The Lumber Room

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Archive for January 1st, 2009

Macports and Fink: software packaging for Mac OS X

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One of the ways in which (good) Linux distributions—by which I mean Debian and Ubuntu—are better than Mac OS X is that it’s trivial to install, upgrade and uninstall packages: you just use the package management system.

On OS X, things aren’t so great. There is a good set of software that comes installed by default — Perl, Python, Bash, Zsh, CVS, Subversion, Emacs, Vim… — but at some point of time you’ll need more. (Mutt, MPlayer…)

This is where the likes of Macports and Fink come in. They package free software, somewhat analogous to what Linux distributions do, although neither comes close to any good distribution.

Fink was the first one I tried. They have a better-looking website and it says “Fink uses Debian tools like dpkg and apt-get to provide powerful binary package management.” Oh it’s like Debian, so it must be good, right? Wrong.
After trying Fink for a few months, I realised that using Debian tools does not a Debian make. As has been astutely observed, “the fanatical devotion of the Debian package maintainers makes the difference”. The packaging system — apt, dpkg — are just an offshoot of their great work, but without similar packagers, it’s no good. The Fink developers are competent and good, but their packages just aren’t satisfactory. Everything in their “stable” category is too old, and their “unstable” category really is unstable. And as far software with a GUI goes, they have only X11 apps, no Aqua ones.

Macports is more pragmatic. They have only one category, no stable v/s unstable. Everything is at the newest version that someone has managed to compile. They move fast, are more responsive to user questions, and have a more active IRC channel and mailing lists. They are also clearly less “l33t” than the Fink people, because their system is written in Tcl (really!) by people who have long since disappeared, and none of the current ones have a very good idea of what to do with the system. Nonetheless, they recognise that it is the packages that are important, not the system.
There are other bad things — (1) no binary packages, must compile from source. Improving. (2) Variants. Stupid idea, but could be worse.

Gentoo Prefix. I tried it. It’s Gentoo. It sucks.

Pkgsrc: Haven’t tried it.

Written by S

Thu, 2009-01-01 at 18:31:30

Posted in unfinished