20 Years of Mac OS X

Mac OS X 10.0 was released 20 years ago today, on March 24, 2001. There is plenty of coverage about it like this and this. Here are some quick thoughts from me on every version of Mac OS X (now known as "macOS").

  • The first time I used OS X was version 10.0.3, very shortly after it was released. (I still have the CD.) It came with some G4s my work bought and I used the included disc to install it on a spare beige G3 I had at work. Having used Linux for a couple years, I loved the idea of being able to use a supported Unix variant at work for random tasks. The Unix-ness of it was great and the sleep/wake speed was amazing. Everything else about the OS was so slow as to be basically unusable. I specifically remember dragging a rectangle with the cursor to select multiple icons on the desktop and having the machine lag before each icon was highlighted.
  • 10.1 was tons faster than 10.0. Reports at the time attributed this to lots of debugging code being removed. It was reasonable, but there were still few third-party apps, so it wasn't good for much. The first Adobe app to run natively on OS X was *yawn* Acrobat. Next was Illustrator, but most of my work in those days was done with Photoshop, so I kept waiting.
  • By the time 10.2 (Jaguar) came out, Adobe apps and MS Office were available. 10.2 was way faster than 10.1, and hardware was almost 2 years newer by this point, so it was viable. It had Quartz Extreme and ran great on supported hardware. My 800 MHz G3 iBook with a supported video card ran 10.2 better than my dual-G4 at work with an unsupported card. 10.2 was when I switched to OS X (from OS 9) full-time.
  • 10.3 (Panther) was great. Tied with 10.6 for my favorite OS X release of all time.
  • 10.4 (Tiger) I didn't like, but it was what came on Intel Macs, which were awesome. I stuck with 10.3 on my early G5 at work and on my G4 Mini at home.
  • 10.5 (Leopard) was a mixed bag but better than 10.4 overall. Time Machine was great, but I still ran 10.3 where I could.
  • 10.6 (Snow Leopard) was the first Intel-only release and it was smooth, fast, and great. 10.3 was no longer really viable for everyday use as it could only run older browsers and the Web was advancing. Plus Intel machines had great performance. My 1.83 GHz Core Duo iBook could perform useful tasks faster than my 2.0 GHz dual G5.
  • 10.7 (Lion) I hated. I think I only ever had it on one work-issued machine for a very short time.
  • 10.8 (Mountain Lion) was a little better and I ran it on any machine that wouldn't support 10.6. As I had with 10.3, I stuck with 10.6 everywhere I could for as long as I could. Once that became untanable, I updated my 10.6 Macs to 10.8, because...
  • 10.9 (Mavericks) I also hated. 
  • 10.10 (Yosemite) was tolerable but I only ran it where hardware and/or work dictated. I stayed with 10.8 on my home Mac for a long, long time, finally updating to...
  • 10.11 (El Capitan) no, not this...
  • 10.12 (Sierra) not this either...
  • 10.13 (High Sierra) this is what I finally updated my main Mac Mini (a 2012 server) to once 10.8 was no longer viable.
  • 10.14 (Mojave) - I don't think I ever ran this anywhere, except for maybe a barely-used work-issued Mac.
  • 10.15 (Catalina) - same with this. Never run by me voluntarily.
  • macOS 11 (Big Sur) - is running on my M1 Mac Mini, which I ordered on release day and received quite promptly. It's fine. There are some things I don't like in it — some lingering bugs that have been around for years and were not in 10.6 or 10.8 — but it's fine. I'm used to it. Everything is web-based now and I spend much less time in the Finder than I used to, so its dumb behaviors only bug me occasionally.

OS X took a long time to feel as fast as OS 9 did. It became acceptable mainly due to hardware getting 2 or 3 times faster. I had a beige G3 that dual-booted OS 9 and either 10.1 or 10.2. I remember installing universal apps — single binaries that could run in either OS — and testing them. One computer, one hard drive, one shared partition, one copy of each app. (I think it was the Macromedia Studio MX apps: FreeHand, Fireworks, etc.) Simply launching an app took almost exactly twice as long in OS X as it did in OS 9. Literally the same single binary on disk in each environment: you could run the installer in OS 9, launch the app in OS 9, reboot to OS X, and launch the app you had just installed. 

OS 9 on a blue-and-white G3 with 256 MB RAM was snappier than OS X on a 500 MHz dual-CPU G4 with 512 MB. I worked in a large office with dozens of Macs and we got new ones almost every year. We we had a nice spectrum of Macs to test with: beige G3s, blue-and-white G3s, graphite G4s (single-500, dual-500, and dual-533, and I eventually had a single-733 at home), no Quicksilver G4s, but we did have mirror-drive-door (aka "speed hole") G4s (dual CPUs at 1.25 GHz), and then G5s, starting with the initial dual-2.0 GHz models. (Around this time I got a 1.25 GHz G4 Mini at home.) OS X 10.2 or 10.3 on an MDD was decent — about as good as OS 9 on a single-CPU G4/500 -- and 10.3 on a G5 was great. But it took literally 3x or 4x the speed and RAM, and a whole generation of newer CPU — wait, make that two CPUs -- to make OS X feel comparable to OS 9.