In macosx (and perhaps all BSDs?), the command you were looking for is ktrace. In Linux it's called strace, on Solaris it's called truss.
A search on google for "unix rosetta stone" helps in these cases. :)
Also, I suspect the reason you had trouble with the linker is because the mac uses Mach-O binaries, not ELF binaries. There are some significant differences.
I don't think new features like "spotlight" should be dismissed so easily. It's increased my productivity and changed the way I use a computer for the better.