Author, Software Engineer, and Mac OS Expert
This week, Stephen
Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with the noted Apple
expert, Brian Tiemann.
Brian Tiemann is a
freelance technology columnist and software engineer who has written
extensively in online magazines about the Macintosh, Apple software,
and the philosophy of user-friendly design. A creative professional
in the graphic arts and web-design world, he has used Mac OS X since
its introduction because of its UNIX-based stability underlying the
powerful built-in creative tools that let him bring his graphics,
music, movies, and photography to life. Having been a Mac user for
nearly twenty years, he has observed Apple's growth from a maker of
simple personal computers to the powerhouse of film production,
digital music, online lifestyle, and publishing that it is today.
His new book, “Mac OS X Panther in a Snap,” is a comprehensive
task-oriented guide to Apple's newest operating system, with
hundreds of step-by-step demonstrations of the tasks inherent to
using this complex piece of software to its full capacity.
A 1999 graduate of the
California Institute of Technology, Brian works in the field of
networking and software quality engineering, and his enthusiasm for
the open-source movement--particularly the FreeBSD operating
system--has led him to co-author “FreeBSD Unleashed” (translated
into three languages) and “Teach Yourself FreeBSD in 24 Hours,” both
from Sams Publishing.
Brian has contributed
articles to the online AppleLust magazine, and has appeared on KZYX
FM's "Point & Click Radio" program with Bob Laughton and Jim Heid.
Q: Brian, as an
acknowledged authority in the Mac environment and FreeBSD, we are
fortunate to have you with us to do this interview—thank you!
A: It's my pleasure.
Q: What triggered your
interest in computers?
A: I was one of those
kids whom you just couldn't keep away from the things. I always got
along better with machines than with other kids-- it's an old and
trite story, I'm afraid, but a true one in my case. I'm sure things
have changed a great deal in the public school system since I was
that age, but the computer labs full of Atari 400's and Apple II's
were always where I felt most at home. It wasn't until high school,
though, that I really started to see them more as tools, a means to
an end, rather than as an end in themselves. That's when I found
myself fascinated by CAD in my drafting classes; my first real
paying job was as an AutoCAD technician for a local hydraulic
cylinder company. I was only sixteen at the time, but it was one of
the most rewarding experiences of my life.
At the same time, I was
pushing the limits of my home PC by exploring raytracing, which we
now know today as the 3D modeling technology they use in movie
studios like Pixar. Even then I could tell that the applications you
ran on your computer, and the results you got with them, were a
whole lot more important than the details of the platform you were
running it on. So even though most of my formative years were spent
on DOS and Windows machines, I was always a bit envious of my
friends who had Macintoshes. They always seemed to know something I
Q: Describe your time at
the California Institute of Technology.
A: You know how they
always say you only remember the good things about college, and
never the bad? I'm already getting to that stage. It's all nostalgia
now. Even though I know how maddeningly difficult it was to flounder
along at a school that demanding, today all I remember is the
exhilarating intensity of the academic atmosphere there, as well as
the social architecture that was so unique about the place. You'll
never see that kind of thing anywhere else, I think. If you've ever
seen the movie "Real Genius," it was written to be reminiscent of
Even so, I wasn't quite
in my element there. Another famous aphorism is that "half the
students are in the bottom 50% of the class," and I can't claim to
have been some kind of academic superstar. I studied Mechanical
Engineering, but after two years it became clear to me that my heart
really wasn't in it. What really fascinated me was the Internet. It
sounds corny now to speak of the Internet with awe and reverence,
but when I first arrived on campus in 1994, the Web was brand-new,
and all the new technologies and techniques had yet to be invented.
I was in on the whole revolution. I had a movie fan site that I
established almost right away, using the Institute's computers; as
Web technologies developed, I kept changing the site to stay on the
cutting edge. I spent so much time working on it that I got
distracted from my work, and at a place like Caltech, that's
It was about then that I
had to take serious stock of my priorities and find a balancing
point. I started concentrating on server-side code development --
Perl, mostly -- of labor-saving administrative tools, which both
freed up my time from working on the site, and prepared me for what
I had the feeling would become my career, in the network technology
industry. This allowed me to focus better on my real priority, which
was graduating. I did that in 1999.
