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20 years of Mac OS X: Here’s how Apple’s desktop operating system has evolved over the years

On the twentieth anniversary of Mac OS X, here’s how Apple's desktop operating system has transformed over the years.

Written by Anuj Bhatia | New Delhi |
Updated: March 24, 2021 7:58:42 pm
Designed by Jonathan Paul Ive, the iMac G4 remains Apple's most beautiful Mac of all time. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

On March 24, 2001, the first version of Mac OS X, Apple’s new operating system became available to the public. Originally announced by Steve Jobs at the 2000 Macworld Expo in San Francisco, Mac OS X (or macOS it is known today) gave a new lease of life to the company’s flagship Macintosh computers. Based on Unix architecture and reimagined from the ground up, Apple’s pitch with the MacOS X was its ease of use and a new Aqua user interface. Since its inception in 2001, OS X (or macOS) has changed a lot over the years, becoming the main identity of a modern-day Mac. With the Mac OS X marking 20 years since it went on sale, we take a look at the evolution of Apple’s desktop operating system.

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OS X 10.0: Cheetah

First introduced in 2001, Mac OS X 10.0, dubbed “Cheetah”, was unlike previous Mac operating systems. Even though in the beginning it was slow and buggy, the Mac OS X 10.0 proved to be pivotal for the Macintosh. Cheetah brought in the Aqua user interface and features like full preemptive multitasking and protected memory. Not just that, Cheetah also introduced the dock which is still a part of macOS. Other applications and features such as Mail, Terminal, Address Book and Text Edit were launched for the first time in this OS version.

OS X 10.1: Puma

Mac OS X 10.1, which was code-named ‘Puma’, was released as a free upgrade CD for OS X 10 users. The OS ironed out a lot of issues and flaws users had faced during the release of Mac OS X 10.0. Puma offered faster menu navigation as well as brought features like a moveable dock and new system menus. For the first time, the OS provided support for DVD playback alongside the ability to use third-party digital cameras and MP3 players.

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OS X 10.2: Jaguar

Then came the Mac OS X 10.2, which was code-named ‘Jaguar’. Released in August 2002, Jaguar was a much more stable release than both Cheetah and Puma. Not only was it praised for its reliability, but it also brought a lot of new features including the default ‘iChat’ messenger and several user interface enhancements. For the first time, Apple allowed users to magnify screens and launch applications using speech dictation as part of its efforts to add universal access features in its OS. The Finder, which helps you find the files, apps, and downloads on your Mac, was launched as part of the Mac OS X 10.2.

Mac OS X Panther. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

OS X 10.3 Panther

In October 2003, Apple introduced Mac OS X 10.3, which was code-named ‘Panther’. It was the most comprehensive update ever since Apple introduced Cheetah in 2001. Panther introduced an updated Finder, a new brushed metal interface, and an improved version of ‘iChat’ which allowed users to send messages using audio and video. Perhaps the biggest highlight of Panther was the introduction of Safari as the default browser for this new operating system which replaced Internet Explorer for Mac. Panther also included Front Book, a new application to manage front fonts in the system.

OS X 10.4 Tiger

The launch of Mac OS X 10.4, which was code-named ‘Tiger’, brought a total of 200 new features to Apple’s desktop operating system. Introduced in April 2005, Tiger became the launch vehicle of MacOS’s best feature — Spotlight, a brand new way to search for Mac for anything. The OS also introduced features such as Dashboard, Smart Folders, QuickTime 7, and much more. Tiger was the longest-running version of macOS before Apple replaced it with Leopard which was released on October 26, 2007.

OS X 10.5 Leopard

Leopard’s launch in October 2007 was touted as “the largest update of Mac OS X”. Mac OS X 10.5 introduced as many as 300 new features including a brand new look, introduction of Time Machine, updated Finder, and the ability to use Boot Camp to install other operating systems. Leopard also supported multi-touch gestures which were incorporated in MacBook Air.

Mac OS X Snow Leopard (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard, introduced as Mac OS X 10.6 in September 2009, was more of an incremental upgrade. It did, however, offered small tweaks like disk space clean-up to improve the performance of the hard disk. Although not the biggest update, Snow Leopard introduced the Mac App Store for the first time.

