Mac OS X is Six Years Old Today

Six years ago today, Mac OS X was unleashed on a relatively unsuspecting public. It's somewhat hard to picture now, but Mac users were very skeptical about a new operating system in 2001, and were particularly concerned that they'd have to learn Unix to use their computer.

The Future is Here Mac OS X


Even outside of the Mac community, the big debate was whether it was possible to base an easy-to-use consumer platform on Unix. Programmers also wondered why Apple wanted to go with this weird thing called Cocoa, which was based on Objective-C when every other platform favored C++ and C toolkits.

While Objective-C and even Cocoa still have their critics, I think it's drowned out by the raw output of Apple's applications groups and the incredible things that teams of one to three independent Mac developers are doing, not to mention what's in the works for iPhone. Mac OS X also changed the entire desktop user experience landscape, and is arguably the basis for the Web 2.0 "look".

I could go on for quite a while about the impact that Mac OS X has had and how it's really just starting to pay off now, but I think you guys already know most of that story. So instead, go check the Mac OS X screenshot archive at the excellent GUIdebook site.

Ah, pinstripes. Nostalgia.

(Thanks to MacDailyNews for reminding me. We're also approaching six years of Apple Stores on May 19.)
Design Element
Mac OS X is Six Years Old Today
Posted Mar 24, 2007 — 20 comments below




 

David Weiss — Mar 24, 07 3794

Calling Mac OS X the basis for the look of Web 2.0 is a stretch IMHO.

Moving to a UNIX based OS with the Cocoa APIs wasn't so much about building a platform for developers as it was about helping Apple innovate faster, and boy has that worked.

When Apple released Mac OS X 10.0 all the geeks called it slow and CPU cycles wasted on eye candy. Back then no one knew how very valuable eye candy would be.

Apple is an example to us all of 1) having a plan, 2) sticking to a plan and 3) having the courage to be imperfect.

mithras the prophet — Mar 24, 07 3795

And who would have guessed that in 2007 Apple would be releasing a mobile phone and a set-top box, both running OS X?

Actually, I imagine a lot of people have probably been predicting that for a long time -- only now, they're right.

Scott Stevenson — Mar 24, 07 3796 Scotty the Leopard

Calling Mac OS X the basis for the look of Web 2.0 is a stretch IMHO
My thinking behind that is the proliferation of reflections, round rects, internal glows, simple sans-serif fonts, and psdeudo-3D elements. You might be right that it's taking it a bit too far, but I think it's at least debatable.

colin — Mar 24, 07 3797

You might be right that it's taking it a bit too far, but I think it's at least debatable.
I'm going to side with both of you on this one. I think it's fairly safe to say that many of the pioneers of the look were influenced by Apple, and Apple in turn influenced by said pioneers.

Even before two-point-ugh, the Apple look influenced designers. It wasn't long after Aqua debuted that the "shiny lozenge button" look spread rapidly. (In the case of some web apps I deal with at work, it mutated horribly to encompass the "shiny lozenge with aliased Comic Sans MS text" look.)

The "horizon line" of Tiger's menu bar is everywhere you look these days. I'm 97.2% sure the first time I saw the "wet floor" look was on Apple's website. In a strange, retro-esq way, the matte gradient look of the *cough cough ahem* "unified" toolbar is now the de facto trendy look, albeit in various colours.

Here's hoping that Leopard brings some coherence back to OS X. If it's released and the Finder is still a combination of metal and beach balls, I'll be worried about what Apple's core focus is.

Colin Wheeler — Mar 24, 07 3798

My thinking behind that is the proliferation of reflections, round rects, internal glows, simple sans-serif fonts, and psdeudo-3D elements. You might be right that it's taking it a bit too far, but I think it's at least debatable.

I'd have to agree with scott here. I don't think we saw any of these sorts of elements in mass until after Mac OS X was introduced to the world, at least I didn't notice any of this until after Mac OS X came into being.

I'd take it as a compliment though that so many people want to try and emulate apples glossy/aqua style.

MK — Mar 24, 07 3799

Mac OS X was just a new version of NeXTstep. It is much older than that.

Manton Reece — Mar 24, 07 3800

MK, I disagree. Mac OS X is part NeXT, part classic Mac OS, and part something entirely new. All three pieces contributed to what Mac OS X has become, and the new stuff in recent years has brought OS X to an entirely new level. I think we all remember how difficult 10.0 and 10.1 were just to use, let alone develop for.

Fred Priese — Mar 24, 07 3801

Scott, I think you are on to something there. Apple, with Mac OS X, the iMac, the iPod and all of the Apple models after Jobs and Ive finished their makeover established an ACCEPTED esthetic that elegance does not rule out utility or power. The whole Web 2.0 thing is about useability. AJAX, arguably the technique that drives Web 2.0, enables a more client-side-like feel that was missing from web apps before it.

