It was two decades ago to the present day – March 24, 2001 – Mac OS X became available to users around the world for the first time. At Ars, we don’t always place great emphasis on empty sentimentality, but the milestone seemed worth a brief comment.
Of course, Mac OS X (or MacOS 10 as it was later called) didn’t do this all survive until his 20th birthday; last years macOS Big Sur Update brought the version number to 11 and ended the reign of X.
Despite its double lifespan on x86 and ARM processors and its increasingly close association with iOS and iPadOS, today’s macOS is still a direct descendant of that original Mac OS X version. Mac OS X, in turn, developed in part from the NeXT operating system recently acquired by Steve Jobs, the introduction of which heralded the second Jobs era at Apple.
Cheetah, the first version of Mac OS X, was pretty buggy. But it introduced a number of things that are still present in the operating system today. These included the Dock, which despite some improvements and additional features, is basically still the same as ever before, as well as the modern version of Finder. And while macOS has made a number of UI and design improvements over time, the traces of Cheetah’s much-touted Aqua interface can still be found across Big Sur.
OS X brought a lot of new features and technologies that we now take for granted. For example, Apple’s laptops were able to wake up immediately from sleep and, among other things, introduce dynamic memory management.
Mac OS X’s biggest impact, in hindsight, could be the role it played in inspiring and supporting iOS, which far surpassed MacOS as Apple’s most widely used operating system. In fact, macOS lives in a very different context today than in 2001. It was recently encountered Google’s Chrome OS is number 2 among the operating systems worldwide and thus a very long runtime for Mac OS as the second most popular desktop operating system in the world, measured in terms of the units shipped.
The most popular desktop operating system in 2021 is Windows, just as it was in 2001, but the most popular operating system overall is Google’s Android, which has a dramatically larger market share in the mobile space than iOS.
While the influence of Mac OS X is profound, today it exists primarily as support for iOS, which is not itself the most popular operating system in its category. Despite Apple’s resounding success in Steve Jobs’ second era, as well as in the most recent era of Tim Cook, the Mac is still a relatively niche platform – loved by some but skipped by much of the mainstream.
A lot has changed after 20 years, but a lot has stayed the same.