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Punching Your Way Out of the Paper Bag

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When you sit there with your colleagues on Linux laptops and wonder how you can get where they go with your pathetic tools and finally give up and realise you can't - what can you do now?

Not much. Everyone who's come to the platform has realised the same thing. But whilst some were content to live in ignorant bliss others were not.

And created new toolsets such as this.

And the good news is there are ways you can have it too. You can choose either this programme or this programme. And if your daddy and mummy could afford to send you away they can certainly afford a few dollars more so you can learn properly and make them proud.

But those who created toolsets like that wandered around in the night for a while and essentially tried punching their way out of the paper bag like everybody else.

Path Finder

One of the first auxiliary tools you might find is Path Finder. Right away you see it will let you list 'invisible' files and that's a plus. But things start to slow down after that.

Path Finder is horrendously sluggish - and no wonder considering how it's built. [Hopefully they'll teach you better in CS 102.] It has something like a zillion gajillion embedded shared libraries and takes something like forty five zigabytes on disk. It's like replacing your entire system with one program.

In everything it does it's not Unix. It's the antipode. The 'contrarian'. The founders of Unix would never build things this way; if they'd tried everyone would have to use Windows today because Unix wouldn't exist. Be grateful they didn't.

But here is where it gets even more interesting. For Path Finder, despite its alarming lack of performance and despite its being armed with redundant functionality to the hilt, still can't do ordinary Unix file operations.

By all means try it - and make sure you get all the '.info' files hidden on your system and be sure you look everywhere - but you'll find the program comes up short in some of the most important areas.

  • Out of bounds directories. Your colleagues on Linux laptops will get to them but you won't. Not with Path Finder. Directories such as /.vol and /dev are not accessible with Path Finder (you'll be told they don't exist) because they run file systems Path Finder doesn't understand. But the Linux laptops understand them.
  • Sticky and set ID bits. These file mode bits are crucial to an understanding of Unix - and the source of continuing security woes on Mac OS X - but Path Finder won't even hint at their existence. They constitute the sum and substance of illicit privilege escalation and destructive intrusion and are a cornerstone of Unix design yet Path Finder doesn't see them at all.
  • Extraneous 'beige box cruft'. If you want to understand and maintain your system but are stymied by the 'underbody' that's alien to Unix you need tools to ferret these insolent critters out and find ways around them. Things like the 'Finder flags' for both directories and files have to be accessible. Yet Path Finder won't let you near them. You're stuck out in the cold, held hostage by the file system under you. And that's not the idea.

File Buddy

File Buddy isn't really a file manager despite what its author claims. It's a set of file management accessories. It's been in development for over ten years now. And if you know anything about the history of Apple you'll understand this therefore dates the program to before the days of 'Mac OS X' - and you should also know that Apple's 'MacOS' and 'Mac OS X' have nothing in common save the name.

Which means the author's gone through considerable trouble to update his baby from old 'toolbox' cruft to what he has today - something which is essentially impossible as the two systems are as disparate as the north and south poles.

File Buddy does offer you a lot of functionality you won't see on Path Finder but it stops short of offering you everything. This according to the author because most punters aren't interested in 'everything'.

But you aren't 'most punters' and you need to see everything. What to do?

According to the author of File Buddy you should try this app instead - which of course obviates the point of using a GUI in the first place.

/Applications/Utilities/Terminal.app

Fork Lift

Fork Lift is another 'Norton Commander' application. These might have been OK twenty five years ago when IBM PCs had four directories but they're certainly incompetent on modern Unix systems. The worst part of Fork Lift is you'll have no easy way to navigate around your file system. And you won't see much either. Certainly not the 'Unix' in your system - even if you manage to get to it.

Finder for Leopard

All the fanboys are going 'ooh' and 'aah' over the new features but the basic design remains the same. It's great if you don't really want to see those 100,000 files hidden on your Unix system or even know they exist. But it's not fine for the computer science student - not fine at all.

Finder for Leopard gives you a Microsoft inspired 'source bar' on the left where you can put references to your favourite network connections and most used directories. It's got room for about twenty of these. You system has something like 20,000 directories and who knows how many shares your LAN has.

If this 'source bar' were simply a 'quick bar' for fast access and if Finder for Leopard offered you a separate overview of your system then things would be fine. But it's not like that and never will be. 'Finder' - the version for Leopard or any version - is built for people who 'don't know', who Apple prefer 'never know', and that's not you.

Even GNOME and KDE have interfaces for beginners - for punters - but they can graduate to an 'advanced mode' as seen in those screenshots whereas Apple's 'Finder' cannot. Never could and never will.

[It's perhaps at this point you may be wondering how in heaven Apple engineers can navigate through their own systems if they totally lack the tools; but don't go there. Just don't. Ed.]

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