History of OS X
OS X is the newest of Apple Inc.'s Mac OS line of operating systems. Although, under its original name of Mac OS X, it was officially designated as simply "version 10" of the Mac OS, "version 9" had a completely different codebase, file system, design, and hardware support. Mac OS had been Apple's primary operating system since 1984, and the family was backward compatible, so OS X supported an emulated version 9 until version 10.5.
Unlike its predecessor, OS X is a Unix-like operating system built on technology that had been developed at NeXT through the second half of the 1980s and up until Apple purchased the company in early 1997. It was first released in 1999 as Mac OS X Server 1.0, with a desktop-oriented version (Mac OS X v10.0) following in March 2001. Since then, seven more distinct "client" and "server" editions of Mac OS X have been released, the most recent being Mac OS X v10.8, which was first made available on July 25, 2012. Releases of OS X are named after big cats; the current version of OS X is nicknamed "Mountain Lion".
Development outside of Apple 
After Apple removed Steve Jobs from management in 1985, he left the company and attempted — with funding from Ross Perot and from his own pockets — to create the "next big thing". The result was NeXT. NeXT hardware was advanced for its time, being the first workstation to include a DSP and a high-capacity optical disc drive, but it had several quirks and design problems and was expensive compared to the rapidly commoditizing workstation market. The hardware was phased out in 1993; however, the company's object-oriented operating system NeXTSTEP had a more lasting legacy.
NeXTSTEP was based on the Mach kernel and BSD, an implementation of Unix dating back to the 1970s. It featured an object-oriented programming framework based on the Objective-C language. This environment is known today in the Mac world as Cocoa. It also supported the innovative Enterprise Objects Framework database access layer and WebObjects application server development environment, among other notable features.
All but abandoning the idea of an operating system, NeXT managed to maintain a business selling WebObjects and consulting services, but was never a commercial success. NeXTSTEP underwent an evolution into OPENSTEP which separated the object layers from the operating system below, allowing it to run with less modification on other platforms. OPENSTEP was, for a short time, adopted by Sun Microsystems. However, by this point, a number of other companies — notably Apple, IBM, Microsoft, and even Sun itself — were claiming they would soon be releasing similar object-oriented operating systems and development tools of their own. (Some of these efforts, such as Taligent, did not fully come to fruition; others, like Java, gained widespread adoption.)
Following an announcement on December 20, 1996, on February 4, 1997, Apple Computer acquired NeXT for $427 million, and used OPENSTEP as the basis for OS X. Traces of the NeXT software heritage can still be seen in OS X. For example, in the Cocoa development environment, the Objective-C library classes have "NS" prefixes, and the HISTORY section of the manual page for the
defaults command in OS X straightforwardly states that the command "First appeared in NeXTStep."
Internal development 
Meanwhile, Apple was facing commercial difficulties of its own. The decade-old Mac OS had reached the limits of its single-user, co-operative multitasking architecture, and its once-innovative user interface was looking increasingly outdated. A massive development effort to replace it, known as Copland, was started in 1994, but was generally perceived outside of Apple to be a hopeless case due to political infighting. By 1996, Copland was nowhere near ready for release, and the project was eventually cancelled. Some elements of Copland were incorporated into Mac OS 8, released on July 26, 1997.
After considering the purchase of BeOS — a multimedia-enabled, multi-tasking OS designed for hardware similar to Apple's — the company decided instead to acquire NeXT and use OPENSTEP as the basis for their new OS. Avie Tevanian took over OS development, and Steve Jobs was brought on as a consultant. At first, the plan was to develop a new operating system based almost entirely on an updated version of OPENSTEP, with an emulator — known as the Blue Box — for running "classic" Macintosh applications. The result was known by the code name Rhapsody, slated for release in late 1998.
Apple expected that developers would port their software to the considerably more powerful OPENSTEP libraries once they learned of its power and flexibility. Instead, several major developers such as Adobe told Apple that this would never occur, and that they would rather leave the platform entirely. This "rejection" of Apple's plan was largely the result of a string of previous broken promises from Apple; after watching one "next OS" after another disappear and Apple's market share dwindle, developers were not interested in doing much work on the platform at all, let alone a re-write.
