Looking Back on 11 Years of Mac OS X
Low End Mac Staff - 2012.03.23
Steve Jobs buries Mac OS 9 at the 2002 WWDC.
If you've been using Macs for less than a decade, you may have never experienced the "classic" Mac OS, which was introduced with the original Macintosh in 1984 and was given a mock funeral in May 2002. The original 24-bit, black-and-white Mac OS had grown into a 32-bit operating system with 24-bit color support, QuickTime video, cooperative multitasking, and multiple users, but these were hacks to an aging operating system.
When Apple acquired NeXT in late 1996, it gained the core of what would become Mac OS X. The first consumer version of OS X was introduced on March 24, 2001, and while it was certainly not yet ready for prime time, version 10.0 pointed to a new Mac OS world where one app crashing would not take down the whole OS, where no app could prevent others from using processor cycles, where virtual memory was always there, and where programs could use all the memory they needed.
For longtime Mac users, the transition to OS X might take years, and to this day some Mac users are still running the Classic Mac OS natively while others are using it in Classic Mode within OS X. Despite the mock funeral, OS 9 still isn't dead, but for most of us OS X displaced OS 9 for everyday use years ago.
Today our staff looks at the introduction of OS X eleven years ago, its development to the point where it could become the Mac's default operating system, and how we dealt with the transition from the Classic Mac OS to OS X.
Simon Royal (Mac Spectrum): Unlike a lot of Mac users, I do remember classic Mac and the transition to OS X.
In the small publishing department I worked for at the time, we had been using OS 9 on a number of G3 and G4 machines. I think that was even a Performa 5400 running Mac OS 8.6. I was using the Performa for simple writing tasks, and as I moved to more design work, the company bought me an iMac G3 (600 MHz 2001 Graphite model), and with it came my first taste of OS X - version 10.1.
I still remember those first few hours of playing with OS X and thinking, "This is too different." It was radically different from the old and dated (although fast and stable) Mac OS 9, which I was used to. Even for an experienced Mac user, there were so many changes it was like using a completely new architecture. I remember thinking how Apple was going to transition.
Early versions of Mac OS X really weren't up for public release: 10.1 was missing so many standard features I am amazed that Apple got away with releasing it. From there I moved through each version of OS X. My first home version was with a 450 MHz Indigo iMac G3; it was 10.2 Jaguar, which was a massive improvement. My first new Mac - a 1 GHz eMac G4 - came with 10.3 Panther, and I hated it. Okay, so it was more advanced and more feature complete, but it was incredibly slow and very unstable.
At work by this time I was using a 1.25 GHz Mirror Door G4 and it had 10.4 Tiger. With Tiger, Apple really excelled; even today it was one of their most successful OSes, partly due to its speed even on a G3 and partly due to it being rock solid. It is Apple's longest lasting version of OS X at 30 months and amazingly this will run on everything from a 400 MHz G3 all the way up to early Intel machines, showing how versatile it was. With suchtiny system requirements, it was a big shock when 10.5 Leopard was released and hiked up the requirements to a mid-G4, and since then Apple has been culling major chunks of machines with each subsequent version of OS X.
Leopard was great if you had the hardware for it, with some minor new features. From Leopard onward, each version of OS X seemed to be more tweaks than groundbreaking new features. This was reflected in price. As of 10.6 Snow Leopard dropping from the usual £129 to a mere £29.99, and the trend continues.
Snow Leopard dropped all PowerPC Macs and was a streamlined, Intel-only version of Leopard. The current version, 10.7 Lion, killed off all Core Duo Intel Macs, and the forthcoming 10.8 Mountain Lion is set to kill off even more Macs. I am currently using a MacBook with 10.6, and hopefully once I shed my older PowerPC apps (which Lion dropped support for) I shall be moving to Lion or Mountain Lion.
OS X has turned in to a fantastic operating system. From those early awful days, it has developed and become superb.
Steve Watkins (The Practical Mac): Mac OS X gave Apple a much-needed boost in the OS wars. The Mac OS had long been superior to anything Microsoft introduced, but by the turn of the millennium, things had begun to change. Windows 95 gave Microsoft the first OS that could compete directly with the Mac OS. With the introduction of Windows 2000 in February 2000, Microsoft had combined the usability of Windows 95 with the stability of Windows NT, and the result surpassed Mac OS 9 (the then-current Apple OS) in the opinion of most.
With Mac OS X, Apple leapfrogged past Microsoft, and Microsoft is still trying to catch up. OS X had the friendly, easy to use and understand front-end that had always been more user-friendly than Windows 95/98 (though, to be fair, far different than the line of Classic Mac OSes) and more stable than Windows NT/2000. OS X was a winner. For the first time, the typical consumer could leave their computer on for days, weeks, or even months, without the need to reboot. Crashes were few and far between.
