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Bwana: A Helper for Mac OS X Terminal

© 2007 Lawrence I. Charters

Washington Apple Pi Journal, reprint information

Most Mac users never use Terminal to talk directly to Unix. Terminal is entirely text-based; you type in a command and, if the command makes sense, the Mac does something. But most Mac users have no clue how to type a command, or what the commands do. To be honest, even Mac gurus get confused; there are hundreds of Unix commands in Mac OS X, and each has a seemingly infinite number of possible variations. Even the built-in text-based manual pages (available by typing “man” at a prompt) are often of little help because you don’t know what it is you are trying to find.

So why not bring a bit of Web technology to Terminal? That is what Bwana does. Bwana is a tiny little application that does, essentially, nothing. You download it. You place it in your Applications directory. You never launch it or pay attention to it. Yet through a clever bit of Mac magic, Bwana makes the text-based manual pages available through your browser. It works in both Firefox and Safari, and presumably in any other browser you care to try (though no others were tested).

Once it is in your Applications directory, just go to the address window in your favorite browser and type:


to get a listing of all the man pages installed on your computer. (Make sure to include the semicolon after “man” or your browser will cheerfully take you to a porn site.) Unlike normal Terminal man pages, your browser displays the man pages in two columns, with hyperlinks to the relevant pages. There is also a handy search box, or you can use your browser’s page search capabilities to investigate the commands. Everything is nicely formatted and much easier to read than in Terminal and, since your Mac allows you to use both the Terminal and your favorite browser side by side, you can leave a man page open in Firefox, say, while testing the command in Terminal.

Bwana window

Bwana allows you to use your favorite Web browser to view the Unix man (manual) pages on your computer as if they were an indexed, browsable Web site.

Bwana, by the way, means “Mister” or “Sir” in Swahili, which the developer thought was a cute pun on “man” pages. Bwana is free.