And wouldn't you know it,
I went straight to work in the networking technology field. Today I
do software quality engineering for a company making network
architecture products, but I can never just stick with one thing.
Now I'm writing books on FreeBSD and the Macintosh in what free time
I do have. That comes from all the time I spent working with
computers of all shapes and sizes in the labs on campus. I always
did find operating systems a lot more interesting than contour
Q: Please share your top
“amazing” lessons garnered through your work experiences.
A: Things I've learned
through my years in the tech sector have primarily to do with
user-interface theory, which I'll talk about a little later. But
that comes mostly from my experiences in designing infrastructural
Web tools for my company to use. My actual primary job is to
coordinate lots of computers together in elaborate test rigs,
sending Internet traffic from one machine to another, or to many
others, and measuring how it reacts to network conditions. Naturally
this kind of behavior varies a lot depending on what kinds of
computers you've got in the test harness. Generally I use FreeBSD,
because I've found it to stand up the best under heavy load; Linux
can be tuned to sustain similar punishment, but FreeBSD requires
less work to get it to a higher level of performance. For the
clients on the other end of the tests, I also use FreeBSD or Linux,
but just as often -- for instance, when it's necessary to test the
behavior of certain consumer network applications -- I use Windows
or a Mac.
If there's anything
"amazing" I can say I've seen, it's the absolutely surreal sight of
a Windows machine with two monitors, showing the "Press Ctrl+Alt+Del
to log in" screen. The dialog box was positioned exactly in the
center of the two monitors, straddling the seam, apparently thinking
the two monitors were actually one big unbroken screen. This is just
one example of the reasons why I adhere to the Mac platform for
getting useful work done; that, and the fact that every time I try
to install a copy of Windows 2000 on any lab machine anywhere, it
costs me an average of four wasted days, tracking down compatible
hardware, getting the CD-ROM to boot, installing drivers, and
overcoming the amazing array of obstacles that seem to affect only
me. Now, I don't mean to recommend that all companies should switch
to Macs; that's a fool's errand, tilting at windmills, and would in
all likelihood do more damage than good. But the Mac users in my
company all know, because they've experienced both sides of the
coin, what benefits are to be had by doing their primary work on a
Mac. It has its drawbacks, but they pale next to the concrete
benefits we enjoy.
Q: Can you detail your
current work and favorite projects?
A: Nominally, my job is
to build and execute test suites for my company's line of network
management products. But this is a lot more than simply writing down
a list of commands to type into the product and see what comes back.
It involves writing a lot of code of my own, in Perl and Python as
well as other languages, and building test tools to simulate real
user environments so the testing can be automated.
But what I really find
rewarding is writing architectural tools for the whole company to
use. I wrote our project management database, for example, and our
test-plan tracking system. I also wrote a document archival system
and a general status clearing-house site for our Engineering
department. The lessons I learned from this all had to do with
user-interface, and this is where the reawakening of my interest in
Apple really comes from. User-interface is difficult stuff. In
designing a system for the entire company to use, not just
engineers, you have to think about how a whole variety of people are
going to want to use an application, many of whom aren't technically
inclined at all. You have to make tough decisions about how the
program will be designed, what controls and choices should be made
available, how things should be worded, what the workflow should
look like, and how to engineer the users' experience so they will
want to use the system, of their own accord, instead of forcing them
to use it against their will. I've learned plenty through trial and
error in these projects, and I now have the utmost respect for Apple
and its software designers for putting so much of this hard work so
high on their list of priorities.
Computers, after all, to
most users are really nothing but the interface. "The interface is
the computer," as Sun might have said some years ago. The engineer's
job is to rig the back-end code in the computer so the user never
has to know what's really going on, which frees him or her up to
accomplish tasks that would have been impossible if understanding
the inner workings of the computer itself were a prerequisite to
getting results. That's the philosophy that Apple has internalized,
and it's something for which I have a great deal of regard. Apple
literally wrote the book on user-interface design, and they haven't
lost their touch. Quite the contrary -- they've freshened and
evolved more in the last few years than at any time since the days
of the first Mac.
