Twenty Years of Mac OS X

Mac OS X 10.0 was released March 24, 2001. Twenty years ago today.

The PowerBook, iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch are obviously big steps along the way from Apple as a ‘beleagured,’ minor computer maker with an uncertain future to the $2 trillion tera-corp they are today. It is easy to focus on the hardware. But Mac OS X was at least as important.

Back then, it was essential that Apple move forward from ‘classic’ Mac OS. Protected memory, multi-user setups, and support for multiple applications running safely side-by-side were the main advantages of Mac OS X over Mac OS 9. But Mac OS X also brought with it the Unix core (and shell), a new display technology, and the Cocoa frameworks.

The transition was rough for the existing Mac users. The early versions were not as complete and stable as one would have hoped. The processing requirements of early Mac OS X pushed existing Mac hardware to their limits. Many application vendors dragged their feet adopting Mac OS X and the new technologies and features available.

But Mac OS X made the Mac interesting for a whole new group of people. It was the only platform at then time that they had Microsoft and Adobe productivity app as well as the Unix shell and tools available. This was a huge bonus for web designers and developers, but also for scientists.

Apple built some of the best laptops of the time. It might seem strange now, but having a portable, battery-powered Unix workstation, which also ran Word, Excel, Photoshop, and could edit videos, was un-imaginable just a few years before.

Then, Apple stripped down Mac OS X, so it could run on on a phone. Up until then, portable devices had very basic and minimal operating systems. They were also locked down and installing additional software was complicated and often expensive.

The early versions of iPhone OS were also basic and minimal compared to Mac OS X, but they held the promise of extension and growth. The iPhone had potential and Apple delivered on that promise with every system update. They treated the iPhone as a computer, rather than a gadget. It took a few years, but with the iPhone, people went from having one computer, to two computers: one in your pocket and one on your desk or in your bag.

Today, Apple has a range of operating systems from the watch on your wrist to the large screen in your living room, all going back to Mac OS X 10.0 twenty years ago. macOS is just one element in this ecology of devices. We don’t just have one computer, we have many. A spectrum of computers, most of them wireless and battery-powered, each with different strengths. These computers might all be from Apple, or from a variety of vendors.

macOS is part of this spectrum. In the past years, Apple has changed the name and just last year the major version number of their operating system for laptops and desktops.

Sometimes it seems that Apple has lost sight of what makes Macs an important tool. With Apple silicon for Macs, it seems that Apple is re-focusing on the Mac and seeing how they can improve macOS, while also improving the eco-system as a whole.

“macOS 11” holds a promise for continued and even re-newed growth. Like the first “Mac OS X” twenty years ago, and the first iPhone OS, there is potential.

I am looking forward to the next twenty years!

One thought on “Twenty Years of Mac OS X”

  1. >The early versions were not as complete and stable as one would have hoped.

    They weren’t complete, but they were definitely stable!

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