To be sure, this did not happen all at once. Mac OS X 10.0, while rock-solid in the stability arena, was - to say the least - rough around the edges when it came to usability. Gradually, Apple polished the user interface, which grew friendlier with 10.1 and 10.2, and, in my opinion, reached the level in 10.3 that it could be called a finished product. I had started intermittently booting straight to OS X when 10.2 came out, but with 10.3, I made OS X my primary boot OS once and for all. When OS X 10.4 Tiger was released, Apple proving they were not going to rest on their laurels, made even more improvements on the user experience. In fact, 10.4 is probably the milestone where most users would have pronounced OS X fully ready for prime time.
Further tweaks have occurred with each subsequent update to OS X (and some would argue whether they all represent "improvement").
For me, the transition was not all that painful. I had only one application, a scanner driver, that required booting to OS 9. Around the time of the initial OS X transition period, someone wrote a generic scanner driver/program (I can't recall the name of it) that worked with my Canon scanner, along with dozens of others, thus eliminating my need to boot directly to OS 9. Every other program I relied on ran just fine in Classic Mode, the OS 9 emulation that was built in to OS X.
The bank where I worked used "fruit" iMacs in our lobbies to demonstrate our Internet Banking product. I was able to switch those iMacs to OS X almost immediately, as our online banking worked just fine with most any browser that ran on OS X. The back-end Mac programs we used were happy in Classic Mode, so at work, the transition was something of a non-event.
Others had a rougher transition, as not all programs liked running in Classic Mode, requiring some users to either reboot multiple times each day or actual run 2 Macs side-by-side, one running OS 9 and the other in OS X, to get their work done. As time went by, most programs were updated to run natively in OS X, and the transition was complete.
I recently bought a couple of older PowerBooks and plan on using one permanently, running OS 9.2.2 and OS X 10.4, to maintain compatibility with PPC programs left behind by 10.7 Lion. I was booted into OS 9 the other night and had to force-quit a program. The box that popped up strongly advised me to "restart" in order to avoid further problems. I ignored the warning, and the entire OS locked up shortly thereafter. That was the first time in months I had experienced that phenomena, and it was a reminder not only of how far we have come, but how quickly I took the OS X Unix stability for granted.
Although I do have some fond memories of the System 7, 8, and 9 days, I would not want to go back. Some things are best experienced as a memory!
Mac OS X Public Beta
Dan Knight (Mac Musings): I recall paying $30 for a copy of the Public Beta and running it from an external drive on the Power Mac G4 at work. I'd play with it for a while, but it was obviously not ready for prime time. It showed potential, but as John Siracusa pointed out in his in-depth review on Ars Technica, it was sluggish and seriously lacking in hardware drivers for printers, scanners, and the like, concluding:
"The Macintosh is defined by its interface, and any redefinition of that must be at least as good as what it's replacing. Mac OS X Public Beta does not reach that goal."
That said, it was a great way for Mac users to get a glimpse of the future - and a great way for Apple to get feedback on the first complete overhaul of the Mac OS ever. The first release version was better, but still far from ready to become anyone's primary operating system. Version 10.1 moved closer to that goal, and with 10.2, we reached the point where OS X had become very usable as your primary operating system. And some of that sluggishness had disappeared.
With version 10.2 (Jaguar), OS X became very usable as your primary operating system.
OS X had two strikes against it: It was somewhat similar to the classic Mac OS yet different enough to be disconcerting, and it was even more different from Windows to the point that it could feel very alien to a switcher. Many of us struggled with the transition from Mac OS 9 to OS X, helped along greatly by Classic Mode, which let us run our old familiar software. And most of us finally settled into OS X with Jaguar.
Version 10.3 Panther gave us even better Classic Mode performance and may well have been the fastest version of OS X, because 10.4 Tiger, which was otherwise every bit as fast, introduced two new features that were always running in the background, Spotlight and Widgets. By disabling those two features, made easier by third-party utilities designed specifically to turn off one or both, Tiger could run very nicely on slower, lower memory systems.
OS X 10.3 Panther gave us Safari, improved speed, and the best Classic performance yet.
But the biggest thing about OS X is that it changed how we work for the better. For the first time, the Mac OS and new apps could take full advantage of dual processors, and when one program locked up, it very rarely took down the whole system. Software written for OS X could us a system-wide spell checker, and with the introduction of Safari, programs could use WebKit to display HTML content - no more need to reinvent the rendering engine.
The transition to OS X was slow. Some users had to wait for years for a favorite app to become available in an OS X version. But in the end, the switch paid off, and it paved the way for Apple's next step, switching to Intel processors in 2006.