Q: What attracts you to
A: This is often a loaded
question, especially if asked by a Linux fan! But really the
question almost always has to be understood in the context of the
Linux-dominated open-source world we now live in. It's really caught
a lot of people by surprise, for example, that Linux has risen to
such high standing, with corporate backers like IBM driving
development and adoption, and with Red Hat going to a commercial
model that belies its free-lunch roots. To a lot of people, Linux
and open-source software are synonymous.
FreeBSD, though, is both
like and unlike Linux. It's an operating system founded on similar
ideals of community development, but its model for that development
is subtly but importantly different. Linux operates primarily using
the GPL, or General Public License, which dictates that any code
under its terms can be modified for commercial or public use-- as
long as the author of the new code releases it back to the
open-source community. As you might imagine, not many companies are
willing to publish the code for their flagship products, so they shy
away from GPL software. But FreeBSD's BSD license is different in
that it allows commercial development but doesn't stipulate that the
new code must also be made open-source; this makes it a lot more
business-friendly. It's why Apple chose FreeBSD as the foundation
for most of its UNIX layer; it keeps them from having to be bound by
the ideology of the GPL.
philosophy of FreeBSD is also different in that it involves a small
cadre of core developers who check in new code changes submitted
from the field, rather than the hundreds or thousands of individual
developers, and dozens of different distributions, of Linux. The
Linux world is splintered into all these distributions, each of
which is subtly different in its architecture, and divided from the
kernel which is under the control of Linus Torvalds. If you're going
to get into Linux, you generally have to pick a distribution and
pledge your soul to it, and hope it's one of the ones that shoulders
its way to the forefront and stays current. But FreeBSD is a
complete operating system, all under the same central control, and
that makes its architecture immensely more predictable. Sometimes
FreeBSD lags behind Linux in new technology adoption, but many
large-scale hosting companies find that an acceptable trade-off if
it means better stability and more business-friendly licensing
Q: What are your views on
the open source movement?
A: I've always believed
in it quite strongly. However, I'm not one of those people who think
the whole world should be open-source. There's a place for
open-source software, and there's a place for closed-source
software. It all depends on what kind of applications you're talking
If what you want is
server software, open-source is a fine way to go. Server software is
patently designed for a certain purpose: it has to serve data
according to a published spec, and it should be subject to peer
review and rapid deployment of fixes in response to security issues.
User-interface isn't usually much of an issue, because server
software is generally used by highly technical people who don't need
much in the way of polished interfaces -- they appreciate
efficiency, but they can work around a byzantine design; it's far
more important that the application be complete and predictable in
its performance. For instance, the Apache Web server is a perfect
example of what open-source software is meant for: it's small,
efficient, flexible, complete, and accessible freely to anyone who
wants to use it. The MySQL and PostgreSQL databases are also great
illustrations of this philosophy at work: the question is always
"Does it do the right thing?" rather than "Is it easy to use?" When
there's an easily available goal for the software to meet, the
open-source model is a fine way to work towards it.
However, when it comes to
desktop software, open-source often falls flat. This is because in
desktop applications, user interface is king. There's seldom an
agreed-upon spec for what any given consumer application should do;
rather, the goal is to allow the user to perform some task with a
minimum of effort or technical know-how. For example, iMovie and
iDVD are applications that stood a very poor chance of being
developed first by the open-source community. They require licensing
of cutting-edge transport technologies like FireWire, and support
for the best and newest video equipment. They need heavy
optimization in the back-end to ensure that the application runs
smoothly and predictably. And most importantly, they've got to have
a strong central vision directing the design of the user interface,
conducting user trials, decreeing what should go where, and figuring
out what's the best way to enable the user to accomplish tasks.
Open-source projects seldom have this crucial central vision;
instead, what you get in the open-source world are thousands of
mavericks, each with his or her own visions for how the software
should work, and often unwilling to bend to someone else's vision.
(What kind of person tends to be attracted to Linux over Windows,
after all?) This is why the Linux and FreeBSD desktops careen
between the Gnome and KDE windowing systems, to say nothing of
Enlightenment and the lamented Nautilus; every time someone
disagrees with the direction of an open-source project, you get a
new splinter group operating under a different unifying vision.
Needless to say, this gets nowhere fast. This, more than any other
reason, is why Linux is gaining little traction on the desktop,
except for engineers who like to tinker with their computers anyway.
