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What Happens to OS X?

The future of Apple's computer OS grows more uncertain.

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Apple's 'Mac OS X' was officially released 24 March 2001, making it now over nine years old. But its history and legacy date much further back. Now in 2010, after five main iterations, its future is uncertain as the Cupertino company concentrate ever more on their burgeoning mobile platforms.


Apple and NeXT officially 'merged' (as NeXT put it) in December 1996, with the transfer of code and human resources from Redwood City to Cupertino taking place in January 1997. This event was heralded by Apple and included a number of personal letters from Apple to both Apple and NeXT clients.

Apple's new management profiles were largely the big names from NeXT.

Apple's programmers were quickly instructed first in C programming, then in Objective-C programming. Pascal had been heavily used up until then. NeXT had followed NeXTSTEP with an implementation of the OpenStep standard and things were looking rather good. And yet it would take over five years more before a full and solid release of OS X was available.


Pictures outside the Apple Store in the RTP in North Carolina 23 August 2002. The official release date for Jaguar 10.2 was supposed to be 24 August, but resellers and Apple stores put it on sale after ordinary office hours the night before.

Jaguar was the first solid release of OS X. No more spinning beach balls all over the place. Things felt a lot better. Things started to come together.

Yet in those five long years - 1997 to 2002 - Microsoft had been able to strengthen their market dominance. And the idea anyone would be able to supplant Windows became more remote. The war for the desktop was already over.


10.3 Panther reached the shop shelves on 24 October 2003 - just over a year later. A persistent feeling at the time that still resonates today: why? Admins liked 10.3 a lot. There really wasn't a lot happening in the programmer niche. Bindings arrived but they weren't efficient for a lot of lean and mean software.

Graphics started to get an 'overdone' look. Change seemed to be introduced solely for the sake of change. And of course Apple's 'notorious' Finder (to use their own adjective) suddenly went from white pinstripe to textured (metal) and back again - but who used Finder anyway?

Avie Tevanian also announced there'd be more of a wait for system updates in the future.


10.4 hit the market on 29 April 2005 - over eighteen months later. 'Screen remnants' started turning up - scroll bar thumbs split in two like worms, munged menu bars, cropped text, and the like. The cause seemed to have been a reworking of kernel programming interfaces. And Apple explained they had to do it but promised they'd never try it again.

At least one glaring security hole - called a 'crater' by the admin bringing the most attention to it - was fixed.


Some pundits already saw the system taking a dive, but by 26 October 2007 there were even more people saying the same thing. Bugs for Tiger and earlier mounted up (with few fixes in sight) and then on a Friday afternoon in October after closing time Apple suddenly dumped all the tickets back, telling people to upgrade to Leopard first and then see if the bugs persisted there. Tiger was let go.

There were significant changes in the user experience with Leopard, not all for the good. The basic system had been solid all along - save for design mistakes like the login items and the input managers. But Apple were still carrying a second operating system around with a second path to the hardware. And that can never be good.

At least it looked better. Not that previous versions looked bad, but still and all.

Snow Leopard

The 10.6 'maintenance update' hit the stores on 28 August 2009 - less than a year ago - and it's significant for a number of reasons.

  • It's 64-bit and will run a 64-bit kernel if your hardware permits it.
  • 64-bit is the 'native' architecture. No more delays in loading 64-bit apps.
  • Cocoa moved to 64-bit but Carbon didn't. The slackers were finally up against the wall.
  • 10.6 is 'Intel only'. PowerPC applications can still run with the Rosetta ABI but the system can't.

All Apple's computers today are 64-bit but there were a few 32-bit Intels sold in the transition period where things started oozing, whining, mooing, and the like.

Snow Leopard seemed like - felt like - a step forward. Carbon was finally being scuppered. 64-bit was the norm. The company took the time to tweak the code rather than introduce a slew of new features. All of which implied a bright future.

Yet something happened along the way. Today the outlook for OS X is growing bleak.

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