X11 and the disturbing trend of Apple removing functionality from OS X

OS X Mountain Lion not only ships without X11, but actually removes X11 from your computer when you upgrade. If you're not familiar with X11, it's a networked graphical user interface that geeks and systems administrators alike use all the time, every day to connect to and run various UNIX applications. It might not sound like a mainstream feature, and it isn't, but it's something that let me and people like me do our jobs using the Mac. It let me connect to work via ssh and use X11 forwarding to view terminal applications, use tsclient, vnc etc... It let me be an Apple customer. And now it's gone.

My roots in UNIX and Linux, and I've always enjoyed using and tweaking them to my hearts content, from Gentoo, to FreeBSD to Ubuntu. A couple of years ago, I got tired of the tweaking and just wanted a beautiful Unix experience out of the box, where I could use Terminals, ssh connections, and X11 to keep getting work done, but have all the bells and whistles of a commercial operating system as well. I went with Mac OS X due to it’s BSD lineage and because it looked nice too. I could stay in Terminal all day, and enjoy the experience.

And now I'm wondering if I made a mistake.

There were always compromises and annoyances. The Terminal was always limited, copy and pasting text in it was non standard, there was no default repository for ports or applications. And no matter how many cores or how much RAM I threw at it, it would beachball when copying and pasting from one terminal to another using the default app on Mac OS X. I installed extra terms and macports and other third party applications to reduce the annoyance, but it seems I was fighting a losing battle.

Over the years, Apple began to neglect, or worse, remove more and more of the traditional UNIX portions of OS X.

Which brings me back to Mountain Lion and Apple coming into my machine and ripping out the X11, and giving me this when I search their knowledge base for answers:

X11 is not included with Mountain Lion, but X11 server and client libraries for OS X Mountain Lion are available from the XQuartz project: http://xquartz.macosforge.org. You should use XQuartz version 2.7.2 or later.

Apple also removed the perfectly functional RSS features from Mail and Safari in Mountain Lion. You can't even open an RSS file and preview it in Safari anymore. In previous years Apple stopped installing some features by default, including the Adobe Flash player, but removing features is a disturbing trend.

Imagine if Apple removes Terminal itself in the next version of OS X, or decides iMessage is the future and gets rid of Mail.app?

I'm installing XQuartz and I hope Apple provides support for it going forward. Without its UNIX underpinnings, the Mac becomes less useful for IT workers like me.

Apple is known for their user experience but this was a very bad one. Maybe they figure a UNIX geek like me is perfectly capable of searching their knowledge base and finding alternatives, and I certainly can and did.

But there's no knowledge base article to explain away the feeling of violation that comes with a vendor reaching into your personal computer, even during an OS upgrade, and removing something you depend on every day.

iOS 6 is Apple's next major OS update, and now I'm left to wonder, what if any functionality will that remove from my iPhone or iPad? Will RSS still work in mobile Safari? Will something else I rely on be gone?

And that's not the kind of thing Apple users, even the geeks, should have to worry about.

Anthony Casella