Cats On The Prowl: The Evolution of Mac OS X From Cheetah To Mountain Lion [Gallery]

Mac OS X 10.4 “Tiger” (2005)

10 4 11 Tiger

Apple’s next big cat spent the longest time on the prowl of any Mac OS X release to date. Tiger spent about two and a half years on the market and spanned the Mac’s transition from PowerPC to Intel processors. After this release Apple slowed down rate of OS X upgrades to no more than once every 18 months, largely at the request of developers who were having trouble keeping up.

10.4 introduced Dashboard to the masses – similar to Desk Accessories from the Classic Mac OS – and replaced Sherlock Find with the heavily hyped Spotlight. The latter was a mixed blessing under Tiger, definitely a rev 1 release, but pointed the way to the future for Apple. As Spotlight and search capabilities in general evolve they are replacing the filesystem as the primary way we locate information on our computers.

Tiger was the last release which supported Classic mode on PowerPC Macs. As the first release for Intel systems Apple introduced Rosetta, a translation layer to allow old PowerPC code to run on Intel chips. Automator, Core Image and Core Video joined the arsenal of underlying technologies, and Brushed Aluminum dominated the interface.

Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard” (2007)

10 5 8 Leopard

Leopard is Apple first (and only) Universal Binary release of OS X, it can be installed from a retail installer on either Intel and PowerPC Macs. The OS was a major rewrite, fully supporting 64-bit applications, recompiling major routines for Intel, and dropping Classic mode support.

Time Machine backup software debuted with 10.5, offering an easy (and mostly reliable) way to backup your Mac with a very slick user interface. The outer space theme also became dominant on the desktop and login screen. Spotlight finally became truly useable, the Boot Camp utility to install Windows on your Mac was included (this was a beta download under Tiger), and the virtual desktop utility Spaces was introduced.

A subtly-shaded gray theme replaces brushed aluminum under Leopard. Safari continued its evolution, becoming an internet standard on Macs and iOS devices, and gains the Top Sites window. And the iTunes icon turned blue again…

Mac OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard” (2009)

10 6 8 Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard was the Mac’s first Intel-only release, dropping support for PowerPC machines. It was billed by Apple as a maintenance upgrade to Leopard: no major features, just under-the-hood improvements. Underscoring Apple’s desire to get users to move to this release, the usual $129 price was dropped to $29.

Features and benefits are evolutionary. The Finder (finally) gets rewritten as a Cocoa app, MS Exchange Support is added to Mail, and the trackpad comes to desktop Macs. The full suite of iLife apps gets prime placement in the Dock, along with the new (and surprisingly controversial) iTunes icon.

Noticeably different to longterm Mac users is how the filesystem continues to get deprecated relative to search: the boot disk (internal hard drive) no longer appears on the desktop by default. And of interest to long time Mac users, Snow Leopard was the final OS X release that can run Power-PC software on Intel Macs (thanks to Rosetta). That makes this version a milestone for backwards compatibility.

Snow Leopard was a very capable, comprehensive release which powered the Mac’s strongest period of growth to date. Under Lion, among other changes, search becomes the primary way the Finder encourages you to interact with your system, and browsing hard drives becomes secondary. Apple has been trying to kill off the filesystem for years, have they finally succeeded? iOS leads the way.

Next: Lion and Mountain Lion

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  • Stefen Hernandez

    I was just thinking about that the other day, how in all these years not much has changed in the alert sounds. You would think with the whole “Back to the mac” they would bring alert sounds from the iPhone over to the mac.

  • Nikolai Baker

    It certainly is time for a (subtle) modernisation of the system sounds.

    And I’ll giggle if the most discussion on this article is system sounds!

  • Solowalker

    As an aside, while iTunes is bundled with the OS it isn’t really considered part of OS X and is updated separately (similar to iLife). Consequently, the iTunes icon changes had nothing to do with the OS version but were tied to iTunes versions. For a while, the icon changed color every version as a way to easily tell which version you were running, but that slowed with versions 4-6 (which were released in quick succession) and pretty much stopped with 7 until 10 was released. Check it out.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITunes_version_history

    It’s also worth noting that very frequently iTunes hinted at new OS UI changes long before the new OS version was released, such as moving away from brushed metal to the solid grey and ditching colored sidebar icons.

  • Johnny Allain-Labon

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Snow Leopard Intel only, with Lion as 64 bit. Leopard was the last universal OS

  • Solowalker

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Snow Leopard Intel only, with Lion as 64 bit. Leopard was the last universal OS

    The article mentions Snow Leopard’s Intel-only status, but doesn’t mention 64-bit anywhere other than Leopard. Apple’s road to 64-bit has been long and slow, making it largely transparent to the end user (vs. Microsoft’s all-or-nothing approach starting with XP that broke all kinds of stuff and was mostly nothing but headaches).

