Happy Birthday To My Favourite OS

I thought the 15th birthday of my favourite operating system was the perfect time to look at why I love it so.

I do love OS X, I certainly think it is the pinnacle of operating systems. Don’t get me wrong, I know it has faults and I am more than happy to enumerate them given the chance. It is, however, the best available operating system at the moment, it has been for many years.

Alan Kay, the scientist who worked at Xerox PARC on the first GUI, called the Macintosh “the first computer worth criticising”. I’ve always thought of OS X as “the first OS worth criticising”. In case you’re wondering why Alan Kay, he’s one of my gods. Go read his Wikipedia page.

Unix FTW

OS X starts the win right at the core. OS X is a Unix OS and right there is it’s biggest win over any OS from Microsoft.

Make no mistake, Unix derivatives are the most powerful and most common OSes on the planet. Your router almost certainly runs a variety of Unix, the computer it attaches to probably runs Linux and the web site you want to see probably runs Linux.

Linux has won the back-end OS war. Microsoft tries hard but it is only in traditional businesses that it still reigns supreme.

There are reasons for this. The two that make a difference for me are a good command shell and a powerful suite of utilities that run in the shell.

The command line on OS X is a powerful tool when you know how to use it and as someone who programmed on Unix boxes for ten years I use it constantly.

As well as that powerful command line OS X offers a multitude of tools such as Perl and Python interpreters, common Unix utilities such as grep and awk, and compilers for languages such as ‘C’ and ‘Haskell’.

The command line and these tools also makes it easier to use a great deal of open source software on the Mac than on Windows.

A Great Interface

The reason OS X wins over Linux is the GUI. Apple have spent a lot of time and money creating the Mac interface. It is well designed for ease of use. Tools such as Spotlight and the Finder’s find interface make it even easier.

One of the joys of Mac OS is that applications have a similar interface. This is called an “orthogonal interface”. You can see that the menus look similar and have similar keyboard shortcuts.

The interface of each is also highly discoverable. Just by looking at the menus you can discover what the app does and how to do it.

This is a huge advantage to the every day user. The great interface is the reason OS X is a better desktop OS than Linux.

For God’s Sake Back UP

I have worked in support for many, many years and the bane of a support technicians life is users who don’t back up their files.

The Mac has the easiest to use back up system ever. Time Machine is incredibly simple and user-friendly both to back up and restore lost files. If you don’t have your back up disk drive connected to your Mac all the time (as a laptop user I don’t) then it will nag you that there hasn’t been a back up for a while and then when you connect the drive it will start a back up within minutes. Connect a new external drive and Time Machine will ask if you want to use it as a target. Simple.

Powerful BIOS

Now we start to get down to some nitty-gritty details. As a system administrator there are some things Mac OS does better than any other OS and the BIOS is one of them. The Basic Input Output System is the core of the operating system that provides a layer between the software and the hardware.

On the Mac this layer, hidden in the ROM of each machine does a better job of insulating the OS from hardware and particularly hardware differences. You can build a Mac OS image that will run on all models of Mac going back several generations. This is not true of either Linux or particularly Windows.

On Windows it is almost impossible to build an image that runs properly on multiple models of machine without having to install extra device drivers. Even two examples of the same model from a single manufacturer might have different graphics cards requiring different drivers. This is not a problem on Mac OS, an OS X 10.11 image will run on any Mac built in the last several years without any problem.

This might not seem like much of a difference but I assure you it makes life easier for Mac system administrators.

Preferred Preference System

Now we get down to deep system mojo.

Your computer has to store a huge number of preferences. Not just for the operating system but also for all your apps.

How those preferences get stored is critical for system reliability and ease of change. Windows stores preferences in a special database called the registry. The registry is a huge stuff up. It required a special tool to edit when something goes wrong or you want to set a special preference not accessible from a control panel.

OS X on the other hand has a system based on individual preference files. There is a special command line utility called defaults that allows you to read or write an individual preference or you can treat the file as a text file. Dealing with preferences is easy on the Mac.

Good Administration Tools

Apple have a great set of tools, some shipped with the OS and some available from the App Store, for administering the Mac.

Text Edit is a nice little editor that can write text files, RTF and even Word format.

Disk Utility is a good disk formatting and partitioning tool. It can even create an image of a disk.

Activity Monitor is a good tool for discovering what is running on your Mac and the resources being consumed.

Console is a tool for reading all the log files on your Mac.

These are just four examples of the many tools that come with the Mac. On top of those are tools such as Xcode, a marvelous tool for developers, and Apple Remote Desktop which allows you to do a myriad of tasks on a Mac or a number of Macs remotely.

OS X FTW

Not only do Apple make the best, most durable hardware in the industry they also give you a brilliant operating system. You might be put off by the cost, let me assure you that not only will you be able to use a Mac longer than that PC from Harvey Norman but it will have a better resale value when you want to change.

I love my Mac and OS X. I’m perfectly ready to accept you might not agree, but for me, it’s the best.

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