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How Mac OS X changed Apple's world

Jonny Evans | March 28, 2011
Ten years ago today (24 March 2011) and Apple's first full public version of Mac OS X went on sale worldwide to a gleeful reception as thousands of Mac users attended special events at their local computer shops all across the planet.

I was at one such Mac OS X launch in Central London. What we didn't know then was that Apple was preparing to open up its own chain of retail outlets, nor had we heard Steve Jobs use the phrase, "iPod". Windows was still a competitor, and Google was still a search engine. These were halcyon days, when being a Mac user meant belonging to the second team.

Let's not anthropomorphisize this. Mac OS X is an operating system and for all the big cat comparisons (Cheetah, Puma, Leopard or Lion) it doesn't celebrate a birthday, but -- like any other object (-based) 'thing', it does merit its own anniversary.

When Apple had goodwill

Way back in 2001, the UK event saw journalists from across the tech press attend retailer, Micro Anvika. Over 400 people turned up late at night to see some of Apple UK's top dogs put Apple's new pussycat through its paces (Forgive the clumsy proximity of these analogies).

"Mac OS X is the most important software from Apple since the original Macintosh operating system in 1984 that revolutionized the entire industry," said Apple CEO Steve Jobs in a statement released at that time. "We can't wait for Mac users around the globe to experience its stability, power and elegance."  

There was a lot of excitement. Don't forget that Mac users had been loyally hanging onto a platform in crisis. We needed a new OS to help stave off falling market share; we'd seen Jobs abandon the licensing arrangement for Mac clones and we'd been through the painful Performa period.

Life had been tough, until very recently when things began to change, with the arrival of the iMac, the iBook, and the PowerMac G3.

Steve's NeXT step

Despite the success of those machines, we all knew Mac OS needed to change for the new Century. In recent years we'd been avidly reading and researching Apple's own attempt to develop a new OS (Copland); we'd followed the company's brief flirtation with Jean-Louis Gassée's BeOS OS and the eventual "Hosannah" moment as Steve Jobs rode back into town on the back of his little futuristic NeXT-based analogous donkey. Stretching the analogy a little, Jobs was even accompanied by his very own band of disciples, including familiar names such as: Nancy Heinen, Jon Rubinstein, Bertrand Serlet, Avie Tevanian, Jean Marie Hullot and many others.

What was special about NeXT? It certainly wasn't its commercial success, though it had some, but its pioneering work trail-blazed the whole notion of object-oriented programming and graphical user interfaces. Apple even made an attempt to create its own object-oriented OS with the Taligent project, which began in 1989. And failed.


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