Changed direction under Jobs 
Apple's financial losses continued and the board of directors lost confidence in CEO Gil Amelio. The board of directors asked him to resign. The board convinced Steve Jobs to lead the company on an interim basis. Jobs was, in essence, given carte blanche by Apple's board of directors to make changes in order to return the company to profitability. When Jobs announced at the World Wide Developer's Conference that what developers really wanted was a modern version of the Mac OS, and Apple was going to deliver it, he was met with thunderous applause. Over the next two years, major effort was applied to porting the original Macintosh APIs to Unix libraries known as Carbon. Mac OS applications could be ported to Carbon without the need for a complete re-write, while still making them full citizens of the new operating system. Meanwhile, applications written using the older toolkits would be supported using the "Classic" Mac OS 9 environment. Support for C, C++, Objective-C, Java, and Python were added furthering developer comfort with the new platform.
During this time, the lower layers of the operating system (the Mach kernel and the BSD layers on top of it) were re-packaged and released under an open source license. They became known as Darwin. The Darwin kernel provides an extremely stable and flexible operating system, which rivals many other Unix implementations, and takes advantage of the contributions of programmers and independent open-source projects outside of Apple; however, it sees little use outside the Macintosh community. During this period, the Java programming language had increased in popularity, and an effort was started to improve Mac Java support. This consisted of porting a high-speed Java virtual machine to the platform, and exposing OS X-specific "Cocoa" APIs to the Java language.
While the first release of the new OS — Mac OS X Server 1.0 — used a modified version of the Mac OS GUI, all client versions starting with Mac OS X Developer Preview 3 used a new theme known as Aqua. Aqua was a fairly radical departure from the Mac OS 9 interface, which, in turn, had been an evolution of the original Macintosh operating system. Aqua incorporated full color scalable graphics, anti-aliasing of text and graphics, simulated shading and highlights, transparency and shadows, and animation. A key new feature was the Dock, an application launcher which took full advantage of these capabilities. Despite this, OS X maintained a substantial degree of compatibility with the traditional Mac OS interface and Apple's own Apple Human Interface Guidelines, with its pull-down menu at the top of the screen, familiar keyboard shortcuts, and support for a single-button mouse.
With the exception of Mac OS X Server 1.0 and the original public beta, Mac OS X versions are named after big cats. Prior to its release, version 10.0 was code named "Cheetah" internally at Apple, and version 10.1 was code named internally as "Puma". After the immense buzz surrounding version 10.2, codenamed "Jaguar", Apple's product marketing began openly using the code names to promote the operating system. 10.3 was marketed as "Panther", 10.4 as "Tiger", 10.5 as "Leopard", 10.6 as "Snow Leopard", 10.7 as "Lion" and the current version 10.8 as "Mountain Lion". "Panther", "Tiger" and "Leopard" are registered as trademarks of Apple, but "Cheetah", "Puma" and "Jaguar" have never been registered. Apple has also registered "Lynx" and "Cougar" as trademarks, though these were allowed to lapse. Computer retailer Tiger Direct sued Apple for its use of the name "Tiger". On May 16, 2005 a US federal court in the Southern District of Florida ruled that Apple's use did not infringe on Tiger Direct's trademark.
Public Beta: "Kodiak" 
The "PB" as it was known marked the first public availability of the Aqua interface and Apple made many changes to the UI based on customer feedback. Mac OS X Public Beta expired and ceased to function in Spring 2001.
Version 10.0: "Cheetah" 
On March 24, 2001, Apple released Mac OS X v10.0 (internally codenamed Cheetah). The initial version was slow, incomplete, and had very few applications available at the time of its launch, mostly from independent developers. While many critics suggested that the operating system was not ready for mainstream adoption, they recognized the importance of its initial launch as a base on which to improve. Simply releasing Mac OS X was received by the Macintosh community as a great accomplishment, for attempts to completely overhaul the Mac OS had been underway since 1996, and delayed by countless setbacks. Following some bug fixes, kernel panics became much less frequent.
Version 10.1: "Puma" 
Later that year on September 25, 2001, Mac OS X v10.1 (internally codenamed Puma) was released. It had better performance and provided missing features, such as DVD playback. Apple released 10.1 as a free upgrade CD for 10.0 users, in addition to the US$129 boxed version for people running Mac OS 9. It was discovered that the upgrade CDs were full install CDs that could be used with Mac OS 9 systems by removing a specific file; Apple later re-released the CDs in an actual stripped-down format that did not facilitate installation on such systems. On January 7, 2002, Apple announced that Mac OS X was to be the default operating system for all Macintosh products by the end of that month.