Q: What are the best
features in Mac OS X Panther?
A: 1) Exposé, without a
doubt. For years, even decades, Microsoft and Apple have been trying
to come up with the perfect solution for finding the window you're
looking for on your desktop. Windows 95 gave us the taskbar at the
bottom of the screen, to which you minimize windows; the Mac at the
same time had WindowShade, which rolled a window up into its own
title bar. But the taskbar meant you had to move your mouse to the
bottom of the screen to get a window back; with WindowShade, you
didn't have to move your mouse to see behind a window, but you ended
up with all these title bars floating around the screen. Then Mac OS
X gave us the Dock and its own minimize effects, and Windows XP
coalesced taskbar buttons based on application. But all these were
imperfect solutions until Exposé, which takes advantage of the speed
of modern computer hardware and the Quartz engine to shrink windows
in real-time and tile them across the screen, at the press of a
button, so you can visually select the window you want. It's one of
those ideas that's so obvious in hindsight it's hard to imagine
nobody thought of it before; now its time has come.
2) iDisk local
synchronization. Apple's been trying for years to move toward a
model where if you have multiple Macs, your productivity reflects
more than the sum of your individual computers. Panther turns iDisk
into a sort of virtual backpack; you can toss files into it, as
quickly as though it were a local disk, and then head to work or off
on the road. When you open up your laptop or sit down at your work
computer, the files you put on your iDisk are there at your
fingertips. No more mailing documents back and forth, or carrying
CD-Rs between home and work. It's all there, without a thought
3) Fast User Switching.
Windows XP actually implemented this first, but Apple's version is
way cooler. You have to see the transition effect to believe it. But
the functionality is more important than the eye-candy; it means
there's no more pain in using the computer's multi-user nature to
its fullest extent, sharing it among family members or classmates or
co-workers with no concern for privacy or for wasting time logging
in and out. Now there's more incentive to use one account per
person, as the system was designed.
4) iChat is greatly
enhanced now, with no-brainer audio and video chat capabilities
built-in. Apple has integrated iChat with your Address Book, and
Address Book with Mail, so you can fire up a chat with anyone else
who happens to be online straight from a Mail message or an Address
Book lookup. Video is also absurdly easy; just plug in a FireWire
camera, and iChat takes it from there.
5) iSync isn't new in
Panther, but it's still very important. It goes along with the iDisk
feature I mentioned earlier. If you add a bookmark in Safari, or a
contact card in Address Book, iSync propagates those changes to your
.Mac account and from there to all your other Macs. Just like your
local iDisk, your contacts and bookmarks are all available at all
times, no matter which computer you're using.
6) Safari is Apple's Web
browser, only a year old now, but rock-solid and almost 100%
compatible with de facto and de jure Web standards; it's built into
the operating system, much like Internet Explorer on Windows, using
a global Web layout engine. For instance, Mail now uses the same
HTML rendering libraries as Safari itself. Apple's decision to write
their own Web browser is well-advised, since Microsoft has lately
been quietly dropping support for many of their Mac products, such
as Internet Explorer. Whether this is a cause or an effect of
Apple's increasing devotion to application development is an open
question, but it's certainly good that Apple is cutting its
dependence on Microsoft products. Office is about all that's left.
7) FileVault is an
encryption scheme for your hard disk, account by account. The idea
is that you can encrypt your Home folder's contents using a password
only you (or your administrator) know; then, if your laptop gets
stolen, even if the thief yanks the hard drive out, your data is
safe from his prying eyes. This is a big step toward legitimacy of
the Mac in the high-powered business world, where PowerBooks are
selling like hotcakes because of the cool factor of their hardware.
Now the software matches up.
8) The Finder has been
redesigned to be more user-centric, opening new windows showing your
Home folder rather than the top level of the computer. This helps
ease the transition for newcomers to the Mac as well as to people
familiar with Mac OS 9. Apple has also, finally, put color labels
back into the system-- it's an indispensable feature for authors in
particular! I spent the whole time writing the first FreeBSD book
wishing I could mark the completed chapters by turning them green
like I always could on the old Mac OS.
Q: Sell us on your new
book—why this one and not others?
