Happy birthday, Jamf! On June 10th you turned 21!
But it’s not just your birthday this month. It’s also Charlie Root’s 30th birthday today! If it weren’t for Charlie, probably none of us would be here right now.
Who’s Charlie Root?
I consider myself an amateur digital spelunker and enjoy digging around the visible and hidden files of macOS to see what I can find.
Apple has hidden some iconic Easter eggs in macOS over the years. Some are well-known. Easter eggs are those delightful undocumented software features that you might stumble upon accidentally or if you’re paying a little extra attention. They’ve come and gone over different versions of macOS, but Ventura still has a few to uncover.
Look closely at the Maps icon and you’ll find the intersection of the 280 freeway and North Wolfe Road in Cupertino. In the upper right corner is Apple’s headquarters, the ring-shaped Apple Park.
Navigate to System > Library > CoreServices. Right-click CoreTypes.bundle and then look in Contents > Resources for either AllMyFiles.icns or ClippingText.icns. Double-click either icon file to open it in Preview. You’ll find the “Here’s to the crazy ones” speech made famous in Steve Jobs’ 1997 Apple commercial that reintroduced Apple to the world in its Think Different campaign.
My favorite was discovered more than a decade ago in 2012 and is still there today. Open Terminal, enter the following command, and press return:
You’ll find a list of dates and significant events from the Lord of the Rings calendar. The calendar has been in every version of macOS in a couple of forms. (If you’d like to know more about why this calendar is on your Mac, I gave a short history in my MacAdmins Conference Campfire session Speed Dating for Mac Admins last year.)
But Apple didn’t put the Lord of the Rings calendar there. It came with the FreeBSD project underlying macOS. That means FreeBSD came with its own set of Easter eggs.
I went looking for more and discovered other calendars in the same area including calendar.computer, calendar.music, and calendar.world. One was called calendar.freebsd.
When I looked at the calendar.freebsd file, I saw the names of more than 250 people and their birthdays. These were contributors to the FreeBSD project. To view this calendar, run this command in Terminal:
The oldest person was born in 1948, and most others were born in the 1950s-1980s. But the youngest one was born in 1993! Maybe a little too young to be a developer?
06/19 Charlie Root <root@FreeBSD.org> born in Portland, Oregon, United States, 1993
The email address of this person was odd too. The root account is supposed to be a reserved name in Unix. Who was Charlie Root? I searched online and found others who were wondering too:
Subject: Daily email from Charlie Root
Date: May 17, 2023
Charlie keeps messaging me each day.
I appreciate Charlie's concern for the care and feeding of my FreeBSD system.
Please, is there anything/s I need to do, or should do, to alleviate Charlie’s concerns ?
TIA's for any tips or clues.
I found a thread on the freebsd.org mailing list that was interesting. It was from 2005, almost 20 years earlier.
Subject: Who's "Charlie Root"?
Date: Sun Sep 11 04:57:17 PDT 2005
I've been using FreeBSD for quite a few years, and I've sometimes wondered but never asked before:
In the FreeBSD standard distribution, why is the user root always named Charlie?
There must be some bit of Unix lore or anecdote that explains it.
That seemed to answer my question about Charlie Root. “Charlie” is indeed the name of the root account on FreeBSD. But now I had more questions. How is June 19, 1993, Charlie’s birthday? And why is the root user named “Charlie”?
The answer to my first question was pretty easy to find online.
According to the FreeBSD Foundation, June 19 was declared FreeBSD Day. That day in 1993, was when FreeBSD got its official name. David Greenman (a Principal Architect at The FreeBSD Foundation) proposed it as an alternative to other names like BSDFree86 and Free86BSD, in his email to the BSD mailing list at the College of Engineering at Montana State University. His two sentences at the end of the message set FreeBSD on its path.
Subject: Re: "386BSD" trademark (fwd)
Date: Sat, 19 Jun 93 17:26:02 -0700
> Okay folks.. taking new name suggestions.. we have:
> BSDFree86 - Rod, who is going with Jordans improved NON BSDI name..
> Free86BSD - Jordan, Rod likes this one two...
> - (F86BSD for short)
> v v
> v This is the hat to drop yours in! v
> v v
How about just simply "FreeBSD"? No confusion, no fuss, seems like a good compromise to me. :-)
The root account is always part of a Unix operating system. It’s the first account on a Unix operating system. Thus, Charlie Root’s birthday is the day FreeBSD got its name. The first version of FreeBSD was released later in November 1993.
So, why is Charlie from Portland, Oregon? The FreeBSD Foundation is located in Boulder, Colorado. David Greenman himself is from Portland, Oregon.
That name goes back further in BSD Unix’s history.
FreeBSD was based on a short-lived project called 386BSD started in 1989. 386BSD had earlier origins dating all the way back to 1974 when UC Berkeley acquired a Unix source license from Bell Laboratories at AT&T and called their version “Berkeley UNIX” or “BSD”. Somewhere during development there at Berkeley seems to be where Charlie’s name appeared first.
Some threads on the FreeBSD forums offer a few interesting explanations. One poster said “Charlie” has been the traditional owner of the root account on Unix since 1970. Another post referenced the code changes between BSD 4 and 4.2, where root’s name changed from “Ernie Co-vax” to “Charlie”. (Ernie Kovacs was an American television comedian who influenced generations of comedians including Johnny Carson, Jimmy Kimmel, and Conan O’Brien, as well as shows like Saturday Night Live, The Muppet Show, and Mystery Science Theater 3000.)
When I looked at the referenced /etc/passwd file mentioned in the BSD 4.2 release from August 1983 (available in the srcsys.tar.gz file), sure enough, there was Charlie appearing 10 years before the first FreeBSD release. He was also listed with interesting company:
daemon:*:1:31:The devil himself:/:
And another post attributes Charlie’s name to Cubs baseball player Charlie Root, who had his peak season in 1927. The theory is the original BSD developers were Cubs fans.
No answer seems to provide a definitive history. Maybe that’ll take a bit more digital spelunking.
If we look at macOS today and try to find Charlie in the /etc/passwd file, we won’t find him. Instead, we’ll find “System Administrator”. And the devil himself appears to have been exorcized too.
The “System Administrator” name seems to be a change Apple made.
Happy birthday, Jamf! We’ll be blowing out 21 candles this month on cakes in our offices around the world.
Happy FreeBSD Day! It’s a good feeling to know our beloved macOS was born out of an earlier project that was also loved by its creators (who had a sense of humor too).
And happy 30th birthday, Charlie Root. Bertrand Serlet, was often called the father of Mac OS X (macOS today). We might think of Charlie as one of its uncles or at least a close cousin.
Now, we know your name! I’m happy to see you’re still around on FreeBSD
If you’ve gone digital spelunking and found something interesting on your Mac, let me know in the comments below. Or let others know what Easter eggs you’ve come across!
You must be a registered user to add a comment. If you've already registered, sign in. Otherwise, register and sign in.