This Is Not Mac OS 9

I recently got into an, uh, discussion with an associate about Mac OS X. The gist was Mac OS X hides “useful” things from people. He was told to try (from the Terminal command-line):

% grep 90210 /usr/share/misc/zipcodes

and enjoy the results. He then tried looking for that file using Finder, and Sherlock, only to get no results. Upon realizing this, he exploded:

“This is where OSX makes me CRAZY, and every little pulsating blob of blue glass on the screen just makes me want to PUNCH ITS FUCKING FACE IN that much more. Where is this file? Why can’t I find it?”

For those of you familar with Unix, you know that the file “zipcodes” is in a directory structure starting at “/usr“; this directory us part of the Unix heritage of Mac OS X, and as such, is hidden from “normal” users.

We went on and on for hours, hashing out the “it’s hidden from me and I don’t like that”, “It’s hidden from you because it’s Unix and you can easily access it anyway” argument.

He was pointed to the Terminal. “Terminal’s no friend of mine,” he retorted. “What, exactly, was wrong with The Finder? All I want to do is locate and open a file.”

Get to know your OS, I told him, directing him to the Go > Go to folder menu in the Finder, where he could enter “/usr/share/misc” and have the folder open.

“I really don’t like the idea that it’s the GUI that’s restricting my access to files,” he exclaimed. I reminded him that Apple made a concious decision to hide the Unix-y part of the OS as much as possible, but gave full access to the system for those who insisted on it.

He claimed Apple was acting as though their user-base was evenly divided “between butterfingered grannies and Unix ninjas” and that Apple was preventing the “average user” from accessing useful information. I pointed out that the vast majority of Apple’s Mac OS X users were anything but “Unix ninjas”, and could care less about the Unix side of things. I also noted that while those some of these files are indeed “useful,” they certaily aren’t “essential”, and still, the Finder will allow you access to them.

I felt that had he been aware of how to access these files, he wouldn’t be complaining that he couldn’t get access to these files; it irks me when people aren’t familiar with their tools and vocally display their ignorance.

Having (admittedly round-about) access to the files wasn’t enough. “What I’d really like to do is poke around inside to see what’s there,” he submitted. “Trust me to tell the difference between user-servicable parts and things I shouldn’t touch. Is there really and any differences from OS 9, where there’s something in my Extensions folder called “N065U Library” which my spidey sense says Don’t Just Trash It?”

So let me say this to everyone out there using Mac OS 9 and looking to move to Mac OS X.

This Is Not Mac OS 9.

Over the last two years or so, i’ve heard that complaint a million times, in fact, early on in my OS X career, and occasionally since then, I’ve made that complaint myself.

This Is Not Mac OS 9.

It’s a brand new operating system, based on Unix, with much of what made Mac OS 9 one of the easiest user interfaces available for computers. Note that i said “much”, not “all”.

This Is Not Mac OS 9.

Much of what is “hidden” in /etc, /usr, and so on are things that either didn’t exist in Mac OS 9 (and are there only as legacy bits because it’s Unix, and thus could be safely ignored by folks who don’t give a whit about Unix), or items that were previously subsumed by things like the System and Finder files. Those files were large, and contained many things that you couldn’t easily get to.

This Is Not Mac OS 9.

It’s Mac OS X, and it has its own quirks to get used to. Certainly, it hides some of what’s “under the hood” from 99.99% of the users, but it’s “under the hood”, it’s supposed to be hidden from 99.99% of the users… why should a user care about the Unix bits and all these extra files that they know nothing about? And yet, and yet, Mac OS X allows those who do care to get to the files! How much more flexibility do you need?

That’s what’s wonderful about Mac OS X. For those who don’t care, they can successfully use their machine without being encumbered by thousands of extra files on their system. For those who do care, they can get extra power from their system, at very litle cost, just by changing their expectations a tad and learning a just a bit of Unix.

Mac OS X makes it possible for people to use their machines as they see fit. You can’t please all of the people all of the time, but you can at least give them options.