OS X and ported software

Have you considered taking advant-age of free open-source software that may not otherwise be available as a native OS X application? Here we give you an introductory guide to finding, installing and running UNIX/Linux software that has been ported to Mac OS X.

Beneath the sleek user interface of the Mac OS X operating system lies a UNIX-based foundation called Darwin. In order to run graphical software originally designed for UNIX-based operating systems that has been ported (transferred) to Darwin (and therefore OS X), a display server known as an X Windowing system, or X11, is required.

Originally, this meant installing XDarwin (www.xdarwin.org), the OS X port of XFree86 (www.xfree86.org) and the most common windowing system for Linux. We provided a step-by-step guide to this method in the September 2002 issue (see it online here).

Last year Apple released a Public Beta version its own windowing system called X11 for Mac OS X (www.apple.com.au/macosx/features/x11). The company recently went one step farther by providing the window-ing system as an optional add-on when in--stalling OS 10.3 (Panther). Apple advises that you need at least OS 10.2.3 and 256MB RAM for the installation.

You can check if you already have X11 for Mac OS X installed by searching in the Applications-Utilities folder. You will need disc 3 of Panther to install X11 for Mac OS X or, alternatively, you can download the 41.7MB package from www.apple.com.au/macosx/features/x11. Once downloading has finished, X11 setup should automatically load.

Installation is straightforward: you need to know your Mac’s administrator password, and to which hard disk (volume) you want to install. When you’re done, click on the X11 icon in the Applications-Utilities folder.

Finding ported software

SourceForge (http://sourceforge.net) tracks just about every open-source project you’ve ever heard of, and the Freshmeat (http://freshmeat.net/) open-source index also lists native Mac OS X versions — just pull down the Section menu. Moreover, http://osx.freshmeat.net/browse/229/?topic_id=229 will take you to a listing of X11 software that should work on Mac OS X. Generally, the best way to find, download and install open-source ports for OS X is to use the command-line ‘Fink’ package management tool (http://fink.sourceforge.net) or its easier-to-use version complete with graphical interface called FinkCommander (http://finkcommander.sourceforge.net). Download and usage instructions are available at the respective pages and in the September 2002 issue mentioned above (or www.pcworld.idg.com.au).

People with a bit more X11 installation experience might like to check out DarwinPorts (http://darwinports.opendarwin.org) for more listings of usable ports.


If you need a fully-functional yet free office productivity suite, look no farther than OpenOffice.org. Here’s how to get it up and running. Download the 170MB Mac OS X in--stall-ation from www.openoffice.org/project/porting/mac/ooo-osx_downloads.html. Then mount the disk image, click the Install_OpenOffice.org icon and go through a Typical installation. Next, download a handy little utility called Start OpenOffice.org from www.geocities.com/terry_teague/openoffice.html.

Once installed, drag the Start OpenOffice.org icon to your Applications folder — you may also wish to drag it onto your dock for easy access. Click this icon to fire up OpenOffice.org and you’ll be asked to select your preferred XWindow server. Scroll down the bottom and select X11 then click Choose. You should now see a word processor, but if nothing starts up, go to Start OpenOffice.org’s File-New menu and you can choose from Text Document, Spreadsheet, Presentation and Drawing. You might also like to take a look at NeoOffice (http://neooffice.org), which is a prototype of sorts of a native Mac OS X version of OpenOffice.org while the atter is still in development.


The strangely-named The GIMP is an open-source multi-format image manipulation program which, although not quite as power-ful as Adobe’s Photoshop, is free and cross-platform compatible. To install, download the Mac OS X port from http://sourceforge.net/projects/gimpmac. Inside The GIMP for OS X folder will be a The GIMP icon. Copy this to your Applications folder and click it to start. If you find it doesn’t start, follow the instructions below.

X11 configuration

You’ll notice that when you right-click (-click if you have a single button mouse) the X11 icon in the dock, there’s an Applications menu (see far left side of FIGURE 1). Clicking Customize allows you to set your own quick links to start X11 programs. It can be a bit tricky, but is quite useful. For instance, if you couldn’t get The GIMP to start, try adding a new item, call it The GIMP and use /opt/local/bin/gimp-1.3 as the command path (see bottom right of FIGURE 1). You’ll now be able to start the program from X11’s Applications menu.

When you initially right-click on the X11 icon in the dock you can see which X11 programs are currently running. If you prefer the ability to switch more quickly between currently-open X11 software, a modified version of FSPanel (