Mac Musings

Mac OS X 10.1: The First Mature Version

Daniel Knight - 2007.09.25

Mac OS X got off to a rocky start. It took the mature NeXTstep operating system (acquired when Apple bought NeXT in 1996/97) that was optimized for Intel hardware, added compatibility with the existing Mac OS, and enhanced it all with the Aqua interface.

The Public Beta

There were four developer previews (1999-2000) followed by a Public Beta, which Apple sold for $30 for people who wanted to preview the thoroughly modern, somewhat alien Mac OS of the future - and provide Apple with feedback. The Beta used about 800 MB of hard drive space, which seemed like a lot at the time.

The Beta gave us a chance to get used to the Aqua interface, the new Finder, and something new to Mac users - the Dock. It included Internet Explorer as the default browser, and Finder windows worked differently. In the traditional Mac OS, double-clicking a folder opened it in a new Finder window. In OS X, the default behavior was to open the just-clicked folder in the existing window. You could override that, but that soon became so familiar that the old Mac way seemed alien when you went back to Mac OS 9.

There weren't a lot of apps: The first version of Mail, Music Player (for CDs and MP3s), QuickTime Player, Preview, TextEdit, Sherlock, and a bunch of utilities. Perhaps the most important piece of all was the Classic Environment, which allowed Mac users to keep using almost all of their existing software seamlessly within OS X.

Mac OS X 10.0 'Cheetah'

Mac OS X was first released as a full-fledged operating system on March 24, 2001, and it included several improvements that had been suggested by beta users. Version 10.0 shipped with OS X itself, Mac OS 9.1, and Mac OS X Developer Tools. A regular install used just over 1 GB of hard drive space.

Mac users quickly discovered that Classic Mode started up as quickly as booting into Mac OS 9.1 natively and that most programs ran quite well in the Classic Environment. This was important, as there still wasn't a lot of OS X native software.

Then as now, OS X wanted lots of memory. Although it could run on a 128 MB system, the amount of time swapping memory to the hard drive made it impractical for those running Classic or several programs. Ars Technica's John Siracusa suggested that 10.0 could run (very poorly) with as little as 64 MB of RAM but really wanted 256 MB to run well.

Although Apple billed 10.0 as a full-fledged operating system, it was far from mature. The Finder was sluggish, and performance with G3 Macs was quite poor. Then as now, it wanted a G4 or better for decent performance.

Mac OS X 10.0 was not the default operating system of new Macs; they continued to ship ready to boot into Mac OS 9.

Mac OS X 10.1 'Puma'

Apple released a significant update to Mac OS X on Sept. 25, 2001 with free upgrade CDs available in its store that brought it to Version 10.1. Anyone running OS X 10.0 could order a CD-ROM upgrade kit with 10.1, 9.2.1, and Developer Tools from Apple for US$19.95.

Where Apple had considered 10.0 an "early adopter" release, 10.1 was viewed as an operating system for the entire Mac market. For the first time, new Macs would ship with OS X 10.1 installed as the default operating system (beginning in January 2002), although they could boot into OS 9 as well.

The updated OS used about 1.5 GB of hard drive space and included some important new software: DVD Player (G4 with AGP video required), iMovie 2, Acrobat Reader 5, Internet Explorer 5.1.2, and improved versions of Mail and iTunes.

As Siracusa notes in his review, where 10.0 had been about getting a full release of OS X into the hands of users, 10.1 was all about improving performance. Applications consistently launched faster under 10.1 than they had under 10.0.4. Best of all, the Finder had been sped up significantly, and resizing Finder windows was far more responsive than under 10.0.x.

With the release of 10.1, OS X became a mature and usable operating system. There was still room for improvement, and 10.2 ("Jaguar", released 11 months later) would be another big step forward in terms of performance, but most of the bottlenecks in 10.0 had been taken care of and OS X was finally good enough for prime time with the 10.1 release.

Best of all, by new developers had seen the OS X market grow and created new and updated software to run on the new operating system.