A UNIX SysAdmin Makes Friends With a Mac

by Brian K. Jones

I've been administering production UNIX systems since 1998. I've been running Linux-and-only-Linux on my desktops and laptops for almost that same period of time. In 2003, after seeing an influx of Macs into our department, my boss asked if I'd keep a Mac around just so we could replicate any issues that were reported by our userbase to help them out. I found it perfectly usable, though at the time it was real work for me to get it to be usable for all of the things I'd need it to do at work, and I never was comfortable with it. Recently, however, I had the opportunity to get a new laptop through work, and I decided to give the new MacBook Pro a shot.

I really committed to making it my primary workhorse, shunning my nice dual-lcd-monitor linux box and a perfectly usable Gateway laptop ("the monster" - 17" screen and a full numeric keypad!!). It has been about one month since the MacBook Pro showed up, and I haven't had to use any other machine for about 2 weeks. It took a little bit of googling to find everything I needed, and there's still one or two pieces of the pie missing, but overall, I think I can definitely call this machine "admin ready".

So let's have a look at what I've done to my MacBook to make it worthy, and maybe some friendly readers can help me fill in some as yet missing pieces!


Matthew Sporleder
2006-07-22 05:26:03
http://www.mspo.com/Minicom2.1.zip is a pkg I made for minicom. I use it with a usb-serial adapter a lot. (I think it's also in fink, but I don't like to maintain fink/pkgsrc for the four programs I have to compile)
2006-07-22 11:35:49
If you use MySQL, you can use the Toolbench they've started working on (http://dev.mysql.com/downloads/workbench/1.0.html). I haven't played with it enough to see how flexible you can make it (read: export to something Postgres or someone else can import).

I recommend adding Growl (http://www.growl.info/) to your list. Very handy not just for its usual app support, but you can do something like:

./configure && make; growlnotify -m 'Hey, I finished making X.'

And it will bring up a little notification no matter what desktop you've gone to once it reaches that point. A very simple example, but this one goes on my list of things to install on new machines right along side DesktopManager (http://desktopmanager.berlios.de/), my preference.

2006-07-22 16:33:56
Minicom (which can be had from fink) works fine if you install the driver for your usb-serial setup. I use keyspans just fine. I have also had good luck with pyserial. Just expect the entry in /dev/ to be a bit whacky like tty.KeySerial1 or have a USA in it.
Istvan Belanszky
2006-07-23 07:32:45
Please, check fKeys for a low-level (.kext) keyboard remapper, it supports the MacBook Pro.

Backspace that delete key!

2006-07-24 01:28:52
iTerm, makes my world go Round and I switched from VI to TextMate.
WOW, I also recently switched and my Productivity Really Increased :)
Roger Weeks
2006-07-24 12:27:39
Keyspan USB-serial adapters work great with the Mac. I use them to connect my PB G4 to cisco routers all the time if I need a console.

For us old Mac-heads, aside from using Minicom through fink, you can also use ZTerm: http://homepage.mac.com/dalverson/zterm/ - note that it's a PPC app, not universal/intel.

2006-07-25 06:46:58
I used OS 10.2 for a while, but never found a decent terminal emulator that would do the right colorized syntax highlighting in ls and vim, stuff like that. Has this situation changed?
Brant Stevens
2006-07-30 21:52:02
Well, I haven't tried yet, but I'm not sure my old method of connecting directly to the serial port of a server using a USB-to-serial adapter will work. I haven't looked for a minicom or hypterterm package for the Mac, either. A smaller thing I'd like to fix (it hasn't made it to the top of the priority list yet) is I'd like the delete key on my keyboard to act like a backspace key.

Get the USB-Serial adapter from Keyspan (http://www.keyspan.com/products/usb/usa19hs/homepage.spml), install the universal binary drivers, and you should be good-to-go. I also recommend this Bluetooth-to-Serial (RS-232) adapter OEM'ed from SMART Technologies (http://www.zbausa.com/bluetooth_serial_port_adapter.asp)

Once they are installed, minicom, su, seyon, or ZTerm (GUI) will work without a problem.

2006-07-31 22:22:00
For database you could try DbVisualizer (www.minq.se) is a Java app so works with almost any database that has a JDBC adapter. The free version has most features, the paid version has spreadsheet like table editors etc.
2006-11-02 11:37:47
I made the jump to OS X a few months ago, too, and haven't looked back. My only pet peeve has been the Backspace (or big delete) key when using vi under iTerm on a remote linux box. Well, today I finally figured it out -- and since I couldn't find a decent explanation anywhere, I thought I'd post it here.

To get the Backspace key to act like Delete in iTerm:

1) open iTerm -> Preferences
2) in the General tab click Profiles...
3) select the Keyboard tab and select the profile you use for remote connections -- I use the linux profile
4) if your keyboard profile has a 'delete' mapping already assigned, remove it by highlighting that line and clicking the '-' button next to 'Mapping' below the list box (the default linux profile has 'delete' mapped, but not all of them do)
5) click the '+' button next to 'Mapping', select 'delete' from the 'Key' drop down box, select 'send hex code' from the 'Action' drop down box, and type '8' in the text box below 'Action'
6) Voila! Your Mac OS X keyboard should now send Delete on Backspace (just to clarify, this will erase the character to the left of the cursor when you hit the Backspace/big delete key)

This has been driving me crazy, so I hope it helps someone else. iTerm is very configurable when it comes to key mappings -- maybe too much so, in this case. I would've preferred a simple "Backspace sends Delete" check box, like the standard Terminal app that ships with OS X.

2006-11-02 11:47:25
Back again with one more comment... having fixed the Backspace problem, I noticed that the 'del' key also wasn't working correctly. The small 'del' key should erase the character to the right of the cursor. To accomplish this in iTerm, follow my previous steps -- this time selecting 'del' from the Key drop down box and sending hex code 7F.

My Mac keyboard finally acts like my old PC/linux keyboard did in remote sessions!