In 1984, Apple started using the Macintosh operating system in its  computers, which later became known as the Mac OS. Its introduction of a graphically driven interface (GUI) had been revolutionary, and departed from the plain command line interfaces used on other platforms, such as Microsoft’s DOS.

The Mac OS in its ‘Classic’ form had outlasted the useful life of its peers and influenced their GUI-based descendants, such as Windows 3.1 and 95. However, with the year 2000 approaching, the Mac OS was looking a little frayed around the edges. Clashes between System Extensions, required to deliver extra functionality and run external hardware, meant that Macs had become prone to crashes and system freezes – a serious issue when producing professional projects. Advances were still being made with each new version, but the Classic system had become stymied by its architecture. For example, the lack of protected memory meant that if just one program crashed, then the whole system would go down. For Apple, its dream of a home grown, next generation operating system had died in the mid-90s with the failure of the Copland project.

Instead, in 1996 Apple acquired the Unix-based object-oriented programming environment, OpenStep, when it purchased NeXT; the company Steve Jobs founded in 1985 after his resignation from Apple. Elements of Copland found their way into Mac OS 8, Jobs returned as Apple’s ‘interim’ CEO and behind the scenes the company began to work on a new Unix-based system.

Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah
24 March, 2001

On 5 January, 2000, at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco, Steve Jobs unveiled Mac OS X 10.0. “Apple’s innovation is leading the way in personal computer operating systems once again,” he told a world dominated by Windows 98. However, Mac users would have to wait more than a year for the full product to hit the shelves.

Some of the technology behind it had first appeared in Mac OS X Server 1.0 in March 1999. A hybrid of a Unix kernel, Unix-based application programming interfaces (APIs) and the existing Mac OS 8.5.1, the server software featured the Classic interface, the ‘Cocoa’ environment for running native Mac OS X Server programs and the ‘Blue Box’ environment, which would launch and run the Classic Mac OS in a window. In September 2000, Apple released the Public Beta of Mac OS X 10.0, ostensibly for the use of developers and early adopters.

Following this trial period, and responding to the feedback of 75,000 users, the full retail version shipped on 24 March, 2001. Codenamed Cheetah, it cost £99 (£74 for owners of the Public Beta). It ran on Power Macs with G3 and G4 PowerPC processors, and required 128MB of RAM, which was a sizeable leap in memory demands.

With a core comprised of the open-source Unix-based Darwin kernel, Cheetah revolutionised the Finder with a new visual appearance that offered luminous and semi-transparent elements, such as buttons, scroll bars and windows. The Dock provided access to applications, complete with fluid animation, while under the bonnet Mac OS X offered protected memory, fully internet-standard TCP/IP networking and full pre-emptive multitasking for smoother operation among multiple applications.

Apple’s new operating system offered 3D graphics and gaming via OpenGL, while the Quartz 2D engine powered text and graphics. Cheetah also introduced a stable version of Carbon, an API that allowed backward compatibility with applications written for Mac OS 8 and 9, and provided the Classic Environment to run older programs in a similar fashion to the Blue Box of the server. Around 350 Mac OS X applications were available on the day of its launch. Two months later Apple opened its first retail stores, in Virginia and California.

Mac OS X 10.1 Puma
25 September, 2001

Almost four months after shipping Mac OS X 10.0, Apple previewed version 10.1, codenamed Puma. “This new version of Mac OS X is really fast, and incorporates many suggestions from our users, such as the moveable Dock that can be placed on the left, bottom or right edge of the screen,” explained Steve Jobs at his Macworld Expo Keynote on 18 July. “We’ve fixed a lot of bugs, and added a lot of great new features, like burning CDs right from the Finder and the ability to seamlessly network with Windows clients and servers.”

Costing £99, or free for existing Mac OS X users, Puma had enhanced system performance, especially for application launch time and window resizing. New system status icons on the menu bar provided easier access to commonly used functions, convenient monitoring of wireless networks and battery charging. Sending, receiving, opening and reading files became easier with the new automated file extension management capability, and there was a DVD player with the ability to burn DVD-R data discs directly in the Finder. Puma also introduced ColorSync 4.0 with support for ICC colour management and easier printing, while there were enhancements to AppleScript, OpenGL and audio capabilities, as well as an improved iDisk based on WebDAV.

Major Mac OS X applications available at launch included Intuit Quicken Deluxe 2002, Alias/Wavefront’s Maya, Internet Explorer 5.1, Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.0, Macromedia FreeHand 10, Aspyr’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, Aladdin’s Stuffit Deluxe, Pro Create Painter 7, FileMaker Pro, and a host of products from Symantec.

QuarkXPress and Adobe Photoshop were still notable by their absence from the roster, though a greatly anticipated application was Microsoft’s Office v.X for Mac.

A month after the launch, Apple introduced “the iPod – a breakthrough MP3 music player that stores up to 1,000 CD-quality songs on its super-thin 5GB hard drive.”