Macports: Running Linux/BSD software directly on a Mac

I can hear “Mac purists” complaining about “polluting their computer with foreign software”. Sorry to dissapoint, but no computer, Mac or otherwise, is the be-all and end-all of computers. There are some things which work better on other platforms and conversely there are some things which work better on a Mac. The objective here is to add to the basic functionality of an excellent machine and make it better.

As the title suggest Macports is a way to add the functionality of other *NIX platforms to OS X. It is one of a series of packages which do pretty much the same thing. They go out to the Internet, download source code (and dependencies) of specified programs, compile them, then installed the compiled packages on the computer. For the geeks out there this will no doubt produce a “THIS IS FANTASTIC” reaction. For the non-geek, the translation is “this is a very good thing”. Compiling software for an individual machine means, depending on the quality of the compiler and source code, it would be very difficult to get faster and more stable software. Much of the software in the list has been reviewed, tested, and found to be good quality.

Macports is easy to use. It is run from the terminal and requires some typing. For example I found the ftp program installed in the shell to lack some features found in other programs. To install the ncftp program I typed the command “sudo port install ncftp”. After a few minutes the program was installed and running. It had to install the curses (cursor manipulation) package as a dependency first. The “sudo” is necessary unless the command is run from an administrator account. A special note… It is possible to install GUI programs (eg. gftp). However in order to run them it will be necessary to install a *NIX window manager. This means it will take up some space on the hard drive.

Other useful commands to know are “port help” for directions and “port list all” to get a complete list of programs which can be installed.

There are a few more games for Linux than there are for the Mac. This may help the Mac overcome its “game deficiency” ( ūüėČ

Installing Macports is simple. First make sure there is a lot of hard drive space. It is only necessary for the installation process. After that the actual amount of space used is quite small. Install the XCode either from the DVD which came with the computer or directly from Apple itself. Apply any updates if necessary. Get Macports ( Open the DMG file. Double-click on the only file in the folder which opens on the desktop. Once authenticated, that’s all.

One last thing… I was very impressed to find newer versions of software available in the Linux repositories.

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About the Author


Mike Pfaiffer was President of A.P.P.L.E. and also the president of Digital Civilization magazine, a monthly UNIX magaine. Mike wrote a number of articles for A.P.P.L.E. and sadly passed away 19 July 2013 at age 54.