5-year-old Mac OS X ranks as one of Apple’s greatest successes

“Yesterday, Apple Computer Inc. turned 30 years old. But an equally significant anniversary occurred two Fridays ago: March 24 marked Mac OS X’s fifth birthday. Four major updates later, that operating system ranks as one of Apple’s greatest successes,” Rob Pegoraro writes for The Washington Post. “OS X has shown that it’s possible to fix three of the worst parts of computing: adding programs, removing them and keeping everything in good working order… Mac OS X also looks great — its fluid, shimmering, translucent Aqua interface has been imitated many times, most prominently in Windows Vista’s Aero Glass graphics — but those nifty special effects aren’t the most important feature in OS X. Nor is it this operating system’s agile multitasking and nearly crash-free stability, or even the processor-independent architecture, that make it at home on both PowerPC and Intel chips.”

Instead, it’s the way Mac OS X lives by three basic principles, which together make it easier to live with than any competitor.
• The system is separate from everything else.
• Each user’s files are separate from everybody else’s.
• Each application acts as one, indivisible file.

“It would be hard to make installing an application simpler than it is under this system: After downloading the program, you drag its icon to the Applications folder. There is no step three,” Pegoraro writes. “Likewise, ‘uninstalling’ a program consists of dragging its icon to the trash. (Preference and cache files will be left behind, but they won’t harm the system and can be deleted easily enough if you want.) … This progress has come at a cost, though: To leap this far ahead, Apple had to ditch a lot of old baggage… Could Microsoft, with so many more customers to satisfy, have made the same trade-off with Vista? Probably not. But maybe it should have. In operating systems, a little revolution every now and then isn’t just a good thing, sometimes it may be the only way forward.”

Full article here.

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41 Comments

  1. Wow! Where is everybody?

    Are we all still recovering from a typical Saturday night combined with forgetting about the whole daylight saving time thing?

    Oh, yaah — the story. Great. Wonderful. Not really news, but hey. It’s a Sunday.

    And it’s stunningly beautiful here in the northeast today, so I’m heading outdoors.

  2. re: About the article, the stability is a huge step forward. Mac OS lagged behind windows here in the 90s. Had to be fixed.

    Conflict Catcher, anyone?”:

    Too bad that Windows apparently still does not have anything that works as well as Conflict Catcher did.

    You could resolve problems fairly easily that, in the Windows world, requires messing around in the Registry, or in the Install/deinstall function with no way of knowing whether you are causing “collateral damage.”

  3. Well, well. Someone who realises what the realities of what computer OSes are about. Apple has never really lagged behind M$ – all that has happened has been the erosion of the lead. Wndows 97 = Apple OS 7.5 with a few twirls: Windows 2000 = Apple OS 8: NT a pure distraction. XP is more or less where 9.2.2 was. Vista = approx OS 10.3 if and when it appears. Apple 10.5 – Apple disappearing into the distance once more As always – and I have taught and used both since the very beginning of either – Apple has been the more elegant and intuitive, generally more robust and, unless you use both regularly, many of Apple’s advantages are not immediately obvious.

  4. While I am quite pleased with the content of this article, and agree that the author really “gets it”, I wonder about the view that keeping the application layer and OS layer separate is a “revolutionary leap forward”. Hasn’t this been a general principle of of good computing architecture design for decades?

    It has been present in UNIX and its derivatives for years. Early versions of MS-DOS/Windows and to a lesser extent Mac OS didn’t follow this principle as well because they were trying to keep backwards compatibility with architectures designed for systems with very low memory and processor power.

    Even in OS 9 and earlier I think this was always much less of a problem with the Mac than with M$, however. I don’t think there was ever a time when trying to throw away the web browser application would break the entire operating system on the Mac. Where the old MacOS got in trouble was the addition of too many “extensions”, as was suggested above in the comments about Conflict Catcher. It always set my teeth on edge when I would see friends’ Macs start up and have the startup splash screen nearly covered with Extension icons…

  5. There have been several years of praise. Is this a sign of the apocalypse? ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”tongue rolleye” style=”border:0;” />

  6. …Where the old MacOS got in trouble was the addition of too many “extensions”, as was suggested above in the comments about Conflict Catcher. It always set my teeth on edge when I would see friends’ Macs start up and have the startup splash screen nearly covered with Extension icons…

    And, how about finding two or more copies of the same ‘extensions’, or different versions. Or dozens of ‘googly eyes’ or ‘PeeWee’ type extensions.

    If those folks had of learned how to find and organize the Extensions Folder they could have saved themselves a load of grief, plus the fare for getting on Conflict Catcher.

    I learned, unfortunately the hard way. Fortunately it took under a month. Then nothing would get installed without revealing itself amongst the other ‘red-labelled’ extension icons. And a ‘clean’ Extensions Folder was always a Zip Disk away.

  7. Excellent read. Yes, the Unix based OSs have far better architectures than the single user PC OSs. The latter had to support hardware that was too resource poor to support Unix. When Steve Jobs formed NeXT, he had the chance to break free of the limits of the early PCs and came out with OS X’s grand daddy, NeXTSTEP, using a message passing architecture kernel, Mach, and a radical new object oriented framework — both created by a real genius, Avie Tevanian. The choice of Objective C was also brilliant, having a message passing OO architecture just like the underlaying Mach kernel. And topping it off was Display Postscript, a thing of beauty. NeXTSTEP also used the bundle approach touted in the article. I bought the Intel version of NeXTSTEP with a student discount. Too bad everyone else went with the hideous crap defecated by Microsoft. So when Jobs came back to Apple, he already had much of the makings of the new operating system that became OS X.

    And the bundle system is a winner that I wish Linux had, but the approach used in Unix is very different. Dealing with the scattered approach to application files in Unix/Linux can be a real pain in the ass. The Linux community is now dealing with this reasonably well with managed code repositories and easy to use tools to download and install applications. But Apple’s radical departure is typical of its insistence of going for the best when it has the chance. Apple, in a stroke, solved the dependency problem that plagues Unix and Linux by simply avoiding the problem by using bundles.

  8. A true quantum leap is the smallest measurable change. Apple has managed to make a seriously large jump with the change from OS9 to OS X: thereafter, every change, if well-founded. will be quite close to a quantum leap but the improvements will compound themselves rather than simply arithmetic because of Apple’s methods of development. Vista will not be a truly major leap over XP because of Microsoft’s obsession with backward compatibility and a sub-standard paradigm of programming. 8000 developers for Vista and how many viruses already ?

    How many features of Vista have been dumped already ? Vista will end up as XP Service Pack 3. What did Steve Jobs say ? “Microsoft, start your photocopiers !”

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