OS X 10.7 Lion

In July 2011, Apple introduced the Mac OS X 10.7 which was codenamed as ‘Lion’. The operating system took note of iOS and brought several cutting-edge features such as the use of multi-touch gestures to the Mac. AirDrop, a feature enabling users of Apple devices to wirelessly share and receive files, was introduced with Lion. Another big feature, Launchpad, which has access to all of your Mac apps, made its debut with Lion. With the Mac OS X 10.7, Apple officially dropped support for 32-bit Intel processors.

macOS Mountain Lion. (Image credit: Apple)

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion

In 2012, ‘Lion’ was replaced with ‘Mountain Lion’. Mac OS X 10.8 will always be known for adding several features that were previously part of iOS 5 including support for iMessage (iChat was replaced), Game Center, and integrated iCloud. Notification center was included in Mountain Lion. Notes and Reminders now easily synced between the iPhone and Mac.

From tablet to computer: How Apple’s iPad has evolved over the years

OS X 10.9 Mavericks

Mavericks’ launch in 2013 was a big shift in how Apple distributes its operating system. It was the first operating system that Apple did not charge for. Although it did not introduce any big changes to the macOS, Mavericks mostly added Finder improvements and reduced power consumption. It also supported Retina Display. In a way, Mavericks was designed to improve the performance of MacBook notebook owners, rather than iMac users. Mavericks started the trend for a new California-based naming scheme, which still continues with Big Sur, the latest version of macOS.

OS X 10.10: Yosemite

The debut of Mac OS X 10.10, which was code-named as ‘Yosemite’, boasted a number of significant changes. Introduced in 2014, Yosemite gave a new look to OS X’s user interface. Inspired by iOS 7, the old interface was replaced with a flat design and more colorful surfaces. Apple also introduced features like Handoff and Continuity, a move to improve cross-platform integration between iOS and Mac.

OS X 10.11: El Capitan

Released in 2015, El Capitan (or Mac OS X 10.11) improved the usability of Yosemite, with performance improvements across the board. Opening files was much quicker, plus Apple added support for Split-screen mode, allowing users to open two windows display side-by-side without having to manually resize the windows to get them to fit. A new feature called Spaces was also introduced, letting users create multiple “desktops,” organizing your apps and windows.

macOS 10.12: Sierra

In 2016, Apple announced macOS Sierra. With the arrival of Mac OS X 10.12 , which was code-named as ‘Sierra’, Apple decided to drop the “X” in “OS X” with macOS Sierra. As with past OS X releases, macOS Sierra was available as a free upgrade via the Mac App Store. Siri was tightly integrated, and you could finally use Apple Pay on a Mac. Sierra also made it easier for Apple Watch wearers to unlock their Mac.

macOS High Sierra. (Image credit: Apple)

macOS 10.13: High Sierra

High Sierra, macOS 10.13, was an evolutionary update that marked an important chapter in macOS history in 2017. The big change was the first major update to Apple’s file system in around 30 years. High Sierra also marked the arrival of Metal 2, which offered graphical enhancements as well as introduced a new video encoding for 4K.

macOS Mojave. (Image credit: Apple)

macOS 10.14: Mojave

Codenamed ‘Mojave’, Apple introduced macOS 10.14 in June 2018. The operating system brought a new “dark mode” available on all of Mac’s built-in apps. The update also allowed users to set a dynamic desktop that adjusts to the time of day. Mojave also added some iOS apps such as News and Stocks to the Mac. Other features included in Mojave were the ability to control your smart home devices right from a Mac, a new Mac App Store, and support for group FaceTime video calls.

macOS Catalina. (Image credit: Apple)

macOS 10.15: Catalina

macOS 10.15 Catalina, the next major update to Apple’s Mac operating system, was announced in 2019. The new macOS Catalina marked the end of iTunes on Macs, replacing the popular digital music store with separate apps for Apple Music, Podcasts, and Apple TV. The update also saw Apple adding support for iPad apps on macOS through a new initiative called Project Catalyst. A new Sidecar feature was included in this operating system, which allowed iPads to be used as secondary displays for your Mac.

macOS Big Sur. (Image credit: Apple)

macOS 11: Big Sur

The current version of macOS 11, also known as macOS Big Sur, was announced in June 2020. Seen as the biggest visual update in years, macOS Big Sur introduced the new visual design, a new translucent menu bar, a refreshed dock, redesigned app icons, as well as an improved internet browsing experience. In Big Sur, the Messages app now includes a new search feature and a redesigned photo picker. Maps too got a major overhaul in macOS 11.

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