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Mac OS X

Mac OS X, Boxed

Mac OS X is the latest version of the Mac OS operating system for Macintosh computers. Developed and published by Apple Computer, it provides the stability of a Unix operating environment and adds popular features of the traditional Macintosh user interface. The operating system was first commercially released in 2001.

The pronunciation of X as ten is favored by Apple, to emphasize continuity with previous Macintosh operating systems such as Mac OS 9. Some people pronounce it ex because of the appearance of the roman numeral X in the name of the operating system, or to emphasize the relationship with Unix, or because Apple often refers to specific versions as "Mac OS X 10.4" or variants thereof.

Mac OS X consists of two main parts: Darwin, an open source Unix-like environment which is based on the BSD source tree and the Mach microkernel, and a proprietary GUI named Aqua, developed by Apple Computer.

A server version of Mac OS X, named Mac OS X Server, is available. It is functionally identical to the regular version except for the inclusion of tools to run various network services on a computer, such as a mail server, a Samba server, a directory server, and a domain name server. It also has a different licensing model.



Main article: Mac OS X history

Despite its branding as simply "version 10" of the Mac OS, it has a history largely independent of the earlier Mac OS releases. It is based on the Mach kernel and the BSD implementation of UNIX, which were incorporated into NeXTSTEP, the object-oriented operating system developed by Steve Jobs' NeXT company after he was forced from Apple in 1985. Meanwhile, Apple attempted to create a "next generation" operating system of their own (see Taligent and Copland), but with little success. Eventually, NeXT's OS - by then called OPENSTEP - was selected to form the basis for Apple's next OS, and the company purchased NeXT outright. Jobs was rehired, and later returned to the leadership of the company, shepherding the transformation of the programmer-friendly OPENSTEP into a system that would be welcomed by Apple's primary market of home users and creative professionals, as a project known as Rhapsody. After some missteps which threatened the loyalty of independent developers to Mac OS, and changes of strategy to ease the transition from Mac OS 9 to the new system, Rhapsody evolved into Mac OS X.


Screenshot of Mac OS X 10.3
Screenshot of Mac OS X 10.3

Many of Mac OS X's users consider its Aqua GUI to be the most attractive and functional in existence, though many older Macintosh users found the new interface to be "toy-like" and lacking in professional polish. It has been imitated by many others; there are Aqua lookalikes for other operating systems. In addition, interface skins imitating the Aqua look exist for many Microsoft Windows programs, such as Winamp.

This combination of GUI and kernel has recently become the most popular-selling Unix environment to date by sheer numbers.

(Note that Mac OS X is not officially a UNIX OS, as Apple has not sought The Open Group branding, claiming that the cost of certification would make the OS prohibitively expensive. The Open Group has sued Apple over alleged violation of the UNIX trademark and has stated that the maximum fee required to certify OS X as a UNIX would be US$110,000 total.)

Mac OS X is compatible with older Mac OS applications by using Classic, an application which allows users to run Mac OS 9.x within Mac OS X, so that most older applications, such as the ubiquitous SimpleText, etc., run as they would under Mac OS 9.x. In addition, the Carbon APIs were added to permit legacy code to be quickly ported to run natively on both Mac OS X and Mac OS 9.x. The NeXTSTEP/OpenStep APIs are still available, but Apple now calls the technology Cocoa. You can see the NeXTSTEP heritage in the Cocoa APIs by the fact that class names mostly begin with "NS" (for NeXTSTEP). A fourth option for developers is to write applications in the Java platform, which OS X supports.

Mac OS X can run many BSD or Linux software packages once compiled for the platform. Compiled binaries are normally distributed as Mac OS X Packages; but may still require command-line configuration or compilation. Projects like Fink and DarwinPorts provide precompiled or preformatted packages for many standard packages.

Version 10.3 was the first to include Apple X11, Apple's version of the X11 graphical interface for Unix applications, as an optional component during install. Apple's implementation is based on XFree86 4.3 and X11R6.6, with its own window manager which mimics the native look, closer integration with Mac OS X and extensions to use the native Quartz rendering system and accelerate OpenGL.

