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Has BSD Unix passed up Linux?

Unix feature of Mac’s OS X shows lots of promise.

Linux, often maligned as not being a serious contender on the desktop, recently got a new round of thrashing from an unlikely source.

While Linux remains popular as ever as a server operating system, Linux on the desktop has always been a more difficult sell. That’s because Microsoft Office does not run on Linux, and many Linux desktop applications clearly lag behind their competition on Windows.

Recently, though, another competitor to Linux on the desktop has appeared, a competitor that attracts much of the same user base as Linux. That competitor is the Macintosh.

With a strong background in user interface design, the Macintosh has always provided a great user experience, especially for those new to computing. But the Macintosh all-graphical interface proved too restrictive for users accustomed to the freedom of a command-line shell and a configurable (if not replaceable) user interface, like that available on Linux.

MacOS X runs at its core a version of Unix called BSD Unix. Linux is also based on the Unix tradition, which means that MacOS X and Linux could appeal to many of the same users.

Now, Apple Computer claims that BSD Unix–specifically its version of BSD Unix–is three times more popular on the desktop than Linux. That’s due to MacOS X system sales, and it’s big news for BSD Unix, which has seemed left out of much of the hype surrounding Linux.

The advantage of the Macintosh approach is that while it runs Unix underneath, MacOS X provides a very elegant user interface, suitable for beginning computer users. Add the power and flexibility of Unix to the Macintosh user experience and you have a powerful combination, one that could spell trouble for Linux.

MacOS X offers a Unix command line shell, an appealing feature for Unix and Linux diehards. MacOS X also offers an easy integration to digital cameras, wireless networking, and other add-on devices. While you can connect most of these devices to Linux systems, the means to do so is often cumbersome and not for the faint of heart.

Users tired of fighting their hardware may well flock to MacOS X systems, with their ease of integration, desktop applications, including Microsoft Office, friendly interface, and absolutely beautiful hardware.

The main downside of the Macintosh world is that you are locked into one vendor for the systems, Apple Computer. Plus, you can only get MacOS X on PowerPC systems. Linux runs on PowerPC, Intel, and zillions of other systems, from small PDAs to large mainframes. Especially with the Intel-based systems, you can run Linux on relatively cheap hardware from multiple vendors. For Apple systems, you are stuck with one vendor. This alone may keep many Linux users in the fold.

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