Dan Bashur (Apple, Tech, and Gaming): I was certainly well exposed to the "Classic" Mac OS and used variations of System 7 to the final builds of OS 9 daily throughout high school and most of my college years. By 2001 though, I had heard plenty about Mac OS X and the sleek new look it was going to provide to the user interface, while offering new features and backward compatibility to older software. It was at this time, after using the Mac labs at The Ohio State University and Dad's collection of machines for many years, that I decided to get my very own Mac. It was September 2001; Mac OS X had already been out for a little while, and Macs were now shipping with OS X 10.0. I really wanted a G4 Quicksilver tower, but the price of the tower and a suitable monitor was a bit prohibitive, so I decided on a more affordable 600 MHz GraphiteSummer 2001 iMac G3.
Despite the fact that the flat panel iMac G4 shipped months later and the iMac's price was dropped by $300 (that still burns me up), I was quite pleased with my iMac G3 and even this early version of Mac OS X. It was visually pleasing and much more modern looking compared to OS 9, but it was not the complete revolution I had expected technologically. As fresh as OS X seemed, it was a bit rough around the edges, and OS X dedicated application development was in its early stages. It was kind of cool though to be able to dual boot and switch back and forth between OS 9 and OS X as needed. It made you feel a bit more geeklike and allowed you to get comfortable with OS X at your own pace. As with anything that requires change and transition, I found myself more comfortable using Mac OS 9.2 as my default operation system at first, but at the same time during this transitional time I was slowly acquiring applications designed to take advantage of OS X.
Things took a dramatic turn for me (and I suspect many other longtime Mac users) when Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar was getting ready to arrive, which I preordered after hearing lots of praise from the developer community on how much better performance was compared to 10.0 and 10.1 (which I passed on). The hype turned out to be true, and the visual presentation of Jaguar was also much cleaner, along with the introduction of several new features (such as Quartz Extreme - although I could not take advantage of that with my Rage 128 Pro in the iMac G3). In my opinion, Jaguar was the first version of Mac OS X that could really replace OS 9 as your default Mac OS, but it would not prove to be the ultimate replacement. Mac OS X 10.3 Panther added even more enhancements, but version 10.4 Tiger would prove to be the ultimate OS for PowerPC Macs. Sadly, as each version of OS X came and went, I found myself booting into OS 9 less and less frequently, and by the time Leopard arrived (which dropped support for OS 9 entirely), I was only booting into OS 9 a few times a year on my Macs that supported it just to take a quick trip down memory lane.
Fast forwarding to today and a time when I now have a Core i7 MacBook Pro that is many times more powerful than my original iMac G3. You would have thought that I would have completely forgotten about OS 9 and moved on entirely to Snow Leopard and Lion in an age when PowerPC has all but been completely left behind by Apple. Not so! The irony is that now that I have that kind of power, I have found myself wanting to revive my Pismo PowerBook, mainly for OS 9 applications, games, and as a learning tool for my son. My iMac G3 is even set up again and will probably be an iTunes jukebox or classic gaming device once again. These decisions have come partly out of a desire to give a bit of a history lesson to my son, showing him how the Mac and its operating systems have evolved over the years, while also giving new life to some of my most cherished Macs in a fresh breath of nostalgia.
Mac OS X is now 11 years old, and OS 9 is even older, but at the end of the day it all comes down to using what works best for your needs at a given moment. Some users will always run the latest version of Mac OS X and just have one or two Macs in operation, since their application demands are minimal, but there are longtime power users who may have several Macs in operation using OS 9 and multiple versions of OS X running to cover all bases. With 11 years of OS X development, you certainly have a variety of Macs, many versions of Mac OS X, and a wealth of applications to choose from to fulfill your productivity and entertainment needs. Use what works best for you and provides the best value - it's the Low End Mac way!
Allison Payne (The Budget Mac): My first experience with OS X was the early days of Tiger, and I hadn't touched a Mac since 1996 at that point, so I missed the entire transition period.
What I remember thinking when I first used Tiger was that it was so much more like Windows than the classic OS had been. It had context menus! It seemed much more likely to pull in the Windows crowd, and indeed, Apple's entire "I'm and Mac; I'm a PC" ad campaign was created with that goal in mind.
I had been dubious about Mac OS in high school and college simply because it didn't seem to let the user have the control over the system that Windows let you have with DOS at the Command Prompt. Then, ironically, Microsoft truncated the DOS underpinnings of Windows, just about the time OS X started shipping - with the full power of Unix/Linux commands at your fingertips.
That much control over customization, accessibility, and plain usability made OS X the king of operating systems, easily trumping Windows and its own Mac OS roots.
I still have a great deal of fondness for System 7 and 9, but I'm glad Apple has continued to evolve.
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