Remembering Mac OS X

March 24th, 2010

Although March 24, 2001 signaled the release of the first version of Apple’s long-awaited industrial-strength operating system, with loads of warts and missing features, that wasn’t the first time I got to see it. You see, Apple released a Public Beta version the previous September, but I got a look even earlier.

In those days, I was a contributing editor for CNET, and I was flown to San Francisco for a fateful meeting with a representative from Apple’s PR team to get an early introduction to the Public Beta. I was even offered a Mac Cube to take home (on loan of course), but my home system was faster, so I opted to stick with the DVD after spending about an hour with my “tour guide,” going over the salient features, such as they were.

That beta release didn’t have much going for it. The Apple menu, in fact, was lodged in the center of the menu bar, and Apple got plenty of flack for that peculiar decision. But there was plenty to complain about in other respects, since it was much slower than the most recent version of Mac OS 9. Worse, there wasn’t much software that would run native on the new OS except, surprisingly enough, for the bundled copy of Microsoft Internet Explorer. Only later did Apple develop Safari, after development of IE languished.

However, a few of us discovered early on that the latest version of AppleWorks, the integrated app suite that predated iWork, would, after a fashion, also run native under Mac OS X.

Now if you wanted the Public Beta, it would cost you $29, but Apple at least agreed to give you a discount on the real version, released the following spring.

I remember attending a media briefing for the rollout of version 10.0, code-named Cheetah. During his presentation, Steve Jobs admitted that this initial release was meant for developers and power users. It wasn’t even feature compete. Such important features as the ability to play CDs and DVDs were missing. But as a technology demonstration, the future of the Mac OS was, at long last and after loads of postponements and frustrations, a reality.

Understand that Apple didn’t even include a Mac OS X installer on new Macs for a while. Even then, it was still an optional installation, because you weren’t actually expected to use it to get real work done. For that, there was the Classic Mac OS.

By September, Apple released 10.1, also known as Puma, to fix the worst ills of Cheetah. You could pick up a copy of the upgrade package from a dealer, or send Apple $19.95 to ship you a copy. I remember how Mac users complained loudly over being gouged by Apple to mail them a critical maintenance update for the new OS.

Beginning with 10.1, Mac OS X actuallhy began to perform decently on the fastest Mac hardware, and, as more and more native apps were released, it became almost usable. I have to admit that I didn’t really switch everything over to Mac OS X until the arrival of Jaguar in August 2002. That was when the version numbers were largely supplanted with the feline name of the moment.

Some of you will correctly state that you wanted until 10.3, Panther, or 10.4 Tiger, before embracing Mac OS X. Regardless, the real watershed was probably Apple’s decision to move to Intel processors, first revealed during the 2005 WWDC. Although rumored for several years, Jobs finally revealed that Apple had a simultaneous development project in place where Mac OS X had been ported to the X86 platform. You even saw the satellite photos of the building in which the work had been done.

In January, 2006, the first Intel-based Macs appeared, and the transition was completed that summer, with the first Mac Pros, all months ahead of schedule. That development, and the easy ability to run Windows on a Mac via Apple’s Boot Camp or a virtual machine, helped trigger the sharp rise in Mac sales. Nowadays, the number of Intel-based Macs has actually exceeded the number still using PowerPC processors. Indeed the latest version of Mac OS X, Snow Leopard, is Intel only, and more and more third-party apps will soon move in the same direction.

These days, I dare say most current Mac users never used the Classic Mac OS. They do not remember anything but Mac OS X. But some veterans from the “good old days” continue to complain about the features Apple discarded along the way, although some of them have been made available via third-party utilities.

One thing, though, and that is that it’s highly unlikely Apple will observe the ninth anniversary of their great OS transition. They didn’t bother with the 25th anniversary of the Mac either, and some of us aren’t happy about that. On the other hand, perhaps they figure that moving forward is the best way to live long and prosper.

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8 Responses to “Remembering Mac OS X”

  1. DaveD says:

    Ah-h-h, the good old days!