Notable features

  • Uses the Portable Document Format (PDF) as the basis of its imaging model (Quartz)
  • Full color, continuously scalable icons (up to 128x128 pixels)
  • Drop shadow around window and isolated text elements to provide a sense of depth
  • Global spell checking and other powerful tools thanks to NeXT style application services
  • Anti-aliasing of widgets, text, graphics and window elements
  • New interface elements including sheets (non-modal dialogues attached to specific windows) and drawers
  • Interweaving windows (not necessarily adjacent in the visible stacking order)
  • ColorSync color matching built into the core drawing engine (for print and multimedia professionals)
  • OpenGL composites windows onto the screen to allow hardware accelerated drawing. This technology is called Quartz Extreme, and was first featured in Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar.
  • Exposť quickly tiles open windows and reveals files on your desktop, first featured in Mac OS X 10.3 Panther.
  • Pervasive use of Unicode throughout the operating system
  • Straightforward architecture for localisation of applications and other code, fully separates language dependencies from the core code of a program


On March 24 2001, Apple released Mac OS X 10.0 (codenamed Cheetah). It was praised for its completeness and stability at such an early point in its development (it being a total departure from previous Apple releases). Despite this, it was criticized for being slow, leading many (including Steve Jobs) to consider it an excellent beta release.

Later that year on September 25 2001, Mac OS X 10.1 (codenamed Puma) was released, increasing the performance of the system as well as providing missing features, such as DVD playback.

On August 24 2002, Apple followed up with Mac OS X 10.2 (codenamed Jaguar), which brought profound performance enhancements, a newer, sleeker look, and many powerful enhancements (over 150, according to Apple).

Mac OS X 10.3 (codenamed Panther), was released on October 24, 2003, and in addition to providing much improved performance also incorporated the most extensive update to the user interface, Aqua. The update included as many or more new features as Jaguar the year before.

  • Updated Finder, incorporating a brushed-metal interface and fast-searching
  • Exposť, a new system to manipulate windows
  • Fast User Switching that allows a user to remain logged in while another user logs in
  • iChat AV video-conferencing software
  • Improved PDF Rendering to allow for extremely fast PDF viewing
  • Built-in faxing support
  • Much greater Microsoft Windows compatibility
  • FileVault: on the fly encryption and decryption of a user's home folder
  • Increased speed across the entire system with more support for the G5

Mac OS X 10.4 (codenamed Tiger), is due to be released in the first half of 2005. Tiger will contain another 150 or more features, including new 64-bit enhancements for the G5.

  • Spotlight: Find anything on your computer quickly
  • Dashboard: Widgets for common tasks available on a desktop overlay just a click away
  • Automator: Automate repetitive tasks without programming
  • 64-bit memory support for the new G5
  • Re-written Unix filesystem utilities, such as cp and rsync, designed to preserve files' resource forks

The current version of Mac OS X is version 10.3.7 (released 12/15/04).

Detailed Mac OS timeline and Mac OS X Build Numbers


Main article: List of Macintosh software

See also

External links

Apple Computer

  • Apple: Mac OS X — official page
  • Apple: Darwin
  • Mac OS X for Unix users (PDF) — Unix-like features of Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther)
  • Introduction to the Apple Human Interface Guidelines


  • Mac OS X Hints — a popular website cataloguing and documenting ways of getting the most out of OS X
  • The Apple Museum
  • Dive Into Mac OS X — Wiki on Mac OS X
  • OSXFAQ - Technical news and support for Mac OS X
  • Mac OS X speed FAQ


  • What is OS X? ( — a balanced, accessible overview of the OS X operating system
  • Ars Technica: Mac OS X Q & A
  • Ars Technica: Mac OS X GUI
  • Ars Technica: Mac OS X DP2 review
  • Ars Technica: Mac OS X DP3 review
  • Ars Technica: Mac OS X DP4 review
  • Ars Technica: Mac OS X Public Beta review
  • Ars Technica: Mac OS X 10.0 review
  • Ars Technica: Mac OS X 10.1 review
  • Ars Technica: Mac OS X 10.2 review
  • Ars Technica: Mac OS X 10.3 review


  • PearPC - Windows/Linux emulator capable of running Mac OS X
  • Fink
  • FinkCommander
  • DarwinPorts

Mac OS history

Mac OS: System 6 | System 7 | Mac OS 8 | Mac OS 9
Mac OS X | Mac OS X 10.0 | Mac OS X 10.1 | Mac OS X 10.2 | Mac OS X 10.3 | Mac OS X 10.4
Mac OS X Server

Last updated: 02-08-2005 13:09:56
Last updated: 02-19-2005 10:38:14