Apple has continued its crusade to lure more Unix users to OS X by releasing a public beta of X11 for Mac OS X, which is based on the ubiquitous display server for Linux, XFree86 (www.xfree86.org).
Prior to X11 for Mac OS X (or simply X11), Unix zealots needed to install either XDarwin (www.xdarwin.org), which has a friendly GUI installer, or the standard XFree86 in order to run their beloved graphical applications. X11 changes all that and, in true Apple style, makes the experience painless.
I know what you?re thinking: why on Earth would Apple release another display environment for OS X after doing such a good job with Aqua? The simple answer is applications, and lots of them. Having XFree86 installed (either X11, XDarwin, or standard) on OS X provides the framework for running graphical Unix applications because hundreds have already been developed for the display server. Everything from the GIMP (www.gimp.org) for image manipulation to xMySQLadmin for MySQL (www.mysql.org) database administration can now be run on a Mac, and Apple is more than happy to flaunt this to prospective Unix and Linux defectors. However, it must be stressed that X11 will not install Unix applications automatically. The Fink project (http://fink.sourceforge.net) will help you with that.
Installing X11 is straightforward and follows the familiar OS X package routine. A few clicks later, X11 will be ready to run. The only things to note are that all 71.6MB of X11 must be installed on the disk (or partition) with the OS X system files on it, and if you have an existing X installation, such as XDarwin, it will backed up and cast aside during the install. I installed X11 on my G3 iBook, and in addition to being speedy at around five minutes the installation successfully backed up my XDarwin files and added itself to the suite of default OS X applications.
Upon starting X11 it?s easy to appreciate Apple?s claims of a more responsive and tightly integrated display environment than XDarwin. Furthermore, X11 has its own window manager (the program that sits on top of X11 allowing GUI apps to be controlled by windows) called quartz-wm. Quartz-wm brings Aqua windowing looks and functionality to X11 applications in much the same way OroborOSX (http://oroborosx.sf.net) will do, but faster. For example, X11 applications, such as the XTerm terminal emulator, can be minimized into the dock using the Genie or Scale effect.
Apple has admitted to a few known ?issues? with this release, such as X11 clients not appearing as separate programs when using command tab to cycle through them. However, after hours of continual use I found X11 stable, and with XFree86 4.3 shipping, expect to see the first stable version of X11 based on that.
The only real disappointment with X11 for Mac OS X is its lack of supporting documentation for actually installing GUI Unix applications. Without applications X11 is, well, X11. Only time will tell if this is the beginning of a wider push by Apple to embrace the treasure trove of free Unix software for the Mac.
As it?s free, the only question you need to ask yourself is whether you are interested in running GUI Unix software on your OS X system. If so, fire up X11.