The Next 10 Years of Mac OS Will Look Nothing Like the Last


Today marks the 10th anniversary of Mac OS X (s aapl), the seventh major revision of which will likely be released in June of this year. OS X has undergone major transformations over the years, and it represents a huge leap over OS 9, the operating system it replaced, but the biggest changes are yet to come.

Apple has made clear that going forward, we can expect to see a very different OS experience across all its devices, and the Mac is no exception to that rule. OS X 10.7, also known as Lion, is already available as a developer preview, so we have a pretty good idea of what we’ll see when the update gets a general release later this year. And what we’re getting is a healthy injection of iOS in our beloved Apple desktop operating system. Full-screen apps with swipe to switch; iOS-style animations, menus and navigation; app installation, organization and management taken directly from Apple’s iDevices: All of it adds up to a significant sea of change.

Of course, OS X is still OS X, with the menu bar, Finder, Dock, Software Update and many other features carrying over. But don’t expect the familiar to outweigh the new for that much longer. Apple may provide a gradual transition to avoid alienating existing customers, but iOS is the way of the future, and the numbers back that up.

iOS’ share of the overall operating system market (desktop and mobile) has already climbed to around two percent of global totals, approaching OS X’s five-percent share according to NetApplications. It seems like small potatoes when compared to Windows’ (s msft) 90-percent overall share, but it actually represents considerable progress when you consider how long Microsoft completely dominated worldwide OS rankings by an even-wider margin. iOS’ growth has been so rapid compared to that of OS X, and Apple continues to ship more and more iOS devices each year, while Mac sales remain relatively flat, so Apple will go where the buying public wants to be, and that means iOS.

As if to seal the deal with a symbolic gesture, the father of Mac OS X, Bertrand Serlet, announced his departure from Apple on Wednesday. As is often the case with most high-level executive departures, it’s difficult to determine who decided it was time to move on, but I suspect Apple has decided Lion will be the last installment of OS X, and the move is intended as a clean break before the arrival of something different.

And it will be something different. Don’t expect to necessarily see menu bars, the smiling Finder icon, or even folders or a readily accessible filesystem explorer in the next iteration of Mac OS. If iOS is the model by which the next Mac OS will be cut from, look forward instead to a surface-deep computing experience that automatically handles file storage, saving and association. Expect a dramatic re-imagining (or even an outright replacement) of the concept of a windowed computing environment. Most of all, expect things to be easier, more gated, and more focused on touch-based input than we’ve ever seen before. Whether or not this is a frightening or promising vision of the future depends on how you use and think about computing, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s coming.

If you want to see the future of Mac OS, don’t open the clamshell of your MacBook Pro; pull the iPhone out of your pocket or take a peek under your iPad’s Smart Cover. There may be considerable hurdles to bridging the gap between traditional and post-PC computing, but no company is better positioned to tackle them than Apple.



iOS is also OS X, so it is really confusing when you use “OS X” in place of “Mac OS”. If anything needs to change because of iOS, it is that. “Mac OS” and “OS X” are no longer interchangeable terms. OS X is a family now

> Mac sales remain relatively flat

Mac sales are better than ever, they are up every quarter. The growth is way more than in other PC’s. Sure, iOS outpaces it, but Mac OS does not compete with iOS. Instead, they have synergy. I can’t replace a Mac running Photoshop, Illustrator, BBEdit, Apache, PHP with an iPad. I can’t replace a Mac running Xcode with an iPad.

> Don’t expect to necessarily see menu bars, the smiling Finder
> icon, or even folders or a readily accessible filesystem explorer
> in the next iteration of Mac OS

Don’t expect to see them gone. If you look at Lion, you see the full-screen apps are actually a single app getting its own Space. Spaces are now the main feature, not the Desktop. However, there is no reason to stop the user from running a traditional Mac Desktop in one of their Spaces, and hundreds of thousands of reasons to enable them to do that: all the Mac apps that are not full-screen compatible. That is the same reason we still have Terminal, which is basically from 1969. Some users never run Terminal, and going forward, eventually some users will never run the traditional Mac Desktop. But there is no reason to take it away. The changes in Lion are great because they enable a basic Mac user to better manage 5-50 apps, and enable an advanced Mac user to better manage 50-500 apps.

