System 1.0 and Mac OS X
Much as I want to switch over to Mac OS X, I find myself avoiding it for the familiarity and productivity found in the Classic Mac OS. That disturbs me in some ways, because I know that deep down at its core Mac OS X is a far, far better operating system than the fully polished 18-year-old kludge known as Mac OS 9.
In fact, I've been eagerly anticipating OS X for years. I want to not just like it, but love it. I want it to be my primary OS and stop using Classic Mode altogether except for some older games.
But the reality is that I use my Mac as a tool, and because I've grown up with the classic Mac OS, I'm much more productive using OS 9 than I am trying to learn the ins and outs of OS X. But at least I'm growing familiar with X as I make the occasional foray into the world of Aqua.
Back in 1984, I was probably using a Commodore 64 - the poor man's Apple II. IBM introduced the first 80286-based DOS computer. Windows was vaporware. And Apple shipped the original Macintosh.
Talk about thinking different, this little computer-as-appliance had a 9" screen with black text on a white background; everyone else put amber or green text on a black background. And the text looked nice and displayed in different sizes, different fonts, as well as bold and italic. Very different indeed!
The mouse, the small 3.5" floppy, and the graphical user interface set the Mac apart from everything else. But Macintosh System 1.0 wasn't quite ready for prime time. Neither was the Mac, which was severely hobbled with only 128 KB of memory and no expansion path. Let's call this the equivalent of OS X 10.0 and view the Lisa as equivalent to the Public Beta.
System 1.1 added the ability to add and remove fonts and was much faster at copying disks. That was important, as Apple didn't offer a hard drive. We'll call this 10.0.1.
By August, higher capacity memory chips were available, so Apple was able to introduce the "Fat Mac" (512K) with a half-meg of RAM. Although the OS didn't change at this point, the extra memory made the Fat Mac a much more powerful machine. 10.0.2.
System 2 came out nearly a year after System 1.1 and added such useful commands as "new folder" to the Mac. 10.0.3.
January 1996 saw the introduction of the Mac Plus and System 3.0. On the hardware side, the Mac now came with 1 MB of RAM (expandable to 4 MB), a double-sided 800 KB floppy, and a SCSI port to support fast hard drives. System 3.0 introduced the disk cache, which further improved drive performance. But most of all, System 3 integrated a new filing system, HFS, that was far better suited to hard drives and other high capacity media. 10.1.
Systems 3.1, 3.2, and 3.3 were mostly minor tweaks, adding things like AppleTalk. By January 1987 the Mac System was about where we are with Mac OS X today.
With System 4.2 and Finder 6.0, Apple began using a System Software numbering scheme, labeling the package System 5.0 at it's introduction in October 1987. In November, Apple moved up to System 5.1.
All of this might put as at about the equivalent of Mac OS X 10.2.
1988-92, System 6
Four years after the first Mac was announced, Apple released System 6, probably the culmination of the Mac OS in terms of speed and stability. Anyone familiar with the classic Mac OS would feel pretty comfortable with System 6, although it wasn't without limitations.
For best speed and stability, System 6 was designed to run one program at a time, but by enabling MultiFinder, users could switch between multiple programs with ease.
The biggest limitations of System 6, which remained under development until February 1992, were an 8-9 MB memory ceiling due to 24-bit addressing and the fact that the Finder remained b&w even on a color Macintosh. But all of the essentials were there. This is where we want to be with OS X. Maybe 10.3?
1991-97, System 7
Under System 6 the Mac was stable, reliable, fast, powerful, and easy to use. With System 7, Apple went the next step in making all that power more accessible. Color icons are something we take for granted, but the Mac only got them in 1991. The same goes for 32-bit addressing and the ability of Macs based on the 68030 to take full advantage of more than 8 MB of installed RAM.
Add in the application menu, balloon help, personal file sharing, TrueType fonts, aliases, virtual memory (part of the OS, not third-party software), and a Finder that made things look a bit three dimensional on color and grayscale displays.
System 7 was especially noted for integrating features pioneered by third-party developers such as the Menu Bar clock, hierarchical menus under the Apple menu, and support for PC format floppies.
Once Mac OS X is fully developed, Aqua is tweaked, and all the important programs are available, Apple will be able to look at going the next step beyond the evolving desktop metaphor to - who knows?
In fact, a lot of users think Apple may have put too much emphasis on the prettiness (okay, it's gorgeous) of Aqua when it should have been putting more work into printer drivers, graphics drivers, CD burner support, etc.
Mac OS 8 and 9
Mac OS 8 (1997) introduced spring-loaded menus and other navigational aids. OS 8.1 (1998) was primarily noted for introducing HFS+, a more efficient filing system and the first big change to the HFS filing system introduced with the Mac Plus in 1986.
With OS 8.5 and beyond, Apple began tweaking the kernel to work better with the new OS under development, and Mac OS X requires a version of OS 9.x when running Classic Mode.
Mac OS X
All of this is to help us understand how the classic Mac OS evolved, realize the time scale involved, and think about the kind of things we'll see when the whole OS is finally tweaked and ready to move beyond today's interface conventions.
We'll learn to like OS X more as we use it, and we'll use it more as our favorite applications become available for it, and those applications will come more quickly as more and more users migrate to OS X.
This also provides some great opportunities for software developers. For instance, there are lots of choices in email and Web clients in OS X. I'm waiting for a fast, efficient, easy-to-use HTML editor that can replace Claris Home Page, and I'm tempted to get a copy of REALbasic and try programming my own if nobody else does it.
That's another great thing about OS X - it's Unix at heart, so there's a lot of software and a huge number of programmers that can fairly easily move to the leading consumer Unix, helping create the programs we users need to complete the transition and eventually leave classic mode behind.
Until then, I'll continue doing most of my work in OS 9, whether booted from it or in the classic environment of OS X. It's not that I don't want to make OS X my full-time OS, it's simply that I can't do it until a few more critical applications (primarily a Home Page replacement) are available for OS X.
Then it'll be time to really learn the cool new OS I've been dabbling in and learn to make OS X my own.
Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.
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