Mac OS X through the ages

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Today, Apple is a huge player in the consumer electronics business, having just recently passed the market values of Intel and Microsoft combined. But in the late ’90s, Apple wasn’t nearly the juggernaut that it is today. Users began to lose confidence in the company as it struggled to come up with a next-generation OS to replace the ailing Mac OS 9. Finally, at WWDC 1998, Mac OS X was announced. It would turn out to be instrumental in putting Apple back into the hearts and minds of users. Since the release of Lion is just a month away, we thought we’d take a look back at the last 10 years of OS X.

The beginning: 10.0 Cheetah

Cheetah was the first release of OS X. It featured the new Aqua user interface, which at the time was quite the visual upgrade for OS 9 users. Despite being named for the fastest land animal, Cheetah was fairly slow, eliciting complaints from many Mac users. Theoretically, it was supposed to be more stable than OS 9 since it was based on Unix, but in reality ,it had many fatal bugs that would cause system crashes. Even with its flaws, Cheetah was a good base upon which to build the future of the Mac platform.

Gradual improvement: 10.1 Puma

Puma was released a little less than a year after Cheetah. It was a free upgrade, as it was meant to fix bugs and performance issues in its predecessor. However, there were still bugs and missing features, and the Aqua user interface remained largely unchanged. Many Mac users said it still wasn’t fully developed enough to use full-time. But it was getting there.

More gradual improvement: 10.2 Jaguar

Jaguar featured more stability and speed improvements, bringing it up to the point where users started changing their minds about running OS X full-time. It also featured a revamped Finder, Quartz Extreme, network support for Windows computers, and more.

I like my metal brushed: 10.3 Panther

Panther was the first OS X release that couldn’t run on some older PowerPC-based Macs, such as the earlier G3s. Like its predecessors, it included numerous revisions and fixes, and also introduced us to Exposé, iChat AV, the Safari web browser, and, everyone’s favorite, the brushed-metal Finder.

Leaving the past behind: 10.4 Tiger

Tiger was the first OS X version that was released much more than a year after its predecessor — 18 months, to be exact. As such, it included an advertised 150+ improvements, including Spotlight, Dashboard, Automator, Mail 2, Safari RSS, QuickTime 7, and more. Tiger also represented a sea-change for OS X, as version 10.4.4 was capable of running on both PowerPC and Intel processors, bringing about Apple’s transition to Intel’s architecture.

X in space!: 10.5 Leopard

If Tiger was late, Leopard was worse, coming out two and a half years after Tiger. The delays were worth it though, as Leopard was advertised as having twice as many new features as Tiger, including a revamped Aqua interface, Time Machine, Spaces, Stacks, Quick Look, 64-bit support, and more. Leopard also did away with the Classic emulation layer, taking away the ability to run OS 9 apps on PowerPC-based Macs.

A new foundation: 10.6 Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard, the current version of OS X, was released almost two years after Leopard, and was all about architectural improvements to the platform, rather than new user-oriented features. It included a complete rewrite of the Finder in Cocoa, a new version of QuickTime, and minor changes to several other core Mac apps. Under the hood, Snow Leopard introduced Grand Central and OpenCL, and was the first release of OS X to run core apps as 64-bit by default.

The future: 10.7 Lion

And that brings us to the newest edition to the Mac OS X family: Lion. Lion includes many changes that bring it up to date with concepts introduced in its mobile cousin, iOS, including Mission Control, Launchpad, Resume, Versions, AirDrop, full-screen apps, and a new user interface that makes a clean break from the glossy days of Aqua. Plus, for the first time ever, OS X goes digital-only delivery with Lion, which might be its single most influential change.

Do you miss brushed metal and translucent title bars? Share your memories of past versions of Mac OS X in the comments.

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