Apple’s desktop platform has a history to be proud of and starting with 1984, almost 30 years ago, the Cupertino-based company has produced a stable system which later evolved into Mac OS, and then the renowned X.
Although the road was quite bumpy, Apple managed to evolve a pretty standard platform into something which inspired other companies as well, including Microsoft and its Windows family. Today, we embark ourselves on a brief journey, to remind ourselves how the Mac OS has evolved through the years.
As Steve Jobs himself stated, Apple’s desktop platform was created by borrowing concepts already available in nature and in the human world, all set to be presented with a nice stylish touch for the end user. Although the founder of the company passed through some harsh times before Apple become what it is today, Steve Job’s marks can be seen in each and every version until its passing, and hopefully, even after.
Related Read: Evolution of Windows OS – Past & Future
Apple’s first steps
It all began with Apple’s first Macintosh personal computer, the 128K model, which was powered by System Software 1.0 or System 1, as most people knew it back then. Apple broke the ice by introducing the first desktop system which was based on a graphical user interface and not on a dull command line, such as the one used by MS-Dos. The System also had a Finder application used for file management and a driver to communicate with the printer.
In the next three years Apple reinvented itself with version 2, 3 and 4, which introduced some pretty-basic features as a Shut Down command, support for more evolved hardware and more drivers. Multitasking was introduced only in System 5 and until System 7, in 1991, Apple only worked on the internal compatibility suite and tried to get AppleTalk working.
System 7 was also the last major overhaul before Apple chose to market its desktop platform as Mac OS. The version suffered 5 note-worthy modifications, in which Apple revamped the user interface to compete with the newly-rising Microsoft Windows and to prepare itself for the Internet. Alongside these improvements, a wide range of new features were introduced:
- Apple menu was made more general-purposed
- AppleScript – a scripting language for automating tasks
- 32-bit QuickDraw – with support for “true color” imaging
- TrueType – an outline standard font
- The Trash was redesigned to preserve deleted files after a system reboot, while the Empty Trash command was implemented
- Virtual memory support
- 32-bit memory addressing
- Memory control panel
- Built-in co-operative multitasking
- Aliases, a feature similar to shortcuts
- Extensions manager
The first traces of Mac OS
In 1997, Apple gave birth to Mac OS 7.6, which was basically the 7.6 version of Software. The new name was given for a more market-friendly approach and to license the platform. With 7.6 support for many Mac machines was dropped and the OS could only be run on 32-bit-clean ROMs. A few months later, on July 26 (shortly after Steve Jobs returned), the first truly Mac OS was born: version 8.
Initially projected as Mac OS 7.7, the eight grand version of Apple’s desktop terminated the Macintosh cloning market and re-introduced some abandoned features from the Copland project while leaving the kernel of the platform untouched. Amongst enhancements, a multi-threaded Finder was included for better multi-tasking, files could now be copied in the background and as Apple accustomed its clients, the user interface was once again, revamped. Themes, also known as skins, were introduced here, alongside a new control panel.
Mac OS 8 was actually Apple’s salvation, because the 4.2 million copies sold within the first six months helped the company recover from a financial stroke. Considering its popularity, Apple has created several siblings up to 8.7, which generally modified the platform to fix several bugs, bring minor modifications to the GUI and improvements to application switcher. In 8.5, Apple addressed speed and stability issues, by migrating the 68 code towards the PowerPC architecture.
In October 23, 1999, Mac OS 9 was released. It came as a steady evolution of the software and made the first steps into a more advanced world, by introducing an early implementation of multi-user support. Although the steps were clumsy, Mac OS 9 allowed data to be shared between several users, while better implementing the system memory and offering advanced management.
The era of updates was also born with Mac OS 9, the platform making the first use of Apple’s Software Update center to find and install OS and driver updates. Developers were also helped to support the new platform by releasing new APIs for the file system and support enhancements which allowed apps to natively be run on forthcoming versions, without much fuss. Other note-worthy additions:
- Improved support for AirPort wireless networking
- Improved Sherlock search engine with new plug-ins
- AppleScript now allowed TCP/IP and networking control
- On-the-fly file encryption with code signing and Keychain technology
- Remote Networking
- File Server packages
Mac OS X
Starting with the new millennium, Apple took advantage of the newly purchased firm NeXT and developed Mac OS X, a version of the platform built solely based on Unix. Although the company released a Mac OS X Server version in 1999, the new generation was broadly known after 2000 when Apple decided to name them after large felines.
Arrived in April 2001, Mac OS X 10.0 was more of a proof that Apple could ship a useable OS with Macintosh-built GUI on top of a UNIX platform. It introduced the nowadays Dock (in 2D shape) and completely changed how applications are launched in Mac OS. The Terminal line, alongside an e-mail client and the Address Book app were also shipped. The operating system had a new word processor, full preemptive multitasking support, OpenGL and protected memory.
The well-known Aqua interface was also introduced here, alongside native support for .PDF files, but some users found the version a bit unstable. It seemed that in complex hardware setups, Cheetah was riddled with fatal bugs which caused the kernel to crash often, while the brand-new interface launched applications at snail-speed and plummeted performance.
Puma was a much needed refresh in terms of stability and accessibility, by bringing capabilities such as CD recording and DVD playback to the tablet. Launched in September 2001, the update was served free of charge and presented by Steve Jobs himself.
Puma came with a wide range of performance enhancements, over 200 new printer drivers, improved AppleScript to allow a better customization of the interface and new tools for capturing images from digital cameras and scanners. Mac OS X 10.1 was also the first product in the “X” series which was used as a default boot option by Apple and also the last to accommodate the Happy Mac face on startup.
