Apple launched its revolutionary OS X 20 years ago


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The first official public version of Mac OS X was launched by Apple on March 24, 2001. It wasn’t a success at first, but it powered the Mac through the next 19 years until macOS Big Sur.

The fact that OS X launched at all on March 24, 2001, was a relief and felt like an achievement if you were a long-time Mac user. Even though that very first “Cheetah” version, 10.0, lacked features and did not lack bugs, it existed and that wasn’t something you could say about Apple’s previous OS attempts.

It wasn’t just that 1999’s Mac OS 9 was hardly a dramatic improvement over 1997’s OS 8. It was also that Apple had famously been working on a revolutionary new operating system throughout the ’90s.

From Pink and Taligent, through Copland and Gershwin, Apple had repeatedly tried to make a new operating system to keep the Mac up to date. Typically it had multiple versions in the works, some intended to address short-term issues, others to ready the Mac for the future.

When none of these years-long projects led to a shipping product, Apple went shopping for an OS, and ended up buying Steve Jobs back into the company.

Acquiring NeXT and therefore its NeXTSTEP operating system, was what paved the final road to OS X. On the way, it was briefly expected instead to lead to Rhapsody, the codename for an OS that would run classic Mac apps within NeXTSTEP.

The demise of that coincided with the removal of Apple CEO Gil Amelio, and over time his replacement by Steve Jobs. Over a year before OS X Cheetah would ship, Jobs outlined the whole plan for a “gentle migration” over from the classic Mac OS to the new one. And he ended the longstanding issue of different versions of the operating system being worked on at the same time.

Jobs emphasized that OS X was going to be one OS. “We are going to have a single OS strategy at Apple,” he said. “We’re not going to have a dual or a triple or quadruple OS strategy like some others. We’re going to have one OS and that’s very important to us.”

He summed up the goals Apple had with OS X, but then broke it down even further. The single real aim of OS X, he said, was to “make the next great personal computer…