Mac OS has to continue to provide access to the Terminal and UNIX so we can make Web apps for users to run on iOS. Mac OS has to continue to provide access to Xcode and the file system so we can make iOS apps for users to run on iOS. Mac OS has to continue to provide access to the kernel so we can install pro audio drivers and make music for users to play on iOS. The fact that iOS is specifically designed *not* to do those things means it’s even more important for Mac OS to do them.

One thing you see with Mac OS X is Apple was painstakingly sure not to add anything that wasn’t 100% necessary for the long-term. They did not put in anything they would have to later take out. LaunchPad is the Launcher from Mac OS 9. They are still jealously adding back Mac OS 9 features only as they are 100% for sure needed. They are not taking away the Desktop or Terminal. If they want to make an iMac like an iPad, they would just ship iOS on an iMac and call it iPad Pro or something.

If you consider that Apple’s “how to build an iTunes LP” instructions require the Terminal, Mac OS is not losing file system access any time soon.


This is the most ridiculous dribble I’ve ever read on this site. And that’s saying a lot, given the direction the site has taken in the last year.


There’s a strange holdover from people who don’t really know what it is that they do on the computer. Surprisingly I find this most often in developers (who with their math background, should be used to “reducing down to it’s simplest terms”). I equate the way we compute right now to a perfectly acceptable fraction that hasn’t had that reduction yet.

I need to write to someone; I need to augment an image; or find out about a party I’m going to. Any end goal is… well… the end goal. I don’t feel compelled to repeat the same steps I used to use to get there.

What if I never have to think about saving or quitting or VPN or sub-versioning or file types or backing up, folder structures, resizing windows, activating fonts? What if I didn’t even have to think about what application is for what specific purpose? I would just need to know my purpose. There’s something beautiful in that.

It’s not that I’m not smart enough to do this stuff – I do it all right now. It’s that the developers haven’t been smart enough (and we all may not have been ready) for our “computing fraction” to be reduced to it’s simplest terms.

Imagine we someday have a Watson styled computer where we state our end goal. Now I could say “I need to create a timeline for a multi-million dollar online campaign”. I don’t consider it a necessity to have to navigate Microsoft Project, or Outlook calendars, schedules of the different people involved, emails back and forth. The system could take that understanding of where I need to get to and ask me any follow-up questions it needs to help me reach my end goal: creating that timeline.

For the naysayers, is the future of the operating system just additional bullet points? More options? If we can let the computer handle the little stuff, we can get to assigning it better tasks.


I disagree that Lion is going to be the last installment of OS X. Mac sales are going up, and people love Leopard and Snow Leopard. It were crazy to cancel and replace a successful product. Granted, OS X might change a lot in the coming years, and the Mac OS X of the future is likely going to be a lot like the iOS of the future, but Mac OS is by no means such a sales failure that it’s not worth continuing and Apple were better off with just iOS.
Also, no touchscreen Macs means no iOS Macs. Touchscreens aren’t going to replace traditional screens anytime soon. Why? Often, the precision of a mouse pointer is needed, and so are vertical screens, which aren’t very good as touchscreens (arm strain). This means a traditional screen and the mouse/trackpad is here to stay for some while, and with that, a mouse-and-keyboard optimized operating system. iOS has always been a version of Mac OS, and the full potential of this is becoming more and more clear with each new release. When the first iPhone was released in 2007, it was already stated by Apple that “iPhone runs OS X”. Sure, trackpads might resemble iPads in the coming years, but I believe iOS and Mac OS X are going to exist side by side as the same operating system, optimized for different types of input devices, intended for different tasks, sometimes even for different people.


I got the numbers. 13,7 million Macs were sold in 2010, making 22 billion dollars, which was 33% of Apple’s revenue.