Unfortunately, even Puma was received with criticism by users, who claimed it was only a small updated in terms of functionality and that Apple still had a lot of work to do on performance.
10. 2 Jaguar
Apple stroked gold with Jaguar, the first truly popular version of Mac OS X. The 2002 release offered notable performance improvements, better printing options and introduced Quartz Extreme graphics. A TCP/IP equivalent of AppleTalk was also added and the iLife suite, alongside the Digital Hub made their first appearance. Changes were also made to the dock, which now held the iPhoto icon, while iTunes changed its colors to purple. When it came to the user interface, Apple modified the Aqua theme with a pinch of Aluminum transparency.
Perhaps the smartest move Apple did with Jaguar was to introduce Safari, the company’s own browser, as a back-up option in case Microsoft discontinued Internet Explorer on Macs. Several weeks after, Microsoft withdraw IE support as predicted and users were forced to adopt Safari.
Panther was described as being much faster than previous generations and finally, the first X version which could outspeed Mac OS 9. It felt very snappy and useable, with most file sharing bugs and networking issues being resolved. A new sidebar was introduced in Finder to assist with on-disk navigation and the Aqua look was almost completely replaced by the Brushed Aluminum theme.
Moreover, Fast User Switching was implemented in Mac OS X 10.3 and the background color of iTunes was changed to green. Apple also introduced iChat AV as an early implementation of FaceTime and QuickTime now supported high definition codecs. The OS was also added a way to create SecureID-based VPNs when communicating with Microsoft’s Windows.
Launched in 2005, Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger was the most durable cat, by remaining the major version of the next two years and a half. It survived Mac’s transition from PowerPC to Intel processors and introduced Dashboard to the public. This feature similar with the Desk Accessories from the classic Mac OS replaced Sherlock Find with Spotlight.
Probably Apple’s first sign of Siri appeared with Tiger and its VoiceOver feature, which allowed the user to magnify certain items and described what was happening on the screen using computer-generated voice. Also, the feature offered voice commands and enhanced keyboard navigation. A wide range of applications were also introduced:
- Quartz Composer
- Au Lab
The user interface also suffered slightly, with Apple altering the menu bar situated on the top of the screen to include a Spotlight button in the upper right corner, while the menu itself had a smoother, glass-like texture.
Leopard was the only Universal Binary release of OS X which could have been installed on either Intel or PowerPC Macs. Born 2007, the operating system fully supported 64-bit applications and recompiled major routines for Intel, while dropping the Classic mode support.
In 10.5 Mac also introduced the Time Machine backup software, offering users the possibility of preserving files with a slick and friendly interface. In this release, Apple made sure that Spotlight ran as it should and the company introduced new features such as the virtual desktop utility and Boot Camp, for those wishing to adopt Windows on their Macs, alongside 300 others:
- Dashboard enhancements
- A Dictionary app which could search Wikipedia
- Redesigned Finder
- Safari 3
- Extended language support for 18 languages
When it came to the general feel, Leopard was dominated by the space background a subtly-shaded gray theme, while the iTunes icon turned blue again. Few bugs were reported so the version was generally adopted well.
10.6 Snow Leopard
Apple released Snow Leopard in 2009 as a minor but needed update, which shipped for just $29 as direct result to the projected general interest. Apple did not introduce new features with this release, it only changed existing aspects related to compatibility and a few performance improvements.
Snow Leopard was the first version to run only on Intel-powered Macs and the same to introduce support for the trackpad on regular desktops. With this version, the iLife suite found its way into the Dock alongside a redesigned iTunes icon, while AppleTalk was discontinued in favor of the standard TCP/IP protocol.
General modifications were made to several features, starting with the Boot Camp which supported more partition types and wrapping it up with improvements to VoiceOver, TimeMachine and many others.
The era of the Lion began in 2010 and with over 250 new or changed features, as well as noticeable user interface changes. Elements of the Aqua theme such as the buttons and the progress bars were redesigned, while animation effects were implemented for resizing windows. The dashboard has its own place now and does not float around the desktop while Tabs appear as being pushed in and darkened when selected.
Apple also improved the Address Book, AirDrop, Auto Save, Auto correction, FileVault, Font Book 3, iChat, Language Support, the mail client and plenty others. FaceTime now shipped bundled with Lion while Safari and Terminal received a full-screen mode. To most users disappointment, the Save As option was terminated and replaced by Duplicate and Revert functions, with Java and Adobe Flash Player stopped being shipped with the OS itself.
10.8 Mountain Lion
Almost a month ago, Apple introduced the latest Mac OS X version called Mountain Lion. The client has 10 new impressive features, which may stray away even the most Windows-convinced fan. Amongst the list we’ve spoken about the new Notifications Center, Power Nap, Universal authentication, support for documents within iCloud, Screen sharing and Mirroring, Social Media integration, advanced backups, productivity apps, accessibility and of course, the appearance.
Although Apple did quite a job and ported some features currently found in iOS 5, the version was greatly criticized because it consumed battery twice as faster. The version can also be installed on a limited range of machines but considering its attractive price and the fact that its still early in the game and Apple should issue fixes soon, we may safely assume that this is the most attractive version yet.
What’s expected from the future
Without question, Apple is moving its platforms towards the cloud, where cross-platform services and support for delivering services on multiple devices exist. The desktop world will tailor itself after mobile guidelines and in a way, regular PCs will become more alike with tablets and smartphones.
Apple’s desktop OS is expected to slim down in the future to only access some features offline, while its main advantage would only be seen when connected to a network. Evidences of these claims can be seen at any step, with iCloud services growing as we speak.