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Apple hits all the right notes

My city's symphony orchestra is marvellous. In a lesser setting, any of the orchestra's musicians would be a marquee soloist, front and centre. But as an orchestra, about 100 consummately talented artists become one. The visual spectacle and the sociology of an orchestra is the reason I go to the symphony rather than buy the CD.

Those desirous of more excitement might fantasise all performers being free to bust loose with their takes on a piece. However, tradition favours the audience, the consumer; meaningful innovation does not serve the innovator first.

It seems to trivialise these ideas to make them a metaphor for technology. However, their genesis was rooted in technology rather than in music. I've had trouble putting across the basis for my belief that in IT and professional settings, Linux has a dim future. It adds emphasis to the point made here and central to my other work on the subject.

I don't refer to the Linux kernel, which, when not tampered with, corresponds strongly to what I'd call the orchestral (one conductor) tradition. Commercial Linux from Red Hat and Novell seek to replace traditional Unix with traditions of their own, distributions that seem to incorporate all noteworthy open-source projects rather than risk saying no to anyone.

There are hundreds of soloists on a Red Hat or Suse distribution, and it's left to the audience to decide which ones to listen to and to get them to play together.

Unix remains entrenched, in part, because it says no. Unix is fast, slim and predictable. Sun unquestionably traded performance for compatibility when it opened Solaris, a move that pleased open-source advocates but that made 386-optimised Linux look far faster by comparison.

There is another alternative. BSD Unix isn't a kernel, but a proper platform: a kernel, a standardised set of APIs (application programming interfaces), development tools, a mature and consistent set of commands and utilities, and thorough documentation. In ways, post-Berkeley BSD fell prey to Linux-like bloat. FreeBSD is now a tight, well-conducted project, but lacks Linux's advantages free press coverage and commercial backing.

Apple has brought BSD back into the public eye by making it the foundation of its Darwin OS (operating system), which is in turn the foundation of the OS X software platform. Apple is a strong believer in the orchestral model; Darwin distributions are skinny, reflecting Apple's willingness to make choices among dozens or hundreds of contenders in each functional category. Apple's selections become part of OS X. More than any commercial software platform for x86, OS X is unified and consistent. And soon, it will be Unix.

Apple has redesigned Leopard – Release 10.5 of its software platform – to meet The Open Group's requirements for compliance with the Unix standard. Those intimately familiar with both Unix and OS X know that this was necessary to create the ultimate platform – one that is faithful to the Unix tradition and to the users and operators of computer systems, networks and storage.

Commercial Linux is a gigantic stage filled with competing, gifted soloists. Unix is an orchestra of high reputation playing in a hall that is a gracious historic landmark. OS X is that orchestra, but one that has been moved to a lavish hall. Apple, Darwin and BSD will take computing to the next level by showing equal regard for tradition, performance and users.

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