The operating system fountain of youth: Apple’s iOS

“‘Operating Systems are like the Tax Code,’ goes the industry lore. ‘Each year, new lines of code are added, code that tells us how to allocate resources, how to deal with choices, what to do when an exception is encountered. And both are continually patched to deal with errors and new circumstances,'” Jean-Louis Gassée writes for Monday Note. “A prime example: Apple’s macOS.”

“In 1984, the Mac’s software engine, which included an AppleTalk network stack and a LaserWriter driver, ran on a single Motorola 68000 CPU and needed just 32K of ROM and 128K of RAM,” Gassée writes. “Within a decade, the Mac had been ported to the ill-fated PowerPC (designed by the Apple-IBM-Motorola alliance), and the System 7 operating system, while small by today’s standards, had become bloated.”

“When Steve Jobs and his band of NeXT computer scientists arrived in 1997 in a ‘reverse acquisition’ of Apple, the first order of business was to modernize the Mac’s software engine,” Gassée writes. “The OS team’s most important contribution was in skillfully and elegantly sliding a new Unix foundation under the existing apps, thus making the Mac both more reliable and more expandable… Today, macOS is a fully-grown computer operating system, pleasant, fast, flexible. But it’s also enormous — RAM and disk storage requirements are measured in gigabytes — and it isn’t exactly bug-free.”

“When the Apple smartphone project started, the key decision was the choice of software engine. Should Apple try to make a ‘lite’ version of OS X (as it was then known)? Go in a completely new direction?” Gassée writes. “After what must have been animated discussions, Scott Forstall, part of the NeXT cohort, prevailed. He convinced Jobs to let him make a version of the Mac’s operating system for the iPhone. This was no small task… The engineering feat performed by Forstall and his team and its enormous economic consequences can’t be overstated. They changed Apple and an entire industry, inaugurating the Smartphone 2.0 era.”

Much more in the full article – very highly recommendedhere.

MacDailyNews Take: Keep in mind as you read the full article that Gassée, the founder of Be Inc., was in 1996 offered $200 million for BeOS by Apple, but he held out for $275 million. Apple balked and instead went on to purchase Steve Jobs’ NeXT for $429 million. And the rest is history.


  1. In hindsight it looks like Apple made a mistake in choosing Ive over forstall.

    The outer industrial design has been pretty bad, so had the look and feel immediately after with the obomination that was ios7. Thankfully some of the os7 choices have been dampened, but still.

    Looking back, losing Ive over Forstall looks like a HUGE mistake.

    1. I think you are talking about a different issue, but the one Jobs was addressing was the choice of OS for the new iPhone back in 2007, would it be based upon OS X or based upon the OS used for the iPod. My recollection was that Tony Fadell, so-called father of the iPod, was proposing to use the iPod’s OS, while Forstall and Bertrand Serlet, wanted OS X. After losing the argument, Fadell left to start Nest.

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