Marcos talked about the Mac App Store and the advantages it brings to Mac users. While I was (and am) excited about the App Store and the numerous applications I now have easy access to, my one big fear is coming true: previously-free applications now need to be paid for. With the App Store handling the marketing and payments, it becomes a lot more convenient for individual developers to stop offering their wares as open source projects; and we end up losing or paying for a lot of the applications that we used to just download. Now, Apple itself has started this trend with the release of XCode 4 which is now available for $4.99 via the App Store (unless you have already paid $99/yr for the iOS/Mac Developer’s package in which case XCode 4 is free); it used to be previously available after a free registration. While $4.99 is a pittance and and a not-so-recent version might still come bundled with a new Mac, it continues the Apple’s recent tendency to nickel-and-dime its customers and follows in the wake of not shipping the Apple Remote ($19.99) and the DVI/VGA adapters ($29.99) with the Apple laptops. Don’t get me wrong, $4.99 is a very, very low price for what XCode offers; for comparison, BBEdit, a high-performance HTML and text editor—and an excellent one but one that come without XCode’s libraries, tools, and utilities—goes for $99.99! What gets me is Apple’s need to wheedle an extra $4.99 out of its customers who have already paid a large premium for the computers.
So what does this mean for most astronomers who use emacs, vi, or eclipse rather than XCode for writing/debugging their code? What Xcode brings is the suite of developer tools—including but not limited to gcc, java, jikes, and gdb—that you need to compile code from its source. Hence, if you have a *nix emulator like MacPorts or Fink installed on your Mac, they use the Developer Tools; and you are out of luck**! To be able to use open-source software, you will, ironically, need to pay Apple first. Fink can install packages as binaries, which are available only for a limited number of packages, while MacPorts exclusively builds packages from source. If you program in C, C++, or Java—or, especially, if you use them only occasionally, XCode makes life much simpler for you. Of course, there is always the option of installing all of the libraries manually, in which case it might be easier to get a *nix box anyways.
** [footnote added based on comments below] You are only out-of-luck if you would have liked to upgrade to XCode 4 or future versions of the OS don’t ship with XCode. Your current install of Macports/Fink/Homebrew will be unaffected; and, for now, Apple still has Xcode 3 available for free.