A: The "In a Snap" series
by Sams, of which my book is one of the first members, is designed
around a task-oriented structure, rather than the traditional
straight prose layout that most books use. If you take almost any
computer book down off the shelf and flip through it, you'll find
lots of chapters covering material divided up by conceptual area;
but you won't find an easy way to simply dive in at any random point
and get something done right off the bat. That's the idea behind the
"In a Snap" series. Instead of chapters, the primary element of
organization in the book is the task; you find the name of the task
you want to accomplish, such as "Burn a CD" or "Set Up Networking,"
and it gives you a step-by-step, fully illustrated walkthrough of
the task. If there are prerequisite tasks you should complete first,
it refers you to them; if there are other related tasks that you
might want to try afterwards, it points those out too. "Mac OS X
Panther In a Snap" is designed to help the reader get things done
immediately, without having to study the whole design philosophy of
the operating system before anything makes sense. It's a how-to
guide, in other words, not a textbook. I think this will really
resonate with readers, particularly those who aren't necessarily
beginners with computers, but who don't want to wade through endless
explanatory chapters before finding an obscure and incomplete
mention of the function they want to use.
Q: Can you give us your
top five tips from the book?
A: 1) When you're using
multiple user accounts (or multiple Macs), you can send files to
another user's account using their Drop Box folder, inside their
Public folder. This works just like a real drop box-- you can put
files into it, but you can't see inside it. Only the folder's owner
can open it up and retrieve its contents.
2) Enable and use the
Keyboard Viewer palette (it's the same thing as the old Key Caps
utility) and the Character Viewer palette; enable them in the
International Preferences. They let you see how to create special
accented characters using the Option key, and also to hunt down and
insert even more obscure characters such as letters from other
3) To change the default
application that all files of a certain type will open in, do a "Get
Info" on a file of that type and select a new application in the
"Open with" section of the Info window. Click "Change All" to apply
the new setting to all such files.
4) Panther lets you take
any printable item and fax it instead, treating a fax as a remote
printer. Just click "Fax" in the Print dialog, enter the fax number,
and Panther takes care of the rest.
5) A tip for use
throughout the operating system is: Get a .Mac account! Don't laugh;
it's actually really integral to many of Panther's new features,
like iDisk, iSync, and the iLife apps. It's $100 per year, but it's
money well spent if you have more than one Mac.
Q: Can you share your top
five tips about FreeBSD?
A: 1) Synchronize your
sources! Running a UNIX system means being constantly vigilant for
security patches; if you sync your sources nightly, applying a new
patch is only a few minutes' work, and may not even require a
2) Make sure to add
yourself to the "wheel" group before you lock your computer in a
co-location facility! Otherwise you won't be able to assume "root"
(super-user) capabilities, and you've got a lot of driving to do.
3) Always use the ports
collection to install software, and keep it current (using CVSup).
The ports give you the satisfaction of compiling your own software
for your unique setup, while providing comprehensive package
4) Don't get hung up on
uptime! It's fun to brag about a computer that's been running
uninterrupted for over a year; but show me a machine with 350-day
uptime, and I'll show you a machine with unpatched security holes.
5) No matter how high- or
low-profile your FreeBSD machine is, pick a security profile and
stick with it. Decide how much you trust your users, and don't allow
them any more leeway in the system than is absolutely necessary.
Don't be afraid to tighten up your security model as your system
grows over time!
Q: Do you have any
humorous stories to share?
A: In the last six
months, I can count five separate friends who have all bought new
12-inch PowerBooks. For several, it was their first Mac they ever
owned. One of them, a friend who lives near where I work, bought a
PowerBook that he uses by hooking it up to his large 20-inch CRT
monitor at home. I showed up for the Great Unpacking, the ritual
that accompanies any new Mac purchase, and supervised as he turned
it on and set it up. I gave him about a two-hour-long tutorial,
showing him all the customizations possible and showing him where to
go to do this and that. Then I left, expecting to have to come back
to show him the same things again; after all, who can absorb so much
information in one session?
Imagine my surprise when,
four days later, I visited again to find that he had set up custom
TCP/IP locations, rotating background images on both screens, and a
whole set of new applications he'd installed and put into the Dock.
