OS X: Back to the Beginning

March 26th, 2015

It’s hard to believe that 14 years have elapsed since OS X — then Mac OS X — was originally released as a supposedly finished product. But it wasn’t quite the first version of Apple’s Unix-based OS to be available to the public. The previous September, Apple sold you a Public Beta, for $29, designed to demonstrate that, first and foremost, the new OS was real and that it would soon be ready for public consumption.

I remember the Public Beta well. The interface was good-looking all right, though I chafed at the “lickable” comment from Steve Jobs. Did he really once lick the screen of a Mac as was reported? One of my editors at the time inserted “cartoonish, goofy” into my description of the Dock.

Regardless, the ideas seemed attractive and all, and Apple certainly put a warm and fuzzy face upon a normally obtuse OS, but what could I do with it? Printing was broken, and it took several releases to get things to work properly. Apple’s solution for Classic Mac OS support, to open the old OS in a separate document window, was clever enough, but I more often than not just rebooted my Mac into the installed version of System 9.x and went about my business.

It didn’t help that OS X was dead slow. There wasn’t even support for graphics acceleration of interface objects in the initial releases, and that added to the perception of sluggishness. I wasn’t surprised that Jobs called OS 10.0 a release meant for power users and developers. That statement was the admission that even the release version was still largely a beta release, with lots more work to be done. But after years of delays, the arrival of OS X demonstrated that Apple was serious this time in delivering an industrial strength operating system to the masses.

Within months came OS X 10.1, largely a bug fix and performance update. But new Macs still booted by default in Mac OS 9.

The situation got much better with OS 10.2 Jaguar, which arrived in the summer of 2002 and delivered major performance improvements. The broken printing system was overhauled after Apple acquired CUPS (Common Unix Printing System), which provided enhance support for most recent printers. I liked the upgrade enough not to pay serious attention to the fact that Jobs continued to refer to Jaguar “jag-wire.”

With OS X 10.3 Panther, I wrote my final computer books. I had grown tired of the routine that favored word counts and writing speed over quality. I also felt that, as OS X matured, and reached more and more people, the need for a computer book was slowly coming to an end.

OS X 10.4 Tiger actually had two public releases. First in the spring of 2005, and yet again in January 2006 as the first Intel-compatible version for new generation Macs. It also marked an end for the Classic compatibility environment for Mac users. In a sense, the situation presaged OS 10.6 Snow Leopard a few years later, the last version to support Rosetta, which allowed you to run PowerPC apps on an Intel Mac.

Apple didn’t look back.

Through the years, Mac OS diehards maintained that Apple dropped too many features in moving to the new system. The extensible Apple menu was largely history. Fast access to the apps you use most often works well enough in the Dock, which I never actually regarded as cartoonish.

As OS X has matured, the ongoing interface changes have been controversial. Beginning with OS 10.7 Lion, some Mac users complained about the alleged iOS-ification of the Mac, the alleged decision to incorporate more of the qualities of the mobile OS. But the actual changes were minor and done mostly for consistency. Reversing the direction of scrolling to “natural” to mirror iOS, is an example. But it’s not as if you can’t get used to the new way of doing things. In fact, when I use a Mac that is set up for the traditional method, I find myself having to get used to it all over again.

Yes, OS X Yosemite has hundreds and hundreds of additional features compared to the original release. It looks different mostly in form, since the basic functions and behavior of legacy functions are mostly similar. The Dock is less 3D, but still works pretty much the same as it has for quite a while. It’s still as user friendly or as user hostile as ever.

Today, there are well over 70 million Mac users, far more than ever. The vast majority never touched the original Mac OS. Over 50% are using OS X Yosemite, a record when it comes to the adoption rate. A lot of that is simply because Apple delivers OS X free these days, and many Mac users can get prerelease copies due to the ongoing public beta program.

While each OS X release has ongoing glitches, and there are still complaints as Apple continues work on a 10.10.3 update, there are rumors that the next major release will be focused primarily on fixing bugs and improving performance. New features will be few, but then again an OS X release tends to have far more new features than what Microsoft traditionally offers. With Windows 10, the major new feature is restoring stuff from Windows 7 with the new modern interface, and stealing a few things from OS X, such as multiple desktop support.

One of my long-time clients actually has a Power Mac from around 2000 or so still running Mac OS 9, and still working perfectly. He doesn’t use it very much, and it’s been years since I’ve seen it in operation. Unlike many people, I am not fearful of change. A Mac is still a Mac.

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4 Responses to “OS X: Back to the Beginning”

  1. Duane Owens says:

    I am still using a Mac 7500 (circia 1995, Mac OS 9.1) with a 400 mhz proceser to keep my farm record books. It has usb 1, a wirerless mouse, and is connected to a wireless router via an ethernet converter. Claris Emailer still works, but searching the internet is done with my first addition iPad. May this add laughter to your day, as it does for my entire family.

  2. Jeremy X says:

    Gene: That Microsoft “is restoring stuff from Windows 7 with the new modern interface” is encouraging. I live for the day when I can update both my Mac Pro 5.1 and Snow Leopard. I can’t do either without Rosetta and access to Classic — too many old legal files.

    Of course, Snow Leopard also is very stable, but I’d happily play with new features did I not have to give up the core reasons for my owning a computer.

    I’d pay extra (i.e., some) for Rosetta and Classic as attachments to Yosemite.

  3. Barry Humphus says:

    Apple put on a conference for Apple Dealers in the Chicago area called the Windy City Workout (at Northwestern) University) way back and I had the privilege to learn Apple’s A/UX (Unix) OS which substantially preceded what we use today. A/UX worked very well on the Apple Macintosh machines we had at the conference at Northwestern University. Like today’s version, it was GUI based and one could go in to the terminal mode (which was what you mostly had to do) to do what you needed. Still have my conference badge.

    BTW, we were also introduced to the first Apple pre-release laptop at that conference with a preview of the Apple 100 laptop as well as the pre-release original Apple digital camera. They took photos of the participants with this camera and then they printed baseball cards that we traded on the bus to the Wrigley Field stadium for a baseball game.

    It was a great conference and we all got to go to a Chicago Cubs game during the conference. The beer was warm, the peanuts were too salty and the Cubs lost – what’s new? It was a great experience.

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