Yeah, it is crazy to think iOS replaces Mac OS. If Mac OS didn’t already exist, Apple would have to create it just for iOS. The native apps, Web apps, music, movies, books that run on iOS are all made on Mac OS. iOS itself is made on Mac OS.

Is Apple going to port Xcode, Final Cut Pro, Logic Pro to Windows? The users of those apps all need UNIX level access. The beauty of iOS is you don’t need that UNIX access when using the apps, movies, and music those users create.

So iOS and Mac OS are a yin yang of systems. We need both.


I think what many of the GigaOm posters forget is that their numbers are in the vast minority compared to overall users. This and similar sites have a “self-selected” readership and the posts reflect this.

Does anyone here really think that the majority of Mac / iOS users know what “sandboxing apps”, FreeBSD, kernel, etc. means? Heck, most don’t even know what iOS is.

There are more people like me who used to know something about tech and are still interested, but don’t follow it to the “nth” degree. And my “group” is dwarfed by people who just want something that works for them as easily as possible.

For all the “Linux is the greatest!”, “Why can’t Windows do this?”, “Why can’t Snow Leopard do that?” comments there are thousands of times more users who don’t care. In fact, if it wasn’t for the planned obsolescence of OSs and feature-bloat in application software in general the vast majority of users could still be happily plugging along with Windows 3.0 on Pentium I computer. (That may be an exaggeration, and I may have the OS vs hardware timing wrong, but I think you get my point.)

I have a Windows 7 PC, a one generation old iMac, and an iPod Touch. I’ll get an iPad, but will wait until next year for v3. I may even get a v2 or v3 Android tablet once Honeycomb shakes out. That being said, I probably don’t use 1/10 (1/100?) of the capabilities of the hardware / software compared to many GigaOm posters. And that means I probably use 10 times (100 times?) more of the capabilities than most people in this country.

Who do you think the companies build hardware / software for? Hate to tell you – it ain’t you. Yeah, they’ll put in a few bells and whistles to satisfy the early adopters and the 2.0 adopters. But really, they’re just using that group to sell a bill of goods to people that “user demand” is causing them to update the hardware and software requirements so they can force the mass of people to upgrade.

Cynical? Maybe, even probably. But if Linux were so great and tech savvy numbers were as great as the posts on some of these sites would imply, we’d have been living in a Linux world for years by now.

And that would be really crappy, because with so many flavors you would have the current compatibility issues no longer constrained by the heavy-tech community, but causing havoc on everybody. Then one company would finally create a version of Linux that would become the de facto standard for the mass of people and we would start all over again. “Why don’t they do what this version of Linux does?” Why can’t they do what that version of Linux does?”

And all the while the mass of people wouldn’t give a rat’s behind because they don’t need 1/10 of the features.

Sorry; semi-rant over.

Bennie Ockels

About your windows 3.1 point: this actually goes for everything we use in daily life, not just computers.
My ford-T worked fine, as did the steamtrain. Why did we need all those new-fangled shenanigans? Because companies could sell them to us and get rich. But also, because we could work at those companies, to get a nice monthly salary.
It’s called the economy :-)
This post just excitedly looks forward to a future where our computers actually become more geared towards a general public that does not care HOW something works, at long as it works.
Also, in 2011 a LOT more people are using computers than in the windows 3.1 age. This can partly be attributed to computers becoming more accessible to the “average” consumer.


BTW, before anyone beats me to it – yes, I know that OSX is built on Unix which was a technically-oriented OS. But I believe that just proves my point – Apple creates a user friendly version for the masses (although, again, more than most people need) and people cry that OSX isn’t good enough, isn’t Linux, or isn’t [insert here].

