How Apple’s Mac OS X Snow Leopard became synonymous with reliability

“Following the news that Apple had refocused their plans for iOS 12 around stability and performance over new features, many were quick to liken the move to a ‘Snow Leopard release’ of iOS,” Michael Steeber writes for 9to5Mac. ” In recent years, the phrase has reached mythological status in the Apple community, a catch-all referring to stable software and ‘the good ol’ days’ of the Mac.”

“But how did this perception develop? Was Mac OS X Snow Leopard really the gold standard of software releases, an undefeated champion in the halls of computing history?” Steeber writes. “Apple started the ball rolling at the announcement of Snow Leopard during WWDC 2009 by marketing it as having ‘no new features.’ Mac OS X Leopard had been a blockbuster release with over 300 new features, and Snow Leopard was a refinement.”

“In some ways, the narrative is out of Apple’s hands. The myth of Snow Leopard is bigger than life, a cultural reference rooted in nostalgia,” Steeber writes. “However, a kernel of truth persists underneath the mythology. Improvements to iOS and macOS, no matter how small, contribute to a better experience for everyone. Fixing bugs might not be as marketable as shiny new Animoji or a fresh design, but maintenance can only be deferred so long. If Apple can knock stability out of the park in 2018, maybe the legend of Snow Leopard can finally be put to rest.”

Much more in the full article – recommended – here.

MacDailyNews Take: It was the good old days not because Snow Leopard was perfect (it wasn’t), but because Steve was still with us.

We welcome Apple’s focus on quality even as we lament that what was once integral being allowed to work at Apple has now become a special occasion. There’s no need to stop to clean up the mess if the mess wasn’t made in the first place.

Despite feature hold in focus on quality, Apple still aims to allow iOS apps to run on Macs this year – January 31, 2018
Apple’s iOS 12 could finally fix systemic frame rate issues and interface inconsistencies – January 30, 2018
Apple delays planned 2018 iOS features to focus on reliability, performance – January 30, 2018
Why Apple desperately needs a new Steve Jobs – January 29, 2018
At Tim Cook’s Apple, Steve Jobs is long gone, and so is the ‘it just works’ ethos – December 19, 2017
The Washington Post: ‘Why doesn’t Apple make its devices as carefully as it’s making Apple Park?’ – December 11, 2017
Under ‘operations genius’ Tim Cook, product delays and other problems are no longer unusual for Apple – November 20, 2017
Apple’s desperate Mac Pro damage control message hints at a confused, divided company – April 6, 2017
Who has taken over at Apple? – April 5, 2017
Apple’s embarrassing Mac Pro mea culpa – April 4, 2017
Mac Pro: Why did it take Apple so long to wake up? – April 4, 2017
AirPods: MIA for the holidays; delayed product damages Apple’s credibility, stokes customer frustration – December 9, 2016
Lazy Apple. It’s not hard to imagine Steve Jobs asking, ‘What have you been doing for the last four years?’ – December 9, 2016
Apple is misplaying the hand Steve Jobs left them – November 30, 2016
Open letter to Tim Cook: Apple needs to do better – January 5, 2015


    1. MDN: It was the good old days not because Snow Leopard was perfect (it wasn’t), but because Steve was still with us.

      Snow Leopard wasn’t *perfect* — it was *intentionally and markedly better* than its predecessor. This is the point. Since then, new versions are too focused on new features that nobody really cares about and paying too little attention to fixing the ones people are using.

      Apple is by no means alone in this pattern. It’s just particularly disappointing from Apple because (under Jobs) this was NOT their M.O.

      1. “Since then, new versions are too focused on new features that nobody really cares about and paying too little attention to fixing the ones people are using.”

        Or worse, removing features that people are using.

  1. Wow, I miss Steve more now than ever. I remember the good ol days. Things seemed to run smoother over all at Apple. There were some hiccups occasionally but nothing like we’ve seen of late at Apple.

  2. I really dislike the constant need to feature creep and not just get the basics right and stable. Personally I think a new OS X properly vetted and checked over 2 years instead of one would be a good first step. There’s a reason pros wait a long time to upgrade to a new OS – who needs the grief of something as yet unproven when you have a deadline to meet?

