If I can snag a full-time job on campus, one of the first things I have been planning to do is buy a UNIX workstation (Sun Ultra 25, pSeries P5 520 Express) to handle day to day chores (E-mail, etc), and keep a Windows box on my desk for other things (gaming, writing code.) Unlike my Windows machines which get replaced every 1-2 years, a UNIX box would remain in use a lot longer until replaced, mainly because of the purpose difference. I also prefer a non-x86 platform for security reasons (mainly unproven theories and the fact that skills to attack most non-x86 platforms are extremely rare these days. In the time it takes to find an attack that is usable against a SPARC or pSeries machine, an attacker could easily work on attacks on Windows that would result in far more compromised machines.)
Because the UNIX box is going to be around for many years, I rather buy it from a reliable vendor than build it myself. Also, in general, the workmanship and quality of a SPARC or pSeries box is a lot higher than on all but the highest end PCs, so its built to be used for the long haul, unlike the 2-3 years like PCs are.
Well, found out my university has some decent deals on Mac Pros. Mac OS X (especially if I get unlimited user OS XS) is definitely a UNIX variant . Performance and price-wise, the Mac looks like it edges out the SPARC machine and the pSeries, especially the dual 3 GHz quad-core proc setup.
I'm not sure where to file the Mac Pro under. On one hand, it fits under the "expensive PC" category, because its x86 based and can run Windows. On the other hand, it fits under the "UNIX Workstation" category, because it runs a UNIX variant.
I feel dumb by asking this, but anyone know which category Mac Pros fall under?
: Purists can argue about this. NeXTStep was originally a BSD based on the Mach kernel, and MacOS is pretty much NeXTStep with a new UI. If one doubts MacOS is not based on a BSD, just take a look at the ps output. If one doubts its based on NeXTStep, just run "nidump hosts ." to have the Mac plop out the /etc/hosts file from NetInfo.
: App-wise, it appears it ships with everything one needs on a UNIX, from gcc to fetchmail and spamassassin.
: Yes, a PC with Linux can do the task, but part of the cost of the workstation is the build quality. Its not uncommon to see ten year old IBM RS/6000 or Sun SPARC machines still chugging along in some companies doing dedicated tasks (logging use of telco switches for billing is one example), with multi-year uptimes.
It's not quite clear to me what your differentiation is based on, but here's a shot at it.
I'd classify it as a unix variant, it's certainly that, complete with the Darwin unix kernel, more than an expensive PC. However, if you're looking really looking for something as open and hackable as a unix box, you're better off going w/one of the variants of true Unix. And, in terms of OS upgrades, tools, patches, etc., it's a lot more like a PC/Windows box (and Apple seems to be getting more like Microsoft every day). The Intel processor doesn't make it any more susceptable to viruses, etc. Nowadays, most successful viruses exploit word processor macros, or web-page gaffs.
I got my MacBook because OS X is the most user-friendly UNIX variant ever. As a person who modifies OpenBSD kernels, I don't NEED user-friendliness, but since I don't need Windows either, I like one platform to do everything.
As someone who has an RS/6000 (pSeries pre-cursor) and and a few Sparcs (ultra 5, several SparcStations) running in my lab and works with high-end, brand new UNIX stuff at work, I'll tell you that a Mac would be just fine at replacing AIX, Solaris or Linux. Just get FINK (a debian-based package / port system) and you'll be all set.
I love my mac, but I would never trade it for my Linux boxes. I've run very old x86 linux boxes with multi-year uptime, even Internet facing. I think my biggest beef with the mac is that the interface is designed to keep the user out of the internals. For most users who just want the machine for email, games, web browsing, video editing, etc that's the perfect setup. The OS protects the user from him or herself. I like to dig deeper into the OS, and try new and upcoming technologies, and in my experience, nothing lets you do that better than Linux or BSD. So, really, it's what you want out of the machine. The Mac is a great product, but you could build a much cheaper Unix workstation.
I've got a Mac SE/30 running openBSD that had a 1000+ day uptime. Mac OS itself can handle it, too. But saying Linux is a better desktop (read the original post) than Mac is an exercise in futility.
Also, Mac OS doesn't protect the user from the internals at all. I spend a LOT of time in the commandline, and you can easily edit the configuration from the command line if you want. I can load/unload modules (but rarely have to), change interface configs on the fly, or anything else that you'd normally do on the command line of a Linux or BSD box.
I'd say the OS X interface is designed to make it so the end-user doesn't NEED to get into the internals. Something that Linux has thus far been unable to accomplish. It's hard to find a distribution that works flawlessly for a novice. Eventually, something isn't going to work right, and the user will end up either calling a nerd friend over, doing some research and learning how to compile stuff from source or tweak the configuration by hand, or at worst they will retreat back to their safe little World of Windows. The Mac is designed to be pretty much foolproof, but it in no way locks the power user out. There's a single-user text console mode for worst-case-scenario troubleshooting. There's an easy-and-clean terminal application for running text apps, modifying configuration files manually, ssh-ing or sftp-ing your heart out, programming and running shell scripts, and compiling applications from source.