Bennie Ockels

Although I too am excited about the future of our beloved operating system, I don’t think iOS carries over THAT well into the world of professional daily computer use.
Take for instance the lack of a file system: this may work fine for simple apps and games that store their documents inside their own little ecosystem, but this approach will never work for large projects like I work with. I need a single folder where I can store all my projects’ files, regardless of the app that produced them. I also need that folder to be easily sharable with others. None of these requirements are met by iOS.
And don’t forget that current iOS devices don’t even function without a ‘real’ computer backing them up! You need iTunes to get a PDF in your PDF-supporting app like iBooks.
I could go on. Clearly our future OS will borrow heavily from mobile OS’es, but for professional work, you really need more flexibility than iOS offers.

simon hibbs

I perceive a risk for Apple in all this. I bought my first Mac in 2006 because at that time Microsoft were at their lowest ebb. XP was ancient and virus prone and it was clear that Vista was a giant step sideways, at best. We also had our first baby, so the iLife apps were a godsend to manage and show off our growing collection of video and photos. Our trusty 24″ iMac has served us well.

However when I come to replace it, I have ever fewer reasons to need a Mac. I just ordered an iPad2 and if that will handle my photo and video need, I won’t need iLife for Mac anymore. Windows 7 is a solid OS. I’ve not made a final decision yet, but in 2006 my choice was clear. Now it’s not as obvious which way to go for my next desktop.


So you’re a fan of the iPad and you think a Mac is a less obvious choice if it can optionally work more like an iPad? That doesn’t make any sense to me. Once you have an iPad, you are even more spoiled for Windows and its needless complexity.

I think you are making a mistake thinking Lion is a baby Mac OS. These are power user features. Auto install, auto save, versioning, are all needed by power users who now have hundreds of apps and thousands of documents, just as much as by basic users who need help with a small number of apps and documents. And Terminal is still there. UNIX, Apache, PHP, etc. is all still there.

Also, you get additional iPad features with a Mac. With a PC, you lose Faces, Places, Events. You lose Time Machine backing up your iPad backup to an external disk.


It has been 15 years since it stopped being true so please stop claiming that windows had 90 percent share and OS X has 5 percent. First off these numbers have always been a conflation of sales with share, report upgrades if windows as new share while ignoring upgrades of OS X, were derived from data only looking at the business market and ignored the longevity of machines in operation, not to mention the many other opemerating systems PCs run. For instance if I bought a PC and reformatted it to run Win XP your count that as two sales of windows,when reality it us zero sales of windows.


You don’t even need stats, just look at any college class. It is all Macs.

The Mac only competes in one PC market: high-end ($999+) notebooks and desktops. The Mac has 90% share in that market. That is why you go into Genentech and it is 100% Macs, or Google and it is 75% Macs, or Stanford and it is 90% Macs.

That is also a big reason for Vista’s failure. It was a high-end Windows that shipped into a low-end generic PC market. The Intel Mac had already taken the high-end. Windows PC’s were selling for $450 and did not have the GPU and other resources to run Vista right.

The truth is, the current Mac user base represents almost all of today’s serious PC users. People who are using a Windows PC today are doing iPad-level work: Web, email, music, movies, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations. The few serious Windows users are running a particular power app that doesn’t run on the Mac, like a 3D tool. And a lot of them are running that on Macs also.

As far as market share domination, the Intel Mac is as big a success as iPad or iPod. You just have to be honest to see that, not lump in other markets like low-end PC’s to try and hide that fact. That is why iPad taking away low-end PC sales scares PC makers so much, that is their only market. That’s why HP had to buy Palm and go 100% into that.


@Darrell, 2012 will be the end of the world at least for Mac OSX ;-)


I think the next area to crack for Apple is storage and accessibility for a variety of devices including mobile devices. Apple looks like they’re beginning to address this with lion, bundling lion server with the client os. Let’s see what they do with mobileme in the run -up the lion’s launch


Self organizing data combined with the creation of data is a different animal than sandboxing apps and data. So far Apple has only shown they can do the later. A nice/different GUI is one thing but sooner than later the rubber has to hit the road.

Prof. Peabody

I think the most interesting and bewildering thing about OS-X Lion is that for the first time Apple will be introducing central features of the OS that a regular desktop computer *won’t* have access to. All of the iOS swiping stuff, Expose, etc. will be unavailable to someone who still uses a mouse.

