Mac OS X turns 10

Apple chief Steve Jobs and his team finished a year-long odyssey on March 24, 2001 by inventing Mac OS X, a new operating system for the Macintosh computer and the red letter day is on its way to complete a decade. It might seem like a footnote, but this new system was key to the rejuvenation of Apple. Billed as a new start by Jobs, who had returned to the company after a lengthy absence, it powers all Mac computers, with parts of it used to run the iPhone and iPad. It was a game changer for the company. Toward the end of the 1990s, Apple was up against the wall, from a business perspective. Its OS 9 system could not compete with Microsoft Windows. “Separately from the financial problems Apple was experiencing then, it was clear to the geeks that Apple was on the way to technological ruin,” writes US columnist John Siracusa of Ars Technica as OS X celebrates its 10th anniversary. Just as Apple was facing bankruptcy in 1997, then company chief Gil Amelio pulled the emergency brake and called Jobs — who had been booted out of the company 12 years previously — in as a consultant. As an added measure, Apple bought Jobs' company NeXT for 400 million dollars. NeXT had developed a very technically advanced operating system (NeXTStep) that became the basis of the new Macintosh system. Thus, Apple took a radical step when it released Mac OS X 10.0 on September 24, 2001. “The new system brought a modern object-oriented architecture, storage protection — important for stability and security — and pre-emptive multi-tasking, by which the operating system core managed work on individual processes of the Mac,” says Stephan Ehrmann, chief editor of the industry magazine Mac & i. Jochen Viehoff, curator at the Heinz Nixdorf Museum Forum in Paderborn, Germany, also believes that Apple settled on the right path with this move. “It was tactically a very clever move, situating oneself on the core of a Unix system.” That gave Apple the leg up for an eventual switch to Intel chips, since the operating system easily worked with the new hardware platform. The Aqua interface was also completely reworked. The sharp contrasts, still evident in Mac OS 9, were replaced in Mac OS X with a milky-white screen, light gray columns and a more colourful palette. The new system also introduced a new area at the bottom of the screen where the icons for programmes, folders, data and websites could be stored. Microsoft eventually copied the Dock with its taskbar in Windows 7. The iMac Kiva, released in July 2001, was the first Macintosh with the new system. But that computer still contained a comparatively slow G3 PowerPC processor from Motorola. It was only with the release of the iMac G4 generation that Apple got through its teething problems. Since its March 2001 release, Apple has updated Mac OS X almost every two years, always naming the system after a big cat. The current system, 10.6, is dubbed Snow Leopard and was released in August 2009. The next system — 10.7 or Lion — is expected this summer, with elements from the iPad tablet computer expected to migrate to the Macintosh. But this is no one-way street. “Unlike Windows, Mac OS X early on managed the connection to mobile hardware. Parts of that function as iOS on the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and Apple TV,” says Ehrmann.

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