Version 10.2: "Jaguar" 
On August 23, 2002, Apple followed up with Mac OS X v10.2 "Jaguar", the first release to use its code name as part of the branding. It brought great raw performance improvements, a sleeker look, and many powerful user-interface enhancements (over 150, according to Apple ), including Quartz Extreme for compositing graphics directly on an ATI Radeon or Nvidia GeForce2 MX AGP-based video card with at least 16 MB of VRAM, a system-wide repository for contact information in the new Address Book, and an instant messaging client named iChat. The Happy Mac which had appeared during the Mac OS startup sequence for almost 18 years was replaced with a large grey Apple logo with the introduction of Mac OS X v10.2.
Version 10.3: "Panther" 
Mac OS X v10.3 "Panther" was released on October 24, 2003. In addition to providing much improved performance, it also incorporated the most extensive update yet to the user interface. Panther included as many or more new features as Jaguar had the year before, including an updated Finder, incorporating a brushed-metal interface, Fast user switching, Exposé (Window manager), FileVault, Safari, iChat AV (which added videoconferencing features to iChat), improved Portable Document Format (PDF) rendering and much greater Microsoft Windows interoperability. Support for some early G3 computers such as "beige" Power Macs and "WallStreet" PowerBooks was discontinued.
Version 10.4: "Tiger" 
Mac OS X v10.4 "Tiger" was released on April 29, 2005. Apple stated that Tiger contained more than 200 new features. As with Panther, certain older machines were no longer supported; Tiger requires a Mac with a built-in FireWire port. Among the new features, Tiger introduced Spotlight, Dashboard, Smart Folders, updated Mail program with Smart Mailboxes, QuickTime 7, Safari 2, Automator, VoiceOver, Core Image and Core Video. The initial release of the Apple TV used a modified version of Tiger with a different graphical interface and fewer applications and services. On January 10, 2006, Apple released the first Intel-based Macs along with the 10.4.4 update to Tiger. This operating system functioned identically on the PowerPC-based Macs and the new Intel-based machines, with the exception of the Intel release dropping support for the Classic environment. Only PowerPC Macs can be booted from retail copies of the Tiger client DVD, but there is a Universal DVD of Tiger Server 10.4.7 (8K1079) that can boot both PowerPC and Intel Macs.
Version 10.5: "Leopard" 
Mac OS X v10.5 "Leopard" was released on October 26, 2007. It was called by Apple "the largest update of Mac OS X". It brought more than 300 new features. Leopard supports both PowerPC- and Intel x86-based Macintosh computers; support for the G3 processor was dropped and the G4 processor required a minimum clock rate of 867 MHz, and at least 512 MB of RAM to be installed. The single DVD works for all supported Macs (including 64-bit machines). New features include a new look, an updated Finder, Time Machine, Spaces, Boot Camp pre-installed, full support for 64-bit applications (including graphical applications), new features in Mail and iChat, and a number of new security features. Leopard is an Open Brand UNIX 03 registered product on the Intel platform. It was also the first BSD-based OS to receive UNIX 03 certification. Leopard dropped support for the Classic Environment and all Classic applications.
It was the final version of Mac OS X to support the PowerPC architecture.
Version 10.6: "Snow Leopard" 
Mac OS X v10.6 "Snow Leopard" was released on August 28, 2009. Rather than delivering big changes to the appearance and end user functionality like the previous releases of Mac OS X, Snow Leopard focuses on "under the hood" changes, increasing the performance, efficiency, and stability of the operating system. For most users, the most noticeable changes are: the disk space that the operating system frees up after a clean install compared to Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, a more responsive Finder rewritten in Cocoa, faster Time Machine backups, more reliable and user friendly disk ejects, a more powerful version of the Preview application, as well as a faster Safari web browser.
Mac OS X v10.6 also features Microsoft Exchange Server support for Mail, iCal, and Address Book, new 64-bit technology capable of supporting greater amounts of RAM, an all new QuickTime X with a refreshed user interface and more functionality that used to be only available to QuickTime Pro owners.
Back-end platform changes include improved support for multi-core processors through Grand Central Dispatch which attempts to ease the development of applications with multi-core support, and thus improve their CPU utilization. It used to be that developers needed to code their programs in such a way that their software would explicitly take advantage of the multiple cores, which could easily become a tedious and troublesome task, especially in complex software. It also includes advanced GPU performance with OpenCL (a cross platform open standard for GPGPU distinct from CUDA, Dx11 Compute Shader or STREAM) by providing support to offload work normally only destined for a CPU to the graphic card's GPU. This can be especially useful in tasks that can be heavily parallelized.
