October 23, 1999: Apple releases Mac OS 9, the last version of the classic Mac operating system before the company will make the leap to OS X a couple years later.
It does not veer far from OS 8 in terms of look and feel. However, OS 9 adds a few nifty features that make it well worth the upgrade.
Mac OS 9 was not the major upgrade that Mac OS 8 had been a couple years earlier. One reason was the length of time that passed between the releases. Mac OS 8 arrived six years after System 7, necessitating a major overhaul.
Secondly, Mac OS 9 was not Apple’s main operating system focus at the time.
Internally, the company was already hard at work on the UNIX-based OS X, which incorporated technology Apple acquired when it bought Steve Jobs’ company NeXT.
Still, OS 9 turned out to be a solid upgrade. It proved good enough, in fact, that a loyal army of OS 9 users exists to this day.
Mac OS 9: Personalized desktops, internet encryption
Like an iPhone “s” upgrade, OS 9 did not bring much visual change. However, it added a couple of useful under-the-hood updates that Mac fans appreciated.
One big feature was the ability to let multiple users have their own separate logins, complete with personalized desktops, private folders and applications. Administrators could choose whether these users enjoyed full, limited or regular access. This sounds minor today, but such an arrangement was relatively new in 1999. (Apple actually tried out this feature on its earlier Copland operating system, which never shipped to more than a tiny number of developers.)
OS 9 also brought improved networking and internet capabilities, including a new file-encryption service and — for the first time — Keychain. This pre-iCloud password-management system stored data on a network file server so it could be accessed from other Macs.
The OS also offered an improved Sherlock 2 search application, TCP/IP-based personal file sharing, and a Voiceprint password feature, which allowed you to log in by speaking your password rather than typing it. (This was Apple’s first dip into the world of biometrics, although it didn’t work too well.)
Unlike today’s Apple operating systems, Mac OS 9 was not free. It cost $99 (or $79 with a $20 rebate if you already used Mac OS 8.5).
A funeral for Mac OS 9
The operating system was ultimately supported by Apple until May 2002, when Steve Jobs held a mock funeral at the Worldwide Developers Conference to announce that Apple had stopped development of the operating system. Apple released the final iteration, Mac OS 9.2.2, in December 2001.
Do you remember using Mac OS 9? Leave your comments below.
Sign up for our free Apple history email