He'd apparently internalized almost everything I told him, and found
out a lot of new stuff on his own. However, he had called me over to
help with a problem: "My Mac won't shut down!" He said that when he
told the system to shut down, it only beeped at him. Evidently his
brand-new Mac was already misbehaving, just like his old Windows
machine; I knew he'd become disillusioned with a lengthy
troubleshooting session and conclude that the Mac is no better than
his old PC. So I arrived at his apartment, ready to do battle, to do
whatever was necessary to restore working order. I sat down at his
computer and immediately saw the problem: he had a file-picker
window open, choosing a desktop picture in the System Preferences.
This blocks System Preferences from quitting, and the system from
shutting down. I clicked "Cancel," the sheet went away, and I shut
down the system with one more click.
He's now more convinced
than ever that he made the right decision. I didn't even charge him
for my expert services.
Q: What are the five most
important Apple and Open Source trends to watch, and please provide
A: 1) Apple is rapidly
becoming the most widely respected UNIX vendor in the market, much
to the astonishment of the pundits; go to any LinuxWorld Expo and
count the PowerBooks. Apple has already committed itself to many
high-profile open-source projects such as the KHTML code base
benefiting from Apple's work on Safari. Look for increasing
dedication to the open-source world on Apple's part in coming
months, including tighter integration of Linux technologies into Mac
2) Microsoft has gone
squarely on the offensive against Linux and UNIX, enlisting
corporate partners such as Unisys (sponsor of the anti-UNIX "We Have
the Way Out" site, which it was quickly revealed was originally
running on a FreeBSD server), and donating millions to the poisonous
SCO, which is now nothing more than a delaying action for SCO's
executives to pocket vested stock options, and a front for lawyers
attempting to bleed the Linux community of goodwill and money. It's
backfiring, though, and as SCO gradually goes down in flames,
Microsoft's role in enabling this power play will be made apparent.
3) Linux on the desktop
will make some high-profile inroads in coming months, with major
companies pledging to run KDE or Gnome desktop environments (or even
Lindows, the Linux-based Windows emulator, now that it has achieved
firm legal standing) on every machine from Engineering to Marketing
to the front desk. This won't last long, though, as the companies in
question discover just how much more important application
availability is than ideological purity.
4) Apple is moving
squarely upmarket, into the academic and scientific space with its
Xserve rack-mount units and clustering options, and into the
corporate enterprise space with high-end technologies such as
FileVault and built-in RAID capabilities. Look for Apple to continue
these movements with still greater commitments in these fields, such
as technologies to create massive multiprocessing server farms (an
embryonic project called "Xgrid" is running already) and centralized
login management similar to Windows' "domain" system.
5) On the CPU front, keep
an eye on the G5 and its successors. Apple and IBM are already
preparing for the release of the PowerPC 970's sequel, which some
report is called the PPC 976 (or G5 FX), with a smaller die size and
higher clock rate than the existing G5. Intel's Prescott chip has
entered the market with disappointing initial performance results
and future prospects (its extremely long instruction pipeline means
high clock rates are possible, but at the expense of poorer heat
dissipation and more damaging branch misprediction "bubbles"), and
it seems as though the G5 line stands to advance a lead in the CPU
speed race. The next year or two's battle will be fought between
Apple/IBM and AMD, rather than between Intel and Apple or even Intel
Q: What are your top
A: 1) Ars Technica (http://www.arstechnica.com),
the recognized authority for hardware and software analysis on all
the latest technologies.
2) VersionTracker (http://www.versiontracker.com),
the #1 clearing-house for Mac shareware; indispensable for any Mac
3) MacSurfer (http://www.macsurfer.com),
the most comprehensive daily list of Mac-related news links.
4) MacInTouch (http://www.macintouch.com),
the place to go for discussion of Mac hardware and software
troubleshooting and tracking of reported problems.
5) Slashdot (http://www.slashdot.org,
and its Apple subsection,
http://apple.slashdot.org), the best place to go for technology
news in general.
Q: What kind of computer
setup do you have?
A: I have a dual 2 GHz
Power Mac G5, bought as soon as it was announced. It replaced my
aging 450 MHz G4, and I've never been so happy. I also have a
flat-screen iMac at work, and an iBook that I use in between and on
the road. I also have a home network with a Linux and a FreeBSD
server, which I use to provide local mail delivery and DNS service
for the home as well as other sites I run.
