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Ten years of OS X, from heavily criticized to heavily praised

Apple's Mac OS X has come a long way since it's debut on March 24, 2001 where it was plagued with bugs and claims of being incomplete to now a digital designer's dream, known for stability, security, and a viable alternative to Windows for the average computer user. Today, Mac OS X celebrates its 10 year birthday still going strong and looking to the future.

One interesting part of OS X is the version system that Apple uses. Instead of incrementing each new release with an entire version number, such as from 10 to 11, each version of OS X is represented as 10.x. The names of the operating system also have had a characteristic of being named after big cats, which in order of release are Cheetah, Puma, Jaguar, Panther, Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard, and the upcoming Lion.

Mac OS X 10.0 Codename "Cheetah"

This is the first release of the Mac OS X line of desktop and server operating systems released on March 24, 2001. It introduced as an upgrade to the "Classic" Mac OS 9. Cheetah was created to become the next generation Macintosh operating system with a brand new Aqua interface, Mail email client, full PDF support in any application via Printing, and the Dock to help users managed applications. While many new features were brought to the Mac, many of which are still included today or improved upon, this initial release was not without bugs of its own. Interestingly enough, this OS was also bundled with Microsoft's Internet Explorer for Mac as Apple had no browser of their own, and this partnership would last until Microsoft's support for Internet Explorer for Mac ended and Apple built Safari for Panther.

OS X 10.0 had a lethargic interface that significantly hindered productivity, was very unstable compared to OS 9, and was lacking features that OS 9 offered like DVD playback and CD burning. Apple potentially released this a little too early, leaving these issues present but for everyone who paid the $129 for the new OS, they were given 10.1 for free.

Mac OS X 10.1 Codename "Puma"

Not even one year had passed by when Apple decided that their first release of OS X was not satisfactory and they got hard at work on the next version, Puma, which was released later in 2001 on September 25. This would also later become the first version of OS X to be included as the default operating system on new Macs in 2002 with the release of 10.1.2. Previously with Apple not wanting to include OS X 10.0 as a default operating system, clearly they did not even believe in it fully and really more acted like a second beta than a stable release. OS X 10.1 fixed many of the issues present in Cheetah, but system performance still was somewhat of an issue.

DVD playback, burning, and CD burning were all added, in addition to an AppleScript that could access more system components, built in support for digital cameras, scanners, and printers, and performance enhancements over 10.0. Puma is what the first release of OS X should have been, and with Apple admitting their faults and giving away copies of this for free, plus for the first time including the new OS on new Macs, this was the first widespread exposure to OS X for many users. 

The system requirements for both Cheetah and Puma are the same, only requiring 128 MB of RAM and 1.5 GB of space to install. They also ran on PowerPC G3 processors and higher, allowing those still with eMacs which came with Mac OS 9 to upgrade.

Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar

Just under one year since the release of Puma and Apple released Mac OS X 10.2 "Jaguar" on August 24 2002. OS X 10.2 was also the first in the line of operating systems to use its codename in marketing of the product. Upon boot users noticed a major change, where their beloved "Happy Mac" which had greeted them previously was now replaced with the current grey Apple logo.

Many of Jaguar's new features come as major usability upgrades to Finder, Mail, and other Apple applications by including system wide searches and better interoperability among applications. Quartz Extreme also came along in 10.2 which moved some of the processing to the video card resulting in major performance increases and a better end-user experience.

A journaled file system and handwriting recognition came with this update as well, and system requirements remained largely unchanged, however support for G5 processors and a bump in the recommended RAM to 256MB were introduced.

Mac OS X 10.3 Panther

Another year passes by and Apple releases OS X 10.3 on October 24 2003. This release included many features that would change how people used the operating system, with many still in use and praised today. Apple finally retired the "pinstripe" theme, or at least put it at a minimum by introducing their "brushed-metal" interface that would be later replaced in Leopard with a more matte-grey.