I am a Windows client and web app developer. When ASP.NET was being evangelized in lead up to the release of .NET, all the talk was of making web apps look like our old VB apps. (Ack!, but behavior wise this would be a HUGE improvement.) But to accomplish this, it would require postbacks for everything, since the event handlers were written in VB.NET/C# in the page's class file or code-behind. So intead of a craptasitc VB app, that was at least responsive, it became a craptastic ASP.NET app that was not responsive. This is in the enterprise, but this was Gates vision for the web too. At the time, they had HTTPRequest available too! It sounded problematic at the time, and in retrospect, it sounds rather pathetic to design a architecture around the belief that network latency would disappear!

Now, Apple was quietly shipping Web Objects and not doing a whole lot else on the web since they were so busy making the base computing experience elegant, useful and powerful. Mac OS X has always been pleasent to look at, even if Windows hasn't exactly been hideous. Mac OS X has, at least since Jaguar, been useful too. iLife? HUGE home productivity tool, with it, you no longer need to leave your home to process your photos, home video, publish elegant, (even if limited visually) web pages or to publish DVDs! What is more important that the UTILITY of iLife is the elegance with which it pulls it off. It is easy to learn, easy to use, powerful, (even if a little limited) and free for new Mac buyers. Web 2.0 is useful, (mostly), easy to learn, easy to use, powerful, (even if a little limited,) and free, well, some is free, some is not.

I think Apple has been an inspiration, at the very least for Web 2.0. I saved the best for last. iTunes. iTunes ships for Macs and PCs. Apple's elegance and utility became widely seen, experienced, known. Combined with the iPod, Apple has set a new bar for esthetic utility in product development. I hope more industries learn from them!

Michael Ellis — Mar 24, 07 3802

MK, I disagree. Mac OS X is part NeXT, part classic Mac OS, and part something entirely new. All three pieces contributed to what Mac OS X has become, and the new stuff in recent years has brought OS X to an entirely new level. I think we all remember how difficult 10.0 and 10.1 were just to use, let alone develop for.

Let's face it, Mac OS X is still the NeXTStep OS with a facelift and a bunch of Mac libraries and frameworks ported to it. There's a lot of Mac OS stuff running on top of it, like Carbon, etc. but the OS itself and the core frameworks are NeXTStep.

Manton Reece — Mar 24, 07 3803

Michael, that's certainly true. I only take issue with saying that it is "just" a new version of NeXTSTEP, because I think it's a divisive statement and not accurate. The whole point of celebrating Mac OS X's birthday is to appreciate that it is a new operating system! It brings new possibilities for classic Mac OS developers, old NeXT folks, and recent Windows switchers.

Just a new version of NeXTSTEP would be, I dunno, Rhapsody or even Mac OS X Server 1.0. But we don't mark Mac OS X's anniversary with those releases, because they were missing important parts of the Mac experience.

Preston Sumner — Mar 24, 07 3804

Calling Mac OS X the basis for the look of Web 2.0 is a stretch IMHO.

I don't believe so at all. The clean look of today's "Web 2.0" sites is reminiscent of the clean approach we've seen in OS X for the last half-decade. As Scott mention, it's the rounded rects, the two-tone highlights, the focus on typography, etc.

Let's face it, Mac OS X is still the NeXTStep OS with a facelift and a bunch of Mac libraries and frameworks ported to it. There's a lot of Mac OS stuff running on top of it, like Carbon, etc. but the OS itself and the core frameworks are NeXTStep.

Not entirely true; for instance, the core frameworks in OS X sit on top of the C-based CoreFoundation, unlike the original NeXTStep. OS X draws a lot from NeXTStep, but the implementations are different, and there are many new OS X-specific APIs, like Quartz, the driver framework, etc.

Scott Stevenson — Mar 24, 07 3805 Scotty the Leopard

@Michael Ellis: There's a lot of Mac OS stuff running on top of it, like Carbon, etc. but the OS itself and the core frameworks are NeXTStep
I think the problem was the use of the word "just." It's ultimately a matter of perspective. Apple didn't start from scratch -- they used an established and solid base. However, Mac OS X is pretty far from where NeXT would have ended up on a linear path.

Foundation is based on CoreFoundation, Quartz/PDF is used instead of Display Postscript, QuickTime was added, and a completely different user experience was implemented. Those are pretty big changes. However, the basic concepts that OpenStep was based on are still present, along with much of the plumbing.