Q: If you were doing this
interview, what three questions would you ask of someone in your
position and what would be your answers?
A: Q1: How did you get
into the business of writing technical books?
A1: In my case, it was
the recommendation of one of the users on my main FreeBSD system.
Michael Urban was the contracted author for "FreeBSD Unleashed," and
when he realized that he wouldn't be able to tackle the whole
project on his own, he approached me as the administrator of what
seemed to be a well-run FreeBSD system and asked if I'd be
interested in co-authoring it. I'd never done such a thing before,
but I like to live dangerously, I suppose. The resulting few years
have been both exhausting and exhilarating, and "Mac OS X Panther In
a Snap" is my first solo authorship. I'm very pleased with how this
new career is going.
Q2: How can you be both a
fan of the most austere, difficult-to-use operating system in the
world (UNIX) and the simplest, ostensibly most user-friendly
platform (the Mac)? Aren't these diametrically opposite philosophies
A2: Yes, but there's no
contradiction in my adhering to both. I think it's a fallacy that
one single operating system can serve all the needs of all computing
in the world. Some operating systems are simply better for certain
tasks than others. For instance, UNIX's strength is in its
scriptability, its remote access, its no-nonsense austerity, its
robustness, its ease of tinkering for maximum performance-- all
things that are severely lacking in a desktop platform like the Mac
or Windows. But those features are what UNIX users need a computer
for. They don't need the features that make the Mac or Windows
great, but that are lacking from UNIX, such as user-friendliness,
massive consumer software availability, limited configurability, and
so on. You'd never try to run a massively multi-processor weather
simulation on Windows, just as you'd never try to teach your
grandmother how to use UNIX for e-mail or digital music. The tragedy
is that many people are convinced that UNIX can be made into a
suitable desktop operating system, while others are trying
desperately to turn Windows into a top-end server platform. Neither
is designed or suited for such a role, nor should be forced into it.
Mac OS X, however, is an
interesting synthesis: a consumer desktop operating system designed
on top of a top-end server-class platform. If Apple wishes to run
Mac OS X in the same market space as traditional UNIX brands, while
at the same time being accessible on the consumer level, they are
uniquely positioned to succeed where nobody has done so to date.
Q3: Why put all this
effort into stumping for products from Apple? Hasn't the Mac been
relegated to the dustbin of history by the natural selection of
Windows by the consumer operating system market?
A3: People have been
confidently predicting the death of Apple for over fifteen years
now. True, many of the usual criticisms hold: Apple computers are
more expensive than Windows PCs; they have less software available;
there's less of a support network, both at home and in the
workplace; Bill Gates may be evil, but Steve Jobs is crazy as a
loon; yes, these are all valid concerns. However, it can hardly be
denied that Apple has been making a tremendous splash in the
computer market, far disproportionate to its share of the field,
ever since Jobs returned to the company in 1997. Back then, Apple
was uninteresting; its last great idea, the Newton, was floundering
for lack of a killer app, and most people viewed the Mac as a
has-been platform. But nowadays, everywhere you look on the street
you see iPod earbuds. Macs in their highly recognizable bodies are
all over movies and TV shows. Apple leads the digital-music
legitimacy race with the iTunes Music Store, catching the entire
rest of the industry flat-footed. Now the G5 is a genuine contender
for the performance crown, and the third fastest supercomputer in
the world is a bunch of Macs in a lab at Virginia Tech. Apple retail
stores are crowding out Gap outlets in fashionable malls, with each
new store drawing hundreds, even thousands, of attendees at its
grand opening. No company has had anything like this kind of vibrant
energy associated with it since the early days of the computer
revolution, and Apple's poised to ride the crest of all the hottest
waves in the tech biz, from open-source code to digital media to
centralized computer management, and all under the original mind
that directed Apple in its first formative years. We're now seeing
what kind of energy Apple could have had all this time if only Jobs
hadn't been forced out in 1986; just imagine where the Mac would be
today if the 90's had been anything like this decade has turned out
already to be.
Q: Brian, we appreciate
the time you spent in doing this interview—thank you!
A: It's been a real
pleasure. Thank you for giving me this opportunity!