Safari, Expose, Xcode, and Preview were all major points of focus with this release. The contract between Apple and Microsoft for Internet Explorer had ended which forced Apple to create their own web browser, Safari. Expose was introduced as an all-new way to manage windows by assigning a hotkey that users would press to make all of their open windows to be displayed in a stylized thumbnail-view. Many Mac users swear by this feature now and can't live without it. Xcode was Apple's answer to a way that users could develop for OS X, and it gained many fans where it is now used to develop applications for OS X, iPhone, and iPad. Preview, the incredibly handy tool to quickly view PDFs or work with images was also included.

Panther included newfound support for Zip archives, Fax, and interoperability with Microsoft Windows. The system requirements were for the first time heavily tweaked, now restricting the update to newer Macs with a New World ROM with built-in USB, processor of at least 233 MHz, and 512 MB of RAM recommended. The Mac OS 9 "Classic" environment was still fully supported as well.

This release, with all of the new features not having to focus strictly on the core OS itself showed that OS X finally had become a stable and well-accepted environment for computing.

Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger

Instead of the traditional annual release, Tiger took about one-and-a-half years to be released after Panther, publicly being available on April 29 2005. Tiger comes as one of the largest updates to OS X, including Spotlight, Dashboard, new versions of Safari and Mail, Automator, VoiceOver, Xcode 2 and an integrated Dictionary and Thesarus.

For the first time, search on OS X was completely integrated with the system and applications. Previously there had been Sherlock, but Spotlight is always available, being at the top-right of the screen where just one click and the user may begin searching. Files are indexed as they are created, which helps with performance in the search-as-you-type function of Spotlight.

Dashboard added a full mini-application layer to OS X using what are called "Widgets" to bring information and tools all to a single place. Widgets ranged from Weather to mini-games, and all are contained in this application layer which via a hotkey can be brought in or out of the desktop quickly. Various users also wanted ways to access these widgets without switching to Dashboard itself, and by running the widget in developer mode users could then bring these mini-applications right onto their desktop so they wouldn't have to switch back and fourth.

VoiceOver came as a great addition for accessibility by adding the ability to use the Mac through voice commands and have text on-screen be read aloud in virtually any application. Safari, Mail, and Xcode were also all updated bringing new features and an updated interface. Automator allowed users to do mundane, repetitive tasks in an automated way through AppleScripts. The ability to print PDFs from any application was also included, as well as several other usability features found around the OS like more options for the Dock.

In addition to much optimization for larger amounts of RAM and 64-bit processors, Tiger was the first version of OS X to run on the new Intel Macs. This addition however did end the support for OS 9 "Classic" environments as they could not run on Intel Macs. System requirements for this version also jumped up requiring 300 MHz or faster PowerPC processors, early Intel Macs, Built-in FireWire, a recommended 512 GB of RAM, install space of 3 GB instead of just 1.5 GB, and a DVD drive as Tiger was distributed on DVDs. 

Mac OS X previously had been restricted to Apple-branded hardware, but with the release of an x86 version for Intel processors people realized that with some modifications OS X could be run on non-Apple hardware, and thus the OSx86 procject was created.

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard

Leopard took about another two years to be released after Tiger, finally coming on October 26 2007. It was originally slated for earlier, however the brand new at-the-time iPhone was taking up much of the company's efforts.

Probably the very first thing people noticed was the drastic interface change, which gave everything a matte-grey look as an evolving style from brushed-metal. Boot Camp, Spaces, Quick Look, and Time Machine all brought new features to the OS, while updates to many applications including Mail, Safari, iCal, iChat, Preview, Spotlight, and perhaps most notably Finder and the Dock were also included.

Boot Camp embraced Intel by allowing users to easily install Windows in a dual-boot situation. While the feature was great, plenty of problems did creep up such as poor battery life or driver support which led many users to virtualize Windows under a solution like Parallels. Spaces added multiple desktops to OS X by allowing users to change in which their programs are displayed. Multi-tasking, and even keeping on track are greatly aided by this feature. Quick Look allowed the instant preview of almost any file all right from Finder. They could play an MP3, movie, look at a Word document, image, or even get information about a file just by selecting it and pressing space. When searching for just the right file, this comes in handy.

