Image Image Image ImageImage
Creative Services for
Roughly Drafted
Daniel Eran

Image Image

Unraveling The Mac OS X Linux Kernel Myth: Part 3
According to proponents of this myth, Apple will, could, or should shortly replace Mac OS X's kernel with Linux. They're wrong; here's why.

Part 1 introduced the myth and looked at the buzz behind Linux. Part 2 examined the claims that Linux is inherently so much faster by design. Here I'll take apart a third arguement given for moving Mac OS X to a Linux kernel:

Linux' Support as an Industry Standard
The final reason given for moving Mac OS X to the Linux kernel is the broad industry support behind it. Heavyweights like IBM, HP and Sun (among many others) have all announced far reaching initiatives to support Linux development, and many huge investments have already been made by these companies. While related to the Buzz of Linux, I bring it up separately as a more significant and substantial motivation; it's not just hype, but real action within the tech industry.

After all, Apple made the move to Intel in part to take advantage of the rapid developments in the x86 world that Apple would otherwise have to drive on its own as the only remaining PowerPC based workstation vendor. Similarly, Apple's move to a Unix-like operating system with Mac OS X likewise allowed them to benefit from the economies of scale behind Unix OS and application development.

So how much would Apple benefit from Linux' standing as an industry standard? Linux development as a whole drives the POSIX platform - the userland of Unix-like software that has little dependance on a specific kernel. Apple already has access to that software.

Much of the industry support behind Linux is devoted toward supporting the Linux kernel on each vendor's own hardware. None of Sun's efforts to adapt Linux to work on SPARC, for example, would have much benefit to Apple.

From that perspective, Apple would hardly be better situated on Linux over their existing kernel. The majority of key technology advances driven by Linux is either already directly transferable to Apple's Darwin/Mac OS X platform, or would not benefit Apple anyway.

Bucking the Standard
A good example of an industry standard that Apple deliberately passed on is X Window. In the early days of Mac OS X, Apple found that the unique Display PostScript window server in NeXTSTEP was encumbered by Adobe's licensing and needed to be replaced. To the casual bystander, the obvious solution would be for Apple to base its new window server on X Window, the existing standard for building a graphic user interface on Unix-like systems.

However, X didn't support the kind of features Apple wanted for Mac OS X; by the time Apple built all the desired features into X Window, the standard wouldn't be standard anymore. Being only nominally based on the X standard would only incur a lot of design compromises and make development more difficult.

Similarly, by the time Apple added enough features to Linux to make it suitable for Mac OS X, it wouldn't be Linux anymore, but rather a proprietary fork of Linux that nobody else used. A lot of pointless development work with little upside!
BSD: a better Linux than Linux?
"The great thing about standards", goes the saying, "is there's so many to choose from." Such is the case with Unix. As noted earlier, Linux originated to fill a need for a free kernel that could run on the common PCs of the day. The other free alternative, BSDi, was getting sued by AT&T. Had BSD's future not been in question, Linux might never have existed.

Instead, Linux got a jumpstart on BSD, and for some time, it looked like BSD might never recover from the delays incurred by the lawsuit. An ongoing troll joke on Slashdot involves allusions to the intentially inflamatory comment "Netcraft confirms it: BSD is dead."

Today, BSD is alive and well; it has forked out into several branches, with each project focusing on different goals. For example, OpenBSD targets security, NetBSD strives for portability, FreeBSD aims at performance. There are a number of reasons why BSD is chosen over Linux in some applications.

Apple didn't just inherit BSD from NeXT; there are reasons why they stuck with it over moving to Linux. The BSD ecosystem provides Apple with access to a broad range of dynamic development efforts, and the freedom of working with several independent projects.

Next, I'll present some significant reasons for Apple not moving to Linux in:

Unraveling The Mac OS X Linux Kernel Myth Part 4

| | Digg


More Journal Entries | More Tech Articles | Get Tech Support | My Resume | Links | Contact RoughlyDrafted

Articles Copyright © 2006 Daniel Eran. All rights reserved.
Suggestions and comments welcome. Contact RoughlyDrafted.

Read more about:
Click one of the links above to display related articles on this page.