    OS X has gradually added 64-bit support in rather clever ways, including being able to run 64-bit apps on a 32-bit OS (if your processor could handle 64-bit instructions). 64-bit support started with Tiger, where command line apps could be 64-bit. Leopard added 64-bit GUI apps. Snow Leopard introduced a(n optional) 64-bit kernel. If I recall correctly, Lion was just about all 64-bit but still ran some 32-bit kernel extensions–required a 64-bit processor but could run on 32-bit chipsets/EFI. Mountain Lion is 100% 64-bit kernel and will not support any 32-bit kernel extensions and even requires 64-bit EFI.

    I hope that answers your question. This would be good info to have in the article, too (with any gaps or errors I may have corrected).

  • BradMacPro

    The author has a minor mistake. Lion is also called OS X, not Mac OS X. He writes that change of dropping Mac from the name comes with Mountain Lion. And for Johnny Allain-Labon: Yes, Mac OS X 10.6.x Snow Leopard is Intel only. See http://support.apple.com/kb/SP575

  • BradMacPro

    The author has a minor mistake. Lion is also called OS X, not Mac OS X. He writes that change of dropping Mac from the name comes with Mountain Lion. And for Johnny Allain-Labon: Yes, Mac OS X 10.6.x Snow Leopard is Intel only. See http://support.apple.com/kb/SP575

  • Adam Rosen

    The article mentions Snow Leopard’s Intel-only status, but doesn’t mention 64-bit anywhere other than Leopard. Apple’s road to 64-bit has been long and slow, making it largely transparent to the end user

    You’re right, the move from 32-bit to 64-bit has been an ongoing transition for Mac OS X since Leopard, and indeed largely transparent to end users. Lion is now fully 64-bit. Thanks for pointing out that attribute.

  • Adam Rosen

    The author has a minor mistake. Lion is also called OS X, not Mac OS X. He writes that change of dropping Mac from the name comes with Mountain Lion.

    Actually Apple has referred to Lion both ways. If you look at the offering in the Mac App Store, it’s called “OS X Lion”, though if you look at the About This Mac… box on a system running Lion, it says “Mac OS X”. I’ve been using the descriptors in the About… box for this article.

  • joewaylo

    I’m betting OS X 10.9 will be called Lynx. The most dangerous ferocious cat.

  • Christian Moesgaard

    I think the most remarkable thing about this history is just how little it’s changed, and that is praise in every way you can regard it. OS 9 to OS 10 was a huge leap forward, to the point where OS 10.1 was arguably the equivalent to Windows 7 in terms of design. Ever since then it’s gotten incrementally better and continues to surpass Windows.

    If only the performance had been more solid… Well, it looks like Mountain Lion is finally getting it dead right.

  • Andrew Newsome

    I think the most remarkable thing about this history is just how little it’s changed, and that is praise in every way you can regard it. OS 9 to OS 10 was a huge leap forward, to the point where OS 10.1 was arguably the equivalent to Windows 7 in terms of design. Ever since then it’s gotten incrementally better and continues to surpass Windows.

    If only the performance had been more solid… Well, it looks like Mountain Lion is finally getting it dead right.

    Each operating system has their own pros and cons. I do not believe OS X “continues to surpass Windows”. I have a Windows custom build, and a 2012 macbook air. Really, there is hardly any difference, apart from the fact that it syncs seamlessly with my ipad and iphone.

  • Christian Moesgaard
    I think the most remarkable thing about this history is just how little it’s changed, and that is praise in every way you can regard it. OS 9 to OS 10 was a huge leap forward, to the point where OS 10.1 was arguably the equivalent to Windows 7 in terms of design. Ever since then it’s gotten incrementally better and continues to surpass Windows.

    If only the performance had been more solid… Well, it looks like Mountain Lion is finally getting it dead right.

    Each operating system has their own pros and cons. I do not believe OS X “continues to surpass Windows”. I have a Windows custom build, and a 2012 macbook air. Really, there is hardly any difference, apart from the fact that it syncs seamlessly with my ipad and iphone.

    The only redeeming qualities of Windows is that it isn’t tied to a specific piece of hardware and runs Office. Take any of these advantages away and Windows has no market except for games and legacy applications in business.

    This is why, by the way, there isn’t a Linux version of Office.

About the author

Adam RosenAdam Rosen is an IT consultant specializing in Apple Macintosh systems new and old. He lives in Boston with two cats and too many possessions. In addition to membership in the Cult of Mac, Adam has written for Low End Mac and is curator of the Vintage Mac Museum. He also enjoys a good libation.

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