Mac OS X is 20; was born out of ‘a desperate act’ by Apple

Today is the 20th anniversary of the release of Mac OS X, and Macworld has an interesting article on the history that led to it. Jason Snell even goes so far as to say that the new Mac operating system was “an act of desperation” from Apple.

The reason, he explains, is that while Apple had set a new direction for personal computers with the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, it had lost its way in the late 1990s …

In 1984, a graphical user interface on a personal computer was revolutionary; In the late 1990s, not so much.

As revolutionary as the original Mac was, it was also an early ’80s project that didn’t offer all kinds of features that would become commonplace in the late’ 90s.

That operating system had originally been designed to accommodate a small memory footprint and run one application at a time. His multitasking system was problematic; Clicking on an item in the menu bar and holding down the mouse button would effectively stop the entire computer from working. Its memory management system was primitive. Apple needed to do something new, a faster and more stable system that could keep up with Microsoft, which was coming to Apple with improvements to the Windows 95 user interface and the foundations of the modern Windows NT operating system.

By 1996, Snell says, Apple had given up.

In a spectacularly humiliating moment for Apple, the company began looking for a company from which it could buy or license an operating system, or at least use it as the basis for a new version of Mac OS. Company management, led by CEO Gil Amelio and CTO Ellen Hancock, had clearly concluded that Apple was incapable of building the next-generation Mac OS.

We all know what happened next.

December 20, 1996 – Apple Computer, Inc. today announced its intention to purchase NeXT Software Inc., in a friendly acquisition for $ 400 million. Pending regulatory approvals, all NeXT products, services and technology research will become part of Apple Computer, Inc. As part of the agreement, Steve Jobs, President and CEO of NeXT Software, will return to Apple, the company in the one he co-founded 1976 – reporting to Dr. Gilbert F. Amelio, Apple’s president and CEO.

The acquisition will unite the innovative and complementary technology portfolios of Apple and NeXT and significantly strengthen Apple’s position as a company that advances industry standards. Apple’s leadership in ease-of-use and multimedia solutions will be combined with NeXT’s strengths in developing software and operating environments for both the business and Internet markets. NeXT’s object-oriented software development products will contribute to Apple’s goal of creating a differentiated and profitable software business, with a wide range of products for enterprise, business, education, and home markets.

Snell offers a good summary of the software challenges that followed and says that’s what makes the anniversary so important.

As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Mac OS X, it is important to realize what We are celebrating. We celebrated a software launch that was the culmination of Steve Jobs’ return to Apple. We celebrate the operating system we still use, two decades later. But we also celebrate the founding of iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, and watchOS.

In that way, this isn’t just the 20th anniversary of Mac OS X 10.0. It’s the 20th anniversary of modern Apple and the end of the dark days when Apple couldn’t fix its own operating system.

The whole piece is a good read.

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