Snow Leopard only supports machines with Intel CPUs, requires at least 1 GB of RAM, and drops default support for applications built for the PowerPC architecture (Rosetta can be installed as an additional component to retain support for PowerPC-only applications).
Version 10.7: "Lion" 
Mac OS X v10.7 "Lion" was released on July 20, 2011. It brought developments made in Apple's iOS, such as an easily navigable display of installed applications (Launchpad) and (a greater use of) multi-touch gestures, to the Mac. This release removed Rosetta, making it incapable of running PowerPC applications.
Changes made to the GUI (Graphical User Interface) include the Launchpad (similar to the home screen of iOS devices), auto-hiding scrollbars that only appear when they are being used, and Mission Control, which unifies Exposé, Spaces, Dashboard, and full-screen applications within a single interface. Apple also made changes to applications: they resume in the same state as they were before they were closed (similar to iOS). Documents auto-save by default.
Version 10.8: "Mountain Lion" 
OS X v10.8 "Mountain Lion" was released on July 25, 2012. It incorporates some features seen in iOS 5, which include Game Center, support for iMessage in the new Messages messaging application, and Reminders as a to-do list app separate from iCal (which is renamed as Calendar, like the iOS app). It also includes support for storing iWork documents in iCloud. Notification Center, which makes its debut in Mountain Lion, is a desktop version similar to the one in iOS 5.0 and higher. Application pop-ups are now concentrated on the corner of the screen, and the Center itself is pulled from the right side of the screen. Mountain Lion also includes more Chinese features including support for Baidu as an option for Safari search engine, QQ, 163.com and 126.com services for Mail, Contacts and Calendar, Youku, Tudou and Sina Weibo are integrated into share sheets.
Notification Center is added in the operating system. It provides an overview of alerts from applications and displays notifications until the user completes an associated action, rather than requiring instant resolution. Users may choose what applications appear in Notification Center, and how they are handled. There are three types of notifications: banners, alerts, and badges. Banners are displayed for a short amount of time in the upper right corner of the Mac's screen, and the slide off to the right. The icon of the application is displayed on the left side of the banner, while the message from it will be displayed on the right side. Alerts are the same as banners, but will not disappear from the screen until the user takes action. Badges are red notification icons that are displayed on the application's icon. They tell the number of items available for the application.
Notes, a new notes application, is added. It is now separate from Mail in its own application, with support for desktop notes added (syncs along with its iOS counterpart). Created notes are synced through all the user's Apple devices through the iCloud service. Notes can be arranged in folders, and pinned to the user's desktop. When the application is closed, the pinned note still remains.
Messages, an instant messaging software application, is added in Mountain Lion. It was announced on February 16, 2012, as part of the OS X Mountain Lion developer preview. Starting with this release, Messages replaces iChat as the default OS X instant-messaging client. A free beta version of Messages was available to download for Mac OS X Lion from the Apple website until late June 2012. The final version of Messages was included with the release version of OS X Mountain Lion.
As with its predecessor, Messages has text messaging, audio, and screen-sharing capabilities. Messages also contains native video conversation support, utilising Apple's FaceTime video calling application where possible. However, it does retain video capabilities for interfacing with other instant messaging clients. Messages supports Apple's iMessage, a free instant messaging service previously only available on devices running iOS 5. It also supports both XMPP (shown in the application under its former name, Jabber) and the AIM OSCAR. In addition, it also offers a direct connection to Yahoo! Messenger and Google Talk.
See also 
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- Official website
- Ars Technica: Mac OS X Q & A
- Ars Technica: Mac OS X GUI
- Ars Technica: Mac OS X DP2 review
- Ars Technica: Mac OS X DP3 review
- Mac OS X DP4 review
- Ars Technica: Mac OS X DP4 review
- Ars Technica: Mac OS X Public Beta review
- Ars Technica: Mac OS X 10.0 review
- Ars Technica: Mac OS X 10.1 review
- Macworld: Mac OS X 10.1
- Ars Technica: Mac OS X 10.2 review
- Ars Technica: Mac OS X 10.3 review
- Ars Technica: Mac OS X 10.4 review
- Ars Technica: Mac OS X 10.5 review
- Ars Technica: Mac OS X 10.6 review
- Your Mac Reviews: Mac OS X 10.6.2 Review