Running Linux software on Mac OS X

We've previously looked at using Virtual PC ( to run software from another operating system such as Windows or Linux on your Mac. Now we'll use another method to run software used on Linux - alongside native OS X applications.

At the core of Mac OS X lies Darwin, a version of the BSD UNIX operating system that open source developers have used to port (transfer) code originally designed to run on UNIX and UNIX-like operating systems, such as Linux, to Mac OS X.

The first thing you'll need to do in order to run graphical Linux software on your Mac is to install an X server. XFree86 (, an open source dis­tribution of the X window system, gives Linux its graphical display. By installing XDarwin (, the Xfree86 port to OS X, Mac users can run additional Linux software that has been ported to Mac OS X.

One great source for a list of Linux software available for Mac OS X is the Fink project ( As a package management tool, Fink also helps automate the sometimes-involved process of installing Linux software from the Internet by downloading dependent packages as well as installing them once they've been received.

Step 1: XDarwin

Using Fink is the best way to install XDarwin. For Linux newbies, however, there's now an even easier way to install XDarwin on OS X 10.1: at you can download a 55MB graphical installer or purchase it on CD from for $US24.95.

When the download completes, the .sit file should automatically uncompress and you should see an XInstall icon on your desktop, or wherever you saved it. Double-click this to start installation.

You may be asked for the administrator login name and password. If you don't have these, you probably shouldn't be trying this - and, even if you do, remember to always back up your files before experimenting with software. Next, select English and click OK. The installation is pretty straightforward - just agree to defaults such as Full Installation and make sure you install XDarwin to your main OS X volume. Keep clicking Next until you see an X icon pop up in your OS X dock. Select Done to finish the installation.

Step 2: Fink

Download the 8.4MB Fink installer image from to your Mac. Once downloaded, double-click this .dmg file to mount the Fink installer on your desktop. Double-click the installer and, inside, double-click the Fink Installer package file. You'll once again need the administrator details to install Fink. Click on the lock on the lower-left of the Install window to enter this information, and click OK. Read the "ReadMe" and click Continue. Next, read the licence agreement and select Continue then OK. Select your OS X volume and hit Continue, then go through the last of the basic installation steps.

With the installation done, double-click your volume/hard disk icon on your desktop, navigate to the Applications-Utilities directory and double-click Terminal. At the prompt, type in pico .cshrc and in the simple text editor that appears, enter this line: source /sw/bin/init.cshPress -O on the keyboard to bring up a name to save the file as, press to accept what's there and then press -X to exit. Close this Terminal window and open a new one. At the new prompt, type fink scanpackages. You may need that administrator password again.

Step 3: Installing Gimp

The Gimp, strange as it sounds, is the name of an image manipulation program for Linux. Make sure you're connected to the Internet so you can use Fink's package management abilities to download it.

From the Terminal, type in fink list to bring up a list of available ported software for download. Begin downloading Gimp by using the following command: sudo apt-get install gimpFor the most part, the installation will be automatic; just select y for yes if you are prompted.

When you return to the prompt, close the Terminal window, double-click the red X icon located in your dock and select Rootless. Depending on the speed of your Mac, it may take a few moments for you to see the login window. Start Gimp by typing gimp into this window. The pro­gram may start minimised. If it does, just double-click it from the upper left of your screen. You're now running your first Linux application!

If you want to give your open source software windows a bit of the look and some functionality of OS X, I recommend installing OroborOSX from

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