As a die-hard who started using Linux back in '93 when you had to swap floppies just to get a bare image up to format your hard drive, and as one who has used (and still uses) OpenBSD on a daily basis on the desktop and for servers, I can happily say that Mac OS X is still every bit as UNIXy as BSD or Linux.
This guy's obviously into the more established enterprise UNIX stuff, too. I don't know when the last time (if ever) you sat down at a really nice sun workstation and tinkered with Solaris, or fired up a pSeries and used AIX, but they're NOT Linux, and Linux will have a very, very hard time completely replacing those two.
Like I'd assume the original poster does, I also deal with Solaris and AIX all day long at work. Against these, OS X also competes very well. I like Solaris' Java Desktop System, a modified GNOME variant with Java, messaging, multimedia and internet features highly integrated. It still doesn't beat OS X's Aqua, though. Admittedly, I'm not a huge fan of GNOME as a whole, but Sun pulled off a pretty good execution of it. Truth be known, I'd take a NextSTEP-derived interface like WindowMaker over GNOME, and I usually do on my BSD and Linux boxes.
Sorry, but for Desktop use, I'd choose a Mac first, Solaris (x64 or Sparc-based) second, and BSD or Linux on a 64-bit PC third.
Actually I deal with Solaris and AIX every day as well, and the more I do, the more I appreciate the structure of Linux. One of our company's big pushes now is to migrate away from Solaris and AIX and standardize on Linux. And I also downloaded my first copy of Linux onto 50+ 3.5" diskettes at 2400 baud. Those were the days.
I don't believe I ever insinuated that Linux has a better desktop experience than OS X. If I did, I certainly didn't mean to. But I do believe that it delivers a better desktop experience than I've seen presented from either Solaris or AIX. Gnome and KDE are pretty, but pretty bloated. I prefer fluxbox on the desktop. I'm far more efficient with a stripped down GUI than with all the bells and whistles.
Again, it all depends on what you want to do with the machine. And I'd still take my Linux installs over Mac or Solaris any day. But, that's what works for me. Your mileage may vary.
It's kind of why I said read the original post. It sounds like he wants a fun, geeky workstation for his mundane work. Something that breaks the norm that will last a long time. My 400MHz Sun Ultra 5 is still my main Desktop, although I find myself using my new MacBook more than anything else, especially since it's nice outside and my wife and I spend more time out on the porch. I'm also really, really mobile. My backup desktop is a noisy 1U server running OpenBSD.
I run OpenBSD on my Sun Microsystems SS5, which is the only machine in my home firewall's DMZ. It's the gatekeeper, if you will... the only I can access from outside my home network. There are only a small number of things on my home network I can access from there, thanks to firewall rules. Of course, I can SSH to the firewall from there and add a new rule in the event I really, really need to access something, like to create an SSH tunnel for RDP to my wife's gaming rig.
my other Sun (SS20 dual CPU) and IBM (RS6K 43P, RS6K F30 and RS6K 250) boxes are less than spectacular. Mostly, they're used to lab test scripts and tools that I write. None of them would make good workstations, but they're okay as lab shell environments, internal web servers and the like.
I just don't see why "fun, geeky workstation for his mundane work" excludes Linux. I run a linux box as my firewall at home. Behind it I have a linux-ha cluster (two physical nodes) of Xen virtual servers, to isolate my DNS server, mail server, web server, and IRC server. All of which are capable of running on either node in a failover configuration. My wife's Macs and my Linux laptop have no outbound restrictions, but my daughter's XP machine is blocked for outbound connections to the Internet, except for web connections, which are proxied through Dan's Guardian. And of course, all email is scanned inbound and out with clamav and spamassassin. I have a VPN connection from my firewall to a friend of mine's so we can exchange files, as if we were on the same local network.
So, yes, yes we are nerds, and I for one ok with that. heh
the OP needs to reply, but I think it might be less about the OS and more about obscure non-PC hardware. IBM's really behind Linux, and so is Sun when it comes to desktops. Maybe a pSeries or Sun running Linux is an option.
Thanks for the help. All and all, I probably will end up with the Mac Pro, if I get this job. It does everything I expect from a UNIX box... and has the nice ability to run Windows, so I can run it dual-headed and get pretty much 100% of what I want done.
The main reason for a UNIX workstation. PC life is measured in 1-2 years. A UNIX workstation is built to last decades. Yes, it will be slow, but E-mail and Web browsing isn't CPU taxing, so the machine five years from now will still be serving its main function.
I agree with Cypress. and to the OP, that's the main reason I have the old ultra 5 around to this day. I can do web, IRC, SSH, email, word processing and all that jazz. And except for the occasional unix geek tinkering (shell, perl, php, MySQL or c development), it really doesn't do anything more, but it doesn't need to. It just works, and keeps chug-a-lugging along.
In December, it will be 10 years old. I have done nothing to it, not even up the RAM. Although, doubling the RAM would probably make OpenOffice load and run faster. I'm using online apps for more and more of my work though. I'm still not 100% sold on google docs, but I use the spreadsheets a lot. I just have trouble getting google docs to export a word or pdf file that's as clean looking as the online version. As long as I have a web browser and a shell, I'm happy for the most part.