Kill OS X’s Aqua

This is an exciting first for many Mac users… The chance to actually install and work face-to-face with a real UNIX operating system and command line. You may think this is complicated, but you’re actually adding industrial strength to your Mac with only a few simple clicks!

This week in Moof’in, I’m going to show how to install Darwin on your Mac. Darwin is the industrial-strength core of Mac OS X. Apple has been doing wonders with this modern open source miracle. Some of you may think the only way to use Darwin is by purchasing a copy of Mac OS X and dropping back to the command line via the Well, you’re wrong!

As a part of developing open source software, Apple has not only made the Darwin source code, but also full install binaries of this operating system free for public download. That means that anyone who would like to use the Darwin OS on their computer may do so with out having to compile the source code. Way to go Apple!

For those of you who haven’t been following this column for the past couple weeks, Darwin is basically Mac OS X minus Aqua (the graphical user interface). Apple offers Darwin on both the PowerPC platform (Mac) and as an X86 port (AMD/Pentium PCs). Since this is, I am going to install the PowerPC version of Darwin on my Mac, respectively.

Apple says the system requirements for Darwin are the same as Mac OS X. If you don’t yet own a copy of Mac OS X, or may have forgotten, here it is:

  • Any Apple iMac or PowerMacintosh* G3 or G4 System
  • Any Apple PowerBook G3**, iBook, or PowerBook G4
  • Suggested 128MBs of RAM (I bet you could get away with much less, since Darwin comes with no GUI).
  • Suggested 1.5GBs of available hard drive space (However, the full install comes out to be just under 500MBs)


* Excludes 3rd party processor upgrades

** All PowerBook G3s except the original PowerBook G3

If your system meets the suggested requirements from Apple, you’re set to go! If you need a little more beef in your box, don’t worry. The specifications above are suggested, which means Darwin may run perfectly fine on a lower-end system. Remember, you can’t bypass the processor requirement for Darwin or Mac OS X. However, you are able to fudge on the RAM and hard drive space.

As with installing any new operating system on your computer, you need to have a place to put it. Apple suggests putting Mac OS X on a separate partition from your existing Mac OS 9.1 System Folder. I know many people who have not listened and installed Mac OS X on the same HFS+ partition as Mac OS 9.1, and they paid dearly. Mac OS X can get confused and when designating Startup Disk privileges to Mac OS 9.1, and when Mac OS 9.1 boots, it may get confused and mess with OS X. Basically, you eventually get a huge mess and have to reformat your drive. As a word of wisdom from someone who has been there and done that… Keep the two OSes apart!

Luckily, you can’t screw yourself when having Darwin and OS 9.1 (or earlier) on your computer. An install of Darwin requires it’s own hard drive partition. I have heard of people installing it to a Zip or other removable drive media, but you are quite limited in what you are able to do once you get it installed. My advice is to put it on a real partition with at least 600MBs of space. Next week I’ll show you how to install a few simple programs onto your Darwin partition. If you plan to go beyond what I have planned for next week, and maybe add an X-window system (kind of UNIX GUI), you’ll need to allot more space than my minimum of 600MBs. Most “power users” keep a few 2GB or larger partitions on their systems for playing around with new operating systems, or for projects that might corrupt other files if not partitioned off from the boot disk.

If you aren’t familiar with partitioning, I’ll give you a few pointers in this paragraph. If you are familiar, feel free to skip to the next paragraph or skim through this one. According to WebOPedia (, the computer term “partition” is defined as, “To divide memory or mass storage into isolated sections…” These isolated sections appear to the Mac as different volumes. You can partition a drive in almost an unlimited number of configurations. Currently, I have 3 hard drives installed in my PowerMac G3 (Blue and While 450MHz, 768MBs RAM). I have one hard drive on the SCSI bus (from PCI card) and two hard drives on one of the ATA busses (this system has two ATA/33 busses). On the SCSI drive, the fastest of them all, I have two partitions. One of the partitions is a HFS+ formatted partition for Mac OS 9.1. The other partition on that drive is UFS formatted and contains Mac OS X. Since my SCSI drive is faster than both of my ATA drives, I chose to put operating systems on both partitions. It is important that you have your OS (and applications) on the fastest possible drive, for performance reasons. I like to use the bigger and slower drives for storage of huge files that I don’t use as often as most of my applications. There are many programs you can use to format and partition drives. Apple includes the handy Drive Setup utility as part of the standard Mac OS. If you haven’t moved or deleted it since you last installed your Mac OS 9.x operating system, Drive Setup can be found:

Hard Drive>Applications>Utilities>Drive Setup ƒ>Drive Setup

Beware that formatting your drive erases all data currently present on that drive. So if you are partitioning your startup disk, be sure to make a bootable backup copy that you can restore from after you partition the drive. In Drive Setup, you can select various configurations by adjusting the number and size of partitions, as well as the partition’s file structure format.

Darwin may either be installed on a UFS or HFS+ formatted partition. There are disadvantages and advantages to both of these. If you use UFS, Mac OS (9.x or prior) may have trouble “seeing” the partition through the Startup Disk control panel. This can easily be fixed by using the System Disk control panel, available from: (76KB, Stuffit Archive). An advantage of using UFS is that Mac OS 9.x won’t mount the partition as a volume on the desktop. This can be helpful because you don’t have to worry about the Mac OS creating a Desktop Database, or any applications creating any temp files on the drive. It is also more difficult to accidentally do something that may mess up the drive. An advantage to use HFS+ is that the Mac OS can see the drive, mount it on the desktop, and boot to it after selecting it in the Startup Disk control panel. By having the drive on the desktop as a volume, you are able to browse through the contents of the drive in the Mac OS, and make any file or directory changes much more quickly than by typing commands into Darwin. Select whatever format you will think works best for you.

Now that you understand the system requirements to run Darwin and have a suitable place to install Darwin, you need to get the installer!

As I said earlier in this article, Apple offers Darwin as a free download from their web site. Before you download Darwin, be sure to read Apple’s user agreement, found at: After you have read that, head on over to the Darwin download page: I was asked for a user name/password when I clicked the download link listed on the download page (above), simply leave both fields blank and click “OK” to begin the download. The complete install download of Darwin is 121MBs. I hope you have broadband access. If you don’t and still want to run Darwin, Apple offers a CD-ROM install, which you may purchase from a 3rd party, listed in the Darwin section of

 After you get the installer, installing Darwin is a snap! Double click on the Darwin self-mounting image and the Darwin installer image will mount as a volume on your desktop. Now, open the volume and be sure to read the “Read Me” files. When you are done with that, double click on the icon titled “Apple Software Restore.” You will launch the installer application and be presented with a window that will allow you to select the installation volume, etc., just like any other installer program. When you have selected what you want, and are ready to install, click the “Software Restore” button and the installation will start. After it is done, to get into Darwin, select the volume you installed Darwin on from either the System Disk or Startup Disk control panel and reboot. Beware that Darwin thinks it is the only OS you run on your computer, which it may not be in reality. The only way I have figured out to get back to any other Mac OS after using Darwin, was to boot from a CD and then select whatever startup disk I wanted. If anyone finds out a better method, please notify me and I’ll get a tidbit about that in next week’s article.

Have fun with Darwin. Play around with some of the commands I listed in prior articles, and be sure to check out this web site for more commands:

Next week I’ll show you how to install an application or two from Darwin with out using a GUI. So hold on to your partitions and get ready to start working next time! If anyone has an app they find useful or would like to suggest I install, please let me know.

My email address is:

Thanks, and have a good week!

Sam Burrish