Jon H — Mar 24, 07 3806

"Not entirely true; for instance, the core frameworks in OS X sit on top of the C-based CoreFoundation, unlike the original NeXTStep"

True, but then again, CoreFoundation is to some extent a C implementation of the concepts of NeXT's FoundationKit. (I'm sure the scope has grown significantly since development began.)

CoreFoundation wasn't part of MacOS, and if I'm not mistaken it's something of a departure from the style in which MacOS development was done.

There's been a lot of layer blending, but like adding cream to coffee, with classic Mac OS being the cream and NeXTSTEP being the black coffee, the result is still pretty dark.

Paul — Mar 25, 07 3808

I'd have to agree with scott here. I don't think we saw any of these sorts of elements in mass until after Mac OS X was introduced to the world, at least I didn't notice any of this until after Mac OS X came into being.

Designers were doing all those things in Photoshop years before OS X came out or before the Aqua look was introduced (MWSF 2000, I think?). You just didn't notice it because you weren't looking.

That's a fairly common fallacy in the Apple world - nothing exists until Apple shows it, and then everybody else is suddenly just following... (A recent example is how the LG/Prada touchscreen phone was called an iPhone rip-off, even though it was introduced several months before the iPhone.)

Scott Stevenson — Mar 25, 07 3810 Scotty the Leopard

Designers were doing all those things in Photoshop years before OS X came out or before the Aqua look was introduced (MWSF 2000, I think?)
Designers did similar things of their own accord, but I don't think there was much in the way of software or web sites that used these elements throughout the entire interface (feel free to correct me). That's probably due in no small part to the fact that Quartz made certain elements of Aqua possible.

That's a fairly common fallacy in the Apple world - nothing exists until Apple shows it, and then everybody else is suddenly just following
I think you're giving too much weight to the extreme viewpoints of a vocal minority. No designer creates in a vaccuum, but it's undeniable that Apple is a significant influence on design in high-tech devices.

dnm — Mar 26, 07 3811

"Calling Mac OS X the basis for the look of Web 2.0 is a stretch IMHO."

I agree, Mac OS X is much more tasteful and better designed than that web 2.0 crap, that has more in common with XP

Bill Coleman — Mar 26, 07 3812

Yeah, some people felt that MacOS X 10.0 was really OpenStep version 6. And I can kinda see that -- there was a lot about that first release that wasn't really, uh, Mac-like.

But, really, this understates the role that the Mac UI played on the NeXT foundation. Many of the changes we saw up through Panther were related to making the MacOS X experience more like the classic MacOS.

The other interesting thing is how responsive even the latest versions of MacOS X are on vintage hardware. Tiger runs very fast on my old 400 MHz Sawtooth, even though today's machines are nearly an order of magnitude faster.

About the only thing that still bothers me about MacOS X is the use of file name extensions. The original MacOS encoded this information separately in the form of type and creator. We should go back to a system like that.

Jeremy — Mar 26, 07 3815

Mac OS X is a continuation of the NeXT OS line, and the changes are in keeping with the change from NeXTSTEP to OPENSTEP for Mach.

Some of the changes just reflect what had happened during the life of the OS. FreeBSD had grown up, so switching from BSD to FreeBSD made sense. Quartz is sort of like "Display PDF" and hence a logical replacement for Display Postscript. As for the UI changes, I think we're forgetting how different Mac OS X is to Classic Mac OS. The menu arrangement is pretty irrelevant, the Dock is not that different to the NeXT Dock, and the "Apple Menu" is a shadow of its former self. The Finder is a (poor) rewrite of Workspace Manager. Mac OS X's UI is NeXTSTEP on "happy pills".

The Mac stuff seems limited; QuickTime (replacing NeXTTIME), ColorSync (which is wonderful), Carbon, OpenGL replacing Quick RenderMan, AppleScript - I'm sure there is more.

So would I describe Mac OS X as "just" a new version of NeXTSTEP - no, there is no "just" when you start with the best desktop OS of the day, but Mac OS X has very little to do with classic Mac OS.

Mac OS X is Apple's "Vista" to NeXT's "NT4"

cjwl — Mar 27, 07 3819

ok, the NeXT flag waving is getting kind of old.

Mark Thomas — Mar 31, 07 3824

Apple has a long history of taking the obscure and unproven and popularizing it by taking a chance on new technology and ideas such as the GUI, 3.5" floppy drives, CD-ROMs, wireless networking, track pads, LCDs, wide aspect ratio screens, USB the list goes on and on. Yes, people have been doing reflections and translucent drop shadows and glossy BS in Photoshop for a long time, but you didn't really see much of it until Apple popularized it and took it mainstream. Now it's freaking everywhere.




 

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