Even the Magic Mouse won’t do those gestures. It has trouble with a sideways swipe, let alone four finger madness. You will *need* a laptop or at least a desktop trackpad to access Lion’s most basic features. Very strange IMO.


There are hot keys for everything. Not only do you not need a trackpad, you don’t even need a mouse, and never have. Some Mac users cannot use a mouse or a trackpad. They can still use all these features.

But Apple will likely start shipping Magic TrackPad with iMac and Mac Pro when Lion ships. The wireless Pro Mouse was really the ultimate evolution of the mouse, and Magic Mouse was a bridge too far. Now it is time to go to trackpads all the way.

Brandon Hopkins

I’m excited to see what Apple has in the future, but Lion doesn’t excite me at all. However, Thunderbolt definitely does. Multiple monitors without a bunch of adapters will be awesome.


If you have multiple monitors, you will certainly want to give some apps their own monitor. You won’t want to be reaching to one monitor all the time to touch the menus. You won’t want to be tracking which of your many monitors has unsaved changes. Therefore you will want Lion.


Of all the “wonderful” things promised for Lion, the only one that interests me is auto-save, and that is no reason for me to even think about installing it. The establishment of the mac appstore, makes me very leery of any purchase of Apple software. I don’t want any automatic updates, and I don’t want to spend my time downloading new software. I want to be able to get my new software on a disc,and download updates if and when I want to.

Apple has amply demonstrated that if you don’t like what they want to sell, its just too bad (as with matte screens).

Apple has forgotten what it means to need to listen to its customers and eventually that will come back and bite them. There is a world of alternate OSes and perfectly good apps out there which don’t have the Apple cachet, but which work well.

I feel that sooner or later the MacOS will follow the path of IOS and become a totally enclosed and censored system. If that happens
It will be a sad day for apple and the computing industry

Alek Z.

I agree with you, Apple is trying to sell more stuff to everybody, but that’s understandable – make more money (like they didn’t made enough money with all the products that starts with an “i”)
Anyhow, I would prefer OS X in combination with Mac, over the “other” alternate OS’s


10 years later and the windows people will still never use a Mac, but their excuses sure are different!


I switched from windows years ago. I have 3 macs and wore 2 others out. I love Macs.

What I don’t love or even like is Apple’s forgetfulness. It was guys like me who kept alive back in the days when Apple appreciated its customers. Now that they have made it big,they like many other media stars forget how they got where they are.


Ed, even your own example of Matte screens refutes your point. Apple had almost completely eliminated Matte screens, but now offers it on both the 15 and 17″ Macbook Pros.

You don’t need to buy SW from the Mac Store if you don’t want to. Even if you do, they don’t automatically update.

You can still buy discs like you used to (provided the devs would like to continue wasting their money on the shipping, distribution, and retail costs involved in discs).

I find it hard to give credence to your conclusions when every existing complaint is not true.


How are you going to manually update hundreds of applications that these days can easily have 5-10 updates per year? How are you going to install them all manually on multiple Macs, and a new Mac every 3 years? Do you have a real job or are you a full-time computer enthusiast?

Auto install and auto updates are a power user feature. So is auto save with versioning. So is full-screen apps, which is made for giant apps like Logic Pro, to give them their own Space. Lion is all power user features. It’s the next version of power user OS X: Mac OS. It is being totally misunderstood by nerds just like iOS is totally misunderstood by nerds.


so in the future our computers will have phone and tablet based operating systems?


OSX is just FreeBSD derived…and FreeBSD is 30 years old…so how is there going to be anything new? It can’t, it’s all FreeBSD…and there is nothing else out there. Microsoft should have grabbed Linux when they had the chance and pulled an OSX. But OSX is now like Microsoft…to big to make a radical change just like MS was in 2000 when they were too big to snag Linux. Your just dreaming. You have no evidence except regime change.


Lorenski, your quite misinformed about the nature if unix. The kernel of OSX is an apple invention. FreeBSD shares a parent with OSX in the BSD roots, for admin applications. The GUI is completely apple, etc. Calling either a derivatioon and implying that limits innovation is quite wrong.

Comments are closed.