January 17, 2005

Must-have applications for the open source Mac desktop

Author: Mark Waters

I bought my Apple Powerbook G4 in May 2002 after finding out it ran a *nix variant. The 'it just works' of Apple's Mac OS X was very tempting, but I didn't want to be without the open source applications I had come
to know and love. To the rescue came the DarwinPorts project, which gives you the tools to install open source software onto your computer easily.

Once you've installed DarwinPorts (see sidebar) you can run applications written for Linux under Mac OS X. Here's my list of must-have applications for Mac open source fans.

Midnight Commander

The Mac's Finder is nice for navigating, but Midnight Commander is my
favourite File Manager. It uses a dual window text mode interface that
works nicely both locally and remotely.

A nice feature I found recently is MC's ability to connect to remote
servers via the Shell Link, so instead of having to setup Samba, NFS, or
FTP, you can connect easily via SSH. To use it, press Escape-9, L, H to
bring up the dialogue box, then enter the remote servers details:


It will ask you for your remote user password, then display the
remote machine's filesystem in the left window and your local filesystem
in the right.

Installing DarwinPorts

Make sure you have installed X11 and the Apple's X-Code Developer Tools under Mac OS X before you start , these are included on the Mac OS X installation discs. Full instructions for installation of darwinports are available at the site. But I will cover the basics here to whet your appetite. You can either type these commands in manually, I prefer to use copy and paste though.

Open a Terminal (Finder: /Applications/Utilities/ ) and type the following:

% cd ~/
% cvs -d :pserver:anonymous@anoncvs.opendarwin.org:/Volumes/src/cvs/od login

When asked for a password, just press Return (you are logging into the opendarwin CVS site anonymously).

% cvs-d :pserver:anonymous@anoncvs.opendarwin.org:/Volumes/src/cvs/od co -P darwinports

This will download the latest version of the darwinports source code to your computer. Now we must compile and install it.

% cd ~/darwinports/base
% ./configure
% make
% sudo make install

The last command will ask for your admin password as it needs
to install the port utility into the system area of your

You will also need to edit the configuration file for the shell and add the path for darwinports.

Use % pico ~/.profile to open the configuration file in a text editor and add:

export PATH=$PATH:/opt/local/bin

Control-O to save the changes, then press Control-X to Quit.

Now that the difficult bit is done, installing applications is as easy as entering the command:

% sudo port install xxxxx

To get a list of available applications, try this:

% port list

To search for something specific use:

% port search xxxxx


If you feel limited by the AOL-only world of iChat, Gaim can open up
to you the universe of AIM, ICQ, Gadu-Gadu, Groupwise, IRC, Jabber, MSN,
Napster, Yahoo, and Zephyr protocols. Gaim features a tabbed chat window
that reduces desktop clutter, and offers various plug-ins and an open
chat logging format.


Even though the Mac is renowned for its graphics abilities, I never
managed to find a nice free image viewer. GQView fits the bill here. It
is easy to switch between windowed or full-screen mode, rotate images,
and zoom in and out.


The GIMP has all the features I need in a graphics package. You can
learn more about it from the free book 'Grokking the Gimp.'


I use Xpdf mainly for reading Web articles that I've 'printed' to
.pdf format under Firefox,
leaving Mac OS's native preview available for reading e-books. Xpdf
seems a bit slower than the preview utility, but it's more useful in
other ways. For example, It is easy to set the default zoom level (by
editing the .xpdfrc file in your home/user folder), it maximizes
more easily than Panther's preview, and it uses a single keypress for
most of its functions.


Usenet newsgroups are a way of finding and chatting to other people interested in specific subjects. Anyone with a newsreader can post a message to a group. I find it a good way to gather information, useful sites, and people's opinions.

I've played with a few native Aqua newsreaders, but always seem to
return to Pan. It has a nice clean interface and sensible keyboard


We all have incorrectly tagged or untagged MP3 files, and they are annoying when you find a decent MP3 library solution. EasyTag makes it easy
to correct these problems. It can fill the ID3 tag from the filename (or
the CDDB database online) or rename the file from the ID3 tags, and it
offers many other ways of cleaning up the information. After updating
and correcting missing ID3 tag data, your iTunes will look and work much

Mark Waters was a network administrator in the UK, but is now a slacker in France who spends his days playing with computers and his cats.

What are your must-have Linux applications? Write an article of less than 1,000 words telling us what essential apps you use and what you do with them. If we publish it, we'll pay you $100. Please use proper spelling, grammar, capitalization, and punctuation!


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