GNU-Darwin is a project to package applications for the OS X and Darwin operating systems. They also distribute versions of the Darwin operating system (produced by Apple) and the OpenDarwin operating system which is based on Darwin, although the versions they distribute tend to lag behind the current releases. The project states that its goals are to "focus on projects that leverage our unique combination of Darwin and GNU, and help users to enjoy the benefits of software freedom."
Originally, Love had intended to re-write the software to use the Quartz graphics layer that OS X uses by default. After the XonX project ported the X Window System to Mac OS X and Darwin, however, the goals of the GNU-Darwin project changed to simply packaging software to work with the X Window System.
In 2002, the GNU-Darwin group launched a campaign they called "Free Darwin" that was aimed at pressuring Apple to modify the Apple Public Source License (APSL) under which Darwin is licensed. The Free Darwin campaign culminated in December 2002, when GNU-Darwin dropped its support of software linked with proprietary libraries (including Cocoa and Carbon) and switched to the x86 architecture. The PowerPC offering was put into maintenance mode. In July 2003, Apple released version 2.0 of the APSL, which earned a "free software" certification from the Free Software Foundation.
Version 1.0 of the package manager was released in January 2003, allowing for the installation of over 15,000 software packages.
In its current version, GNU-Darwin can be installed on top of a preexisting installation of OS X, Darwin or OpenDarwin. The project plans to release a bootable installer that bundles the GNU-Darwin packages with OpenDarwin, thereby creating a one-step install, however after a number of years that has yet to appear.
The GNU-Darwin system is a port of the FreeBSD ports collection. Makefiles contain the instructions on the location of software packages and how to install them on Darwin. These Makefiles are arranged in a directory hierarchy. Users find the directory that corresponds to the software they want to install, and run a command within that directory that downloads the software, compiles and installs it. Alternatively, pre-compiled (binaries) packages are sometimes available that can be installed with the use of the pkg_add command.
GNU-Darwin also distribute some packages from the GNUstep project. The GNUstep project has been working since 1994 to create a free implementation of the OpenStep object-oriented development environment (which later became the Cocoa API on OS X) on Unix.
All GNU-Darwin packages can be downloaded free of charge from the web. The project has also made its packages available for purchase on CD or DVDs, with proceeds going back to the project. Two examples include the 5 DVD set for PowerPC, which sells for $45 USD on the website, and the pre-installed hard drive for x86 or PowerPC, for $250 USD.