From Aqua to Catalina: Evolution of the Mac OS X operating system

From Aqua to Catalina: Evolution of the Mac OS X operating system

20 years of highlights

Credit: Dreamstime

Mac OS X has been through a lot in 20-plus years. As someone who was sitting in the front row at Macworld Expo when then-CEO Gil Amelio brought Steve Jobs on stage to celebrate Apple's purchase of NeXT, it feels like I've been a witness to the whole story.

The macOS we use today is the result of iteration—sometimes rapid, sometimes painfully slow—over 16 major OS releases during those 20 years. Here are the highlights.

Before there was Mac OS X, there was Rhapsody

Before it was Mac OS X, the next-generation Mac OS was code-named Rhapsody. Software written for NextStep—what would become Cocoa—ran natively. Classic Mac OS apps ran in a compatibility window. Rhapsody aped Mac OS 8 in its design language, but that design would be thrown away before OS X finally shipped.

Most importantly, major Mac software developers were not willing to rewrite their apps for the Yellow Box of NextStep. Apple had to go back to the drawing board and come up with a more robust transition approach for developers, which led to the Blue Box that offered the ability to adapt classic Mac apps to run natively on the new operating system.

In 1999, Apple released Mac OS X Server 1.0, which was a weird fusion of NextStep and Mac OS, with interface quirks never seen before or since. It sort of looked like Mac OS, but if you used it for a minute you'd realise it was more liked a re-skinned version of NextStep.

After a developer preview version, Mac OS X Public Beta (internally it had the code name Kodiak) arrived in 2000, and while it was technically a beta version, Apple still charged $30 for the privilege of testing it. It still looked a lot like Mac OS 8 and had no Apple menu, but it did have a nonfunctional Apple logo parked dead centre in the Mac menu bar.

In his review for Ars Technica, John Siracusa wrote, 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.

OS X early days

In March 2001, Mac OS X 10.0 (internal code name Cheetah) was released. It was… not great. The new Aqua interface, which Steve Jobs had unveiled to quite a bit of fanfare, was pretty, full of translucency and trendy 3-D effects. The core of Mac OS X was there, offering plenty for Apple and third-party developers to build on.

But that original version was terribly slow. Rebooting a Mac into Mac OS X—and in those days, nobody in their right mind was deleting their classic Mac OS partition and committing full time to OS X—would result in a perfectly speedy Mac feeling like it was dipped in molasses.

MacOS X Classic Mode

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