Mac OS X – the operating system that saved Apple

In June 1996, Apple unveiled a preview version of Copland at the WWDC Developer Conference. The idea was that the new operating system could seriously compete with Windows 95, but that did not happen.

When Apple developers could not finish the promised version of Mac OS 8 in time, they chose instead to release a revamped version of the old operating system under the same name.

Copland was swept under the rug and apart from a book titled Mac OS 8 Revealed and some t-shirts with the text Hands-On Experience there are no longer any visible traces of the project.

This is what the shirt that Apple handed out to participants at WWDC 1996 looked like.

Apple realized that good advice was expensive and the desperation would eventually lead to the launch of Mac OS X, an operating system that greatly helped to reverse the negative spiral in which the company had ended up in the 1990s.

Therefore, Apple needed a new operating system

The classic version of Mac OS was developed in the 1980s and was created for the computers of that time. As development progressed at a rapid pace, it became increasingly difficult to adapt the system to the new conditions.

Mac OS was created to run one program at a time, adding full support for multitasking was not the easiest thing to do, especially as memory management was also deficient.

System 7.6.1
The classic operating system for Mac was not adapted to modern needs.

Apple was in desperate need of a new and more stable system, not least when Microsoft made great strides with Windows 95 and Windows NT during the same period.

Copland was intended to offer major improvements regarding multitasking and memory management, but also a modern interface with support for themes, an advanced search function, a new file system and so on.

When Mac OS 8 was first introduced in the summer of 1997, it was, as I said, a slightly modernized version of the classic operating system. Compared to System 7, it was a step forward, but it was far from what Apple promised the year before.

Apple picks out the wallet

After the Copland failure, Apple had no choice but to see if there was a suitable operating system to buy or license. According to the company’s then CEO Gil Amelio and chief technology officer Ellen Hancock, there were simply no conditions for Apple to build the next generation Mac OS on its own.

A proposal to base the Mac OS on Microsoft’s Windows NT kernel got the thumbs down, as did a proposal to build a completely new platform based on Java.

Instead, they turned their attention to two interesting operating systems with links to two previous Apple profiles.

In one corner of the ring stood BeOS, a relatively new operating system from a company founded by Apple veteran Jean-Louis GasseĆ©. The operating system had a modern graphical interface and advanced search features that were far ahead of its time. In addition, it was already adapted for Apple’s Power Mac computers, which was a big plus. On the other hand, it would take a lot of work for Apple to add everything that was missing in the system.

In the other corner of the ring was Nextstep, a more complete operating system from Steve Jobs’ company Next. Although some of the groundbreaking features of BeOS were missing, Amelio and Hancock were convinced enough and decided to buy Next at a cost of $ 400 million.

Steve Jobs
Not only did Apple get a modern operating system when they acquired Next, it also brought Steve Jobs back to the company he founded in 1976.

As a result of the acquisition, Steve Jobs returned to Apple, first in a role as an “advisor”, but it was not long before he was appointed CEO. Under his leadership, everything turned upside down again, but we do not need to go into that in more detail in this article.

Mac OS X sees the light of day

Although Apple acquired Next as early as December 1996, it would be until March 2001 before Mac OS X 10.0 was launched.

So it took more than four years for Avie Tevanian and company to transform Nextstep into something that felt like a modern variant of Mac OS. To be really honest, 10.0 was not a “finished” version either and it would not be until April 2002 before Steve Jobs organized a public funeral for the predecessor Mac OS 9. Only then did Mac OS X have all the features that could be expected of a modern operating system.

In addition to a new theme, the dock, where the most used programs are placed, was one of the most visible news in Mac OS X. It still exists today and is the clearest legacy of Nextstep.

The doll
The doll is the clearest legacy from Nextstep in today’s Mac OS.

Before Mac OS X was released, we got to see Rhapsody and Mac OS X Server, two odd hybrid versions that were primarily aimed at developers.

Apple’s solution to bridge the differences between Nextstep and Mac OS was Yellow Box (Cocoa) and Blue Box (Carbon), a modernized version of the existing Mac OS application environment.

With the help of Carbon, developers were able to update their old programs relatively quickly and easily so that they could run in Mac OS X. Then they could file in peace on new Cocoa versions that could take full advantage of the modern features of the operating system.

Users who wanted to continue using their old applications and games not adapted for Mac OS X could do so via Classic, a virtualized version of classic Mac OS. This allowed Apple to persuade customers to buy new computers without forcing them to buy new software at the same time.

Given that they needed to implement multiple layers in order to run the various programs, it’s not really surprising that it took some time before Mac OS X saw the light of day.

Eventually, Apple was able to abolish both Classic and Carbon, which means that only the code from Nextstep lives on today.

The legacy of Next and Nextstep

With that in mind, it’s not surprising that many experts believe that Steve Jobs’ return was the big deal with the acquisition of Next, but that is not the whole truth.

All of Apple’s current operating systems are basically based on Nextstep. This is why app developers still come across such things as NSObject, NSString and NSArray, the prefix NS comes from Nextstep.

Apple gadgets
As Apple got its hands on Nextstep, the company was able to not only develop Mac OS X, but also iOS, Ipad OS, TV OS, Watch OS and Homepod OS.

So when we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Mac OS X, it’s not just to celebrate an operating system for Macs. It’s also a way to celebrate the modern Apple birthday.

Translation and editing: Mikael Markander