    I wanted to see the future and paid for the Mac OS X Public Beta. Instead of clobbering the internal hard drive in my Wallstreet PowerBook, I installed on a media bay drive. Luckily, I was patient enough to coax the PowerBook into booting from there. Putting the Public Beta through its paces gave the feel of the slowness/sluggishness of the Public Beta. I felt that to gain a better experience with OS X would be to run it on a newer machine. Thus, keeping the Wallstreet at OS 9 forever.

    It was great watching Apple back then and now. They have done so much and changed so much. You can certainly describe the company in Cupertino as daring and innovative, and for a “copycat” company in Redmond as boring and monopolist.

  2. dfs says:

    I never used 10.0, but I was an early adopter of 10.1. At the time, the wise guys were advising us we ought to partition our hard disks and install OSX on one partition and keep Classic on the other, so we could boot in Classic when we needed to get any serious work done. I meekly followed instructions. Okay, I booted in OSX and my only immediate problem was that I felt hamstrung by the lack of the old Apple Menu and while using OS9 I had become quite addicted to using self-programmed function keys to navigate around my Mac, launch frequently used apps., Web sites, etc. So, okay, within a few hours I had latched onto Fruit Menu and Keyboard Maestro so I had those functions back, and I was able to carry on with my computing. After a while, I noticed a funny thing. I hadn’t had the need to use that copy of OS9 on my second partition. Not once. I was merrily going along in OSX and never looked back. So after a little while I reclaimed a lot of disk space by trashing that second partition. Of course for a couple of years I had to keep using OS9 running within an OSX shell because it took a long time to build up a complete set of Native programs, but that the only use I had for OS9. Looking back, the smoothness of the transition was amazing. If Apple hadn’t managed to give us such a smooth transition experience, by now 1 Infinity Loop would probably be the site for a bunch of condominiums. I. m. h. o. this is the greatest feat they have ever pulled off, all the good stuff of the past decade has derived from it.

  3. SonOfA says:

    OS X is one of Apple’s greatest feat, indeed. I almost left my G3 and OS 9 behind for Win 2K. Once I saw the preview, something clicked and I realized that something amazing could happen from what they had started. 10.1 affirmed that and kept me very interested in Apple. With each successive release, you could see REAL progress, and REAL benefits being added, and each new release actually brought performance increases over the last. Here we are at 10.6 and I would never switch now, OS X is amazing!

  4. Brian M says:

    while sluggish in feel (the UI), some of multiprocessing aspects of the Public Beta actually allowed some software to run faster than in Mac OS 9. I was doing some OCR work at the time, and was surprised to find that the same OCR software running in the Public beta was nearly twice as fast. The improvement in file copying speeds over a network was welcome as well.

  5. Andrew says:

    @Brian M,

    I DID ditch my PowerBook 5300c running OS 8.6 back in 1998 and moved to a PC running Windows 98. 98 was horrible, so I went to NT 4. NT 4 was clunky, but stable, but less than a year later I found happiness in Windows 2000.

    It wasn’t the Classic Mac OS that made me move, however, but the fact that my then 3-year-old PowerBook was ready to be replaced, and my budget was $2000. Apple was happy to sell me an 8lb Mainstreet PowerBook for $2000 with a cacheless G3 (not that bad) but stuck with a passive screen, which I could not tolerate. That same $2000 bought me a Toshiba Portege with active matrix that weighed only 3.5 lbs.

    I came back to the Mac only when Rev.B of the 12″ PowerBook was released. OS X was a (pleasant) surprise from Classic Mac OS, but it was hardware that made my return possible. I just will not carry an 8lb laptop, and absolutely would not settle for a passive matrix screen (those things were truly dreadful).

  6. Tom B says:

    I’ve been a Mac user since ’89. I’ve been a Mac investor since the week OS X SHIPPED. At that point, with the power of UNIX (something still unavailable to Windows users), and the UI and hardware skills in Cupertino, it was clear that Apple was not only going to survive, but to thrive.

  7. scotts13 says:

    Heh. And before the preview of the public beta there was Mac OS X Server 1.0, (circa 1999) which was a NeXTSTEP – OS 8.5 mongrel. I recall being trained on it at Apple in Austin. The programmers presented us with a new build almost every morning; try learning when the features and interface change every day!

  8. Samuel says:

    Try to use ProteMac NetMine
    .It’s tool for protecting mac.It’s must be helpful to you.

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