy rather than a serious machine. They like using operating systems like UNIX and Linux (Ubuntu, etc.)
      Without making it sound too complicated, my article simply was pointing out that Unix is at the heart or rather is the core of the Mac OS X. In other words, if you are using Mac OS, you are using Unix – plain and simple.
      This essentially means that by using the Unix core, Apple has made their system really secure and technically advanced.

    • Thanks for the comment and the greeting. I wish you a great day too.

      Sorry it took me so long to get reply to you. It isn’t that you will be running Unix separately, I was discussing the topic of the heart of Mac OS X (now know as MacOS); that it is essentially UNIX.
      To answer your question, much of the MacOS’ heart comes from the FreeBSD and the other BSDs. Without getting too technical, the BSDs are the continuation and the free versions of the UNIX operating system. One of the features is security; far better than what Microsoft will ever have with Windows. So Macs are less susceptible to viruses.

      “Once you go Mac, you never go back” – very true, unless you’re into serious gaming. LOL.

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