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What is the Darwin Operating System? Try it with PureDarwin

Today is February 12th, “Darwin’s Day”, a naturalist famous for his theory of evolution. And what does this have to do with Apple? Little, really, except for his name…

Apple took the name of Darwin, after Charles Darwin, for its operating system. As we commented in the article “Are MacOS and Linux related? Unix? Here’s the truth”, Darwin is the Apple operating system that underlies macOS and iOS.

How to test Darwin in a virtual machine

What is the Darwin Operating System? Try it with PureDarwin
What is the Darwin Operating System? Try it with PureDarwin

What better day to test the Darwin operating system than on the anniversary of the birth of the famous Charles Darwin!

To test it we will use PureDarwin. PureDarwin is a community that decided to give continuity in 2007 to OpenDarwin, a project that aimed to bring the original Darwin to the public. Then, this community created two different versions that allow us to test this great Apple operating system, although with quite a few limitations.

And how did they get it? Very simple. Apple offers this operating system as free software. But don’t think that Apple has a website where you can download the installation or disk image. That’s the hard work the PureDarwin community has to do.

Testing PureDarwin Nano

One of the versions made by the community is this one, PureDarwin Nano, which as its name indicates, is a very light version.

To test it we will use a virtual machine, because it is not a 100% functional operating system. And what application will we use? Unfortunately, since it’s something a bit old, we’re quite limited. After several tests we concluded that the easiest way was using VMware (VirtualBox and Parallels give many problems).

Therefore, we will need to install VMware Fusion (or VMware Workstation) first.

Installing PureDarwin Nano into VMware

The first step will be to download the ready-made image provided by the PureDarwin community. Once we unzip it, we will get a *.vmwarevm file (if we don’t have VMware installed, it will come out as a folder).

To run it, simply drag the file into the VMware window.

Once this is done, we can start the newly created virtual machine.

Now we can execute the “uname -a” command, and it will come out that we are indeed in Darwin. Specifically, we are using Darwin 9, a rather old version that corresponds to Mac OS X Leopard.

And what is the current version? But… why tell you, when you can compare it yourself? To do so, just run that same command but on your Mac. For example, in Sierra macros we will get the Darwin 16 version, which is the latest one. It is also possible to execute that same command in an iOS device (if we have access to the terminal of it).

Testing PureDarwin Xmas

This is the other version of PureDarwin that we told you about at first. This version is already heavier, and therefore, it brings more things.

What is most striking is that we have a graphic interface here. In the previous version we only had the command line as a means of interaction, but this case we have a simple graphical interface.

PureDarwin Xmas has Window Maker, from the GNUstep project, for the graphical interface. This is very similar to NEXTSTEP, the operating system developed by NeXT before it was acquired by Apple. However, if you want to test the graphical interface of that operating system, this is not the best option. There are projects with several versions more functional than this one (leave us in the comments if you want us to bring a tutorial on how to test the graphical interface of NEXTSTEP).

Installing PureDarwin Xmas in VMware

The process is very similar to the previous one. The first thing will be to download the virtual machine provided by PureDarwin. Then we will decompress it and drag it to the main VMware screen to import it.

Once it is imported we will make a small change, we will increase the RAM memory. To do this we will go to the settings of the virtual machine. There we will go to the Processor and Memory configuration. There, we will be able to put the amount of RAM memory we want to assign to it, which we recommend to be between 256 and 1024 MB (the number of processors we will leave at 1).

Once this is done, we’ll start the virtual machine. We’ll soon see the Xmas desktop.

The interface is very simple to understand, although it can be a little scary at first. On the right we will have what is now the “Dock”, and on the left at the top we will have the different desktops (which we would now access with the “Mission Control”). At the bottom we’ll see the minimized applications, and if we right click we won’t see the context menu, but the main menu (the equivalent of the apple of our hands).

As before, we can also run the “uname -a” command here to check that we are indeed in Darwin 9.


As we can see, things are complicated. There is currently no project that seriously attempts to offer a version of Darwin to the general public. The closest thing to that is PureDarwin, but unfortunately the inactivity of the community prevents new versions from being released.

Also, as we could see throughout this tutorial, PureDarwin is quite limited, and although it is possible to install MacPorts (which would allow us to install new programs), the process is very complicated and the result is not very good.

Are you going to try PureDarwin to satisfy your curiosity? Would you like us to bring new tutorials in the future so that you can experience the past of the Apple and NeXT operating systems with your own hands?

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