Time Machine allowed for users to not have to worry about making backups of their data, as many neglect to do so anyhow, and provided a rigid schedule and pleasant interface to browse through backups with. Time Machine works by using an external drive to backup your system onto, which can be configured to do full computer or just documents. A backup is made every hour, each time keeping previous versions of documents or other files. It was made for the user that accidentally deleted something, or perhaps misplaced something and knew where it once was. Time Machine's GUI takes the user into an almost "Time Travel" view where they can browse back through previous documents in a 3D setup.

Finder was redesigned to include more views like Cover-Flow and an enhanced sidebar that was list-like. The Dock was changed from the common 2D setup into a 3D one, and added Stacks. Stacks was a way of quickly accessing files in folders that could be pinned to the dock, and opened in a fan, grid, or list depending on the number of items in the folder right from the dock. The Applications folder, Documents folder, and Downloads folder are all added to demonstrate this ability and the usefulness of the concept behind it.

The move to 64-bit computing also came apparent in this version by adding support for many libraries and frameworks of 64-bit applications. System requirements jumped up from Tiger as well, now recommending 1GB of RAM, 9GB of disk space which is up from just 3 GB in Tiger, and the processor must be any Intel, G5 or G4 that clocks at 867 MHz or faster. Leopard would also be the last version of OS X to support the PowerPC architecture. 

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard

Coming in two years later is Snow Leopard, being released on August 28 2009. This version however is not geared for bunches of new end-user features, but rather optimizations of the core OS itself. Updates to Boot Camp, Finder, Preview, QuickTime, Safari, Time Machine, and VoiceOver are found, which mainly increases speed and compatibility while optimizing for the work done on the back end of Snow Leopard.

The OS as a whole takes up 7GB less space than Leopard which was accomplished by rebuilt in-house applications to run in 64-bit mode, and dropping PowerPC support. The kernel was also rebuilt to support 64-bit computing, with new Macs now shipped to run this kernel by default rather than just be capable of running it.

Perhaps one of the best optimization features offered is Grand Central Dispatch, a method to distribute processes among multiple cores of a CPU rather than leaving it up to the application itself as typically applications are not optimized to take full advantage of multi-core CPUs. OpenCL was introduced to help manage how GPUs (graphics processing units) were used, allowing better support for 3D applications. Power management was also greatly improved. The only difference in system requirements is needing less disk space to install; 5 GB for Snow Leopard instead of 9 GB like Leopard needed.

Snow Leopard didn't bring any major visual changes, and overall was treated somewhat as an upgrade to Leopard rather than an entire new package. All other Mac OS X versions retailed for $129, while Snow Leopard was just a mere $29.

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion

Lion recently went out to developers and Neowin did a full review on it demonstrating new features. Highlights include Full-screen apps, Mission Control, Multi-touch gestures, Launchpad, and a redesigned Aqua interface with a heavy influence from iOS. Full-screen apps will allow users to focus specifically on one app and one task, however other apps can also be set into full-sreen mode and the user may swipe through them using gestures. These gestures are part of the new line introduced in Lion which are taken from iOS to create a more fluid experience with tasks like scrolling, zoom, and other functions.

Mission Control is more-or-less an updated Expose that allows the user to view all applications currently open on all Spaces. Launchpad is an application launcher that mimics the method for opening apps that iOS uses, displaying a grid which supports multiple pages and folders.

Several productivity features are added too such as Resume, Auto Save, and Versions. Resume allows one to quickly pick back up where they left off in any application, which is also why by default the Dock no longer shows if an application is open or not. Auto Save and Versions both help out with working on a document. Auto Save periodically updates the working document as you work on it, and Versions will allow you to go back and see past versions of the same document in a similar way that Time Machine does.

The Mac OS X line has gone from an incredibly unstable and a painful-to-use operating system to a carefully refined and praised one for its ingenuity and plentiful features. The amount of progress in just ten years has been incredible, and it only leaves the door wide open for a great potential of new ways and methods to use the computer. 

Here is to another ten glorious years, you've earned it!

Image sources: wikipedia.org

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