OS X Software

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Here you will find some information about software you may find useful on a Mac.


Software for a new Mac

Here's a step-by-step setup guide for Mac OS 10.x

  1. First, you may want a web browser and E-mail client you're familiar with. Have a look at Firefox and Thunderbird
  2. You'll want to make sure that X11 is installed, so go here: X-Windows for OSX
  3. You'll also want to make sure the developers tools are installed, especially if you want to compile any code (or install Fink, which also requires them). Handy to have around anyway. Here's more: Developer Tools
  4. Fink and MacPorts allow you to easily download and install many Unix-friendly tools (such as a TeX formatter, editors, and much more). You can find more information here: Fink vs. MacPorts

For any other 'gotcha's and information, browse around this section. Also see the article Mac Info. If you can't find what you're looking for, then ask around on the mac-users mailing list, or contact us.

X-Windows for OS X


Since the release of OS 10.3 (Panther), the Apple X11 server is now shipped with the machine. You no longer have to go download it as a separate application, it should be on one of the CDs that come with the machine.


In Tiger (OS X 10.4), X11 can be found as part of the Optional Installs package on the install DVD. When the Installer gives you the list of packages to install, X11 is located under "Applications". Chances are most, if not all, the rest of the packages are already installed. So, unless you know you need another optional package, I recommend just installing X11 as installing everything will take a little while.


Apple finally started including X11 by default in OS X 10.5, so you shouldn't need to do anything special to add it. If for some strange reason it isn't installed, follow the instructions for 10.4.

Windows appearing off screen?

Some have had problems with X11 windows displaying off the screen occasionally. You need to create a .xinitrc with the following lines:

# This line sets the path
PATH = $PATH:/usr/X11R6/bin:/sw/bin:/usr/local/bin
export PATH

# Runs quartz-wm

Fink vs. MacPorts

There are two main options for getting a lot Unix tools installed on OS X, Fink and MacPorts. The biggest difference between the two is that Fink typically provides binaries, while MacPorts requires you to compile from source -- however, MacPorts also tends to have fresher packages because of this.

Update As of of this writing (2008-03-18), we highly recommend MacPorts. The fink project is completely stalled; they haven't updated anything in a while, and don't support OS X 10.5 as of yet.


This was formerly known as DarwinPorts. It takes a page from the FreeBSD ports system by providing you with a bunch of files which let you compile applications yourself. I've found that MacPorts tends to have fresher software than Fink. You can get more information on how to download and install it from http://www.macports.org/.

After installing the MacPorts base distribution, you will want to add /opt/local/bin to your PATH. Once you've done that, you can install ports by running sudo port install name_of_port, for whatever name_of_port happens to be. MacPorts has a full listing on their website.


You can get from http://fink.sourceforge.net. Follow the instructions provided and you'll find that Fink installs easily.

Fink gives you a package manager to install various open source programs, such as Vim, LaTeX, Ghostview, and many more. Once installed, browse through the package list and select those that you wish to have installed, and it will download and install them for you. If you have gcc installed as well, you can even have it compile packages from source.


If you prefer a graphical approach to installing software, then after installing Fink, grab a copy of "Fink Commander." As of more recent releases of Fink, it comes in the same disk image as Fink. Just drag and drop it into your Applications folder. It will go through Fink and generate a package list, and then give you a graphical interface to installing the source or binary packages on your Mac. It has a convenient autoupdate facility - if a new version of Fink Commander is available, the program will let you know and offer to download it for you.

Developer Tools

You'll probably want to install the OS X developer tools, which gives you a C compiler (gcc) and headers/libraries needed to link programs. While this is optional, it's a pretty good idea so that you have a compiler installed.

As of Panther (OS X 10.3), the Developer Tools have been renamed XCode. To install XCode (which includes gcc), OSX Install Disk 1, double-click the XCode Tools directory, and double-click "Developer.mpkg" (on 10.3) or "XcodeTools.mpkg" (on 10.4). Note that Apple's developer tools doesn't include a fortran compiler. For g77 or g95, you'll need to use Fink or Darwinports.

ssh-agent in OS X

If you want to be able to login to Peyton Hall servers you'll probably want to set up an ssh-agent. Click me to find out how!

Firefox and Thunderbird

While not strictly necessary, we recommend using Firefox and Thunderbird because they provide a bit of consistency across multiple platforms, which is nice if you switch between a Linux desktop and your Mac laptop on a regular basis. You can learn more in the Firefox and Thunderbird articles.

What happened to Mozilla?

The decision was made by the folks at the Mozilla foundation to split the web and mail functionality previously together in Mozilla into two separate applications. Development has halted on Mozilla and therefore we don't recommend using it any longer. If you really want both functions in a single application, have a look at SeaMonkey


Another good program is TeXShop, which is available here: http://www.uoregon.edu/~koch/texshop/texshop.html

From their website:
TeXShop is a TeX previewer for Mac OS X, written in Cocoa. Since pdf is a native file format on OS X, TeXShop uses "pdftex" and "pdflatex" rather than "tex" and "latex" to typeset; these programs in the standard teTeX distribution of TeX produce pdf output instead of dvi output. TeXShop uses TeXLive and teTeX, standard distributions of Tex programs for Unix machines. The distributions include tex, latex, dvips, tex fonts, cyrillic fonts,and virtually all other programs and supporting files commonly used in the TeX world.
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