A Trip Down OS X Memory Lane

A Trip Down OS X Memory LaneRemember when an Apple OS was just a number, and not a cat? If you can’t, why don’t you stick around and take a history refresher with me? Let’s start out where it all began: Macintosh OS 1, or System. By today’s standards, it was barely enough to boot a computer much less run it, but in its time, it was revolutionary. To start off with, it was the first operating system that used a GUI (graphical user interface) rather than a command line, which made for much better ease of use. This enabled it to do things that had never been seen before. In another OS, you had to know the exact command for your process, enter it into the command line, and then it would go about its business. Apple didn’t like this, so in using the GUI, it made the first desktop. And can you guess what icon was there? Yep. Finder — the exact same file management app you have on you Mac today. That’s where the similarities stop, for the most part.

Due to the fact that this was 1984 and most computers had about 500 kilobytes of RAM, you could only run one application at a time and you had to use application shells. Move ahead to 1987 and Apple released System 5, which came with the ability to run multiple applications at once, which was a huge leap forward in the period of three years. It used something called a cooperative multitasking model (better know as MultiFinder) that designated time to the background apps only when the running application allotted time. This meant that you couldn’t use multiple applications simultaneously, but you could leave applications running.

Move forward into 1988 and Apple released System 6, providing a stable and reliable copy of the old operating system. A more noteworthy feature about this OS is that it came with two very key hardware releases. The SuperDrive, which provided 1.4 megabytes of storage on a floppy drive, and the 68030 processor. These would later go on to be incorporated into the Macintosh Portable. Let me just stop here for a moment to point out the price of these things. The Macintosh Portable had the 6.0 OS, a 68000 Motorola chip, 1 MB RAM, and weighed 16 pounds, and cost $6500. With inflation, that is about $14,000 today — enough to buy a car!

Now skip ahead to 1991 and the release of Apple OS 7, a significant step forward for Apple. It came with improved stability, a much better GUI, new apps, and other general new and exciting features. It was during this time that Microsoft started becoming a major competitor with Apple and the great Mac vs. PC argument began. It was also during this time that Apple introduced its first legit virtual memory support — a big thing, especially for computers with limited capacity. Also, OS 7 introduced a built-in MultiFinder rather than including it as an optional feature. Plus, due to the fact that the Internet was exploding in popularity at this time, OS 7 had many updates that helped improve computer networking. During this same OS, it released shortcuts, a resource used by almost every computer user on Earth. It enabled you to make sub folders in Finder so that organization could be improved. As you can see, 1991 was a busy year for Apple.

The next release — OS 8 — was basically a shell. It was released just after Steve Jobs returned to Apple. This operating system, when released, looked much different than its ancestor, OS 7, but quite frankly didn’t offer that much more. The only major change made was to the HFS, which was, quite simply, a file system for Apple operating systems. Along with this release also came the ability to change skins for the GUI. However menial these changes were, they were helped along by the cult following of Apple. In just the first two weeks, the company sold 1.2 million copies of it.

In 1999, Apple released OS 9, or the last Apple operating system before it started naming them after cats. It was far less disappointing than the previous release of OS 8, with improved multi-user systems, the Sherlock Finder, and improved RAM implementation. The multi-user system was not nearly perfect at this point, but it did allow different users to separate their files by users. Due to the greater amounts of data storage that computers were offering, Apple put Sherlock into Finder to improve the ease with which someone could locate a file. Not only could you find your files more easily, but you also had better networking control from your computer. It was also one of the first operating systems to implement automatic updating. The Apple Software Update would check the Internet for any OS updates and then implement them if there were any available. Other improvements made to this OS were easier accessibility to data encryption, better I/O drivers, and the Keychain program.

Now we slide right on past the 2000 scare (without any broken computers) and are into the 21st century, with flying cars, personal spaceships, and pet giraffes. Not quite, but what we do have is OS X, the 10th Apple operating system, and this time around, the company decided to name this and further versions after a bunch of cats. Now the Apple operating system is using a Unix kernel with the capacity for multiple users, fluid file sharing, and multitasking. With almost every new OS X comes some sort of new program, such as Power Nap.

This idea of naming OS X versions after large kitties is actually kind of cool, in a way that only Apple could pull off. I just wonder what animal it will use next when it gets to 11 — if its naming scheme will continue to involve animals at all. What do you think will be the next animal Apple uses?

My name is James Lavanway. I am a high school student in Richmond, Vermont, who has had a fascination in all things technical and electronic since a young age. Also, I prefer to work with hardware where I can see what I am working with, rather than lines of code.

CC licensed Flickr photo shared by Kansir