    1. “checked over 2 years instead of one would be a good first step.”
      It’s always humorous to hear someone that doesn’t do software development talk about software development. 🙂 The amount of time you spend prior to a release does NOT equate to an increase in quality. Remember, some of the recent security issues affected OS’s all the way back to before Snow Leopard…

      “There’s a reason pros wait a long time to upgrade to a new OS”
      Because it’s a rule of thumb good idea that, if you have something working that’s making money WHY CHANGE IT? I know Pro’s still running old hardware and old software because it works and makes money. Then again, I also know many that left the Apple hardware world altogether. Any Pro that tells you they lost work because of some upgrade actually lost work because they didn’t have a reasonable plan for performing upgrades (usually involving brand new machines running the latest software for a couple months to ensure there’s no issues)

      1. I believe “Peterblood71” was refering to how Snow Leopard was done.
        Leopard was released in October 2007.
        Snow Leopard was released in August 2009.
        One year and 10 months dedicated to optimizing and bug fixes for “Leopard”. They just called it Snow Leopard.

      2. I have about 30 Macs to update here. The OS always releases in the Fall, I wait 3 months, put it in my own home computer first, then I wait another month, install it in my work computer, then if all goes well in March (I figure Apple and developers have worked out 90% of the bugs) I install it in 2 or 3 “easy going” people’s Macs first to find any incompatibilities or problems I missed. And if that goes well, I do all the others. By end of April everyone’s updated.
        If a new Mac is needed, I keep a base built Disk Image of exactly what’s in everyone’s Macs. I erase the new HD and install what we’re all using so there isn’t any mix ‘n’ match of systems in the building. Other than during my upgrade season Feb to April, everyone is always running on identical OS’s regardless of new Mac or 2009’s (which is the age of the majority of Macs here). I run the minor OS and app updates at the end of every month on every Mac.

      3. I don’t have to be an expert in software development to know it would be prudent to have more time to work out as many bugs as possible and provide beta’s in the process for developers and others – longstanding bugs notwithstanding. Who really needs yearly OS upgrades? You blink your eyes and a year flashes by. I like it when Apple knuckles down to further stabilize OS X rather than add a bunch of stuff.

        Yes exactly my point about why pros could care less about upgrading if what they have works and won’t create problems denying them making money (I’ve been in the film business for 35 years). I don’t think most users are screaming out for yearly upgrades in operating systems. I know Windows users don’t really either. Most of my pro friends using Windows machines are still using Windows 7.

  3. 1- Last version of OS X with Rosetta.
    2- Last version developed under Bertrand Serlet.
    3- Last version before Apple started massively dumbing down the GUI by hiding configuration options unless you knew the secret keystrokes or accessed by command line.
    4- Safari was great before it was burdened with 12 layers of bullshit (top sites and all the rest)
    5- Last version of OS X with Front Row.

    Very stable out of the box. The Gold Standard.

    1. You said it perfectly! I still keep my old SL iMac on my network to run my legacy APPLE software that they have refused to support. (iMovie6 still beats the hell out of iMash-up8 IMO).

    2. The worst negative changes have been to Disk Utility—once a great tool. It used to be fantastic, now they’ve “simplified” it to the point of difficult to use.

  4. What does everyone expect from a non-innovator, Apple company, social aware caretaker that has been Tim Cook?
    The laser sharp focus to details that Apple had, before Mr. Job’s death, has been seriously lacking.
    Especially with top design executive Jonathan Ive engulfed in the planning, design,building and involved with every facet and detail of Apple’s spaceship/flagship campus!
    Who’s actually been overseeing/keeping an eye on iPhone/iPad/iPod/macOS/iOS development abd design, if Mr. Ive has been sooo involved with the new Apple campus and a $300 company vanity book with high def photography, 8-color, low ghost links, top heavy weight linen paper with special gilded edges?
    Apple users really don’t need more emojis/animojis!
    Apple users demand attention to OS, UI, smooth/intuitive and, relatively fast and glitch/bug free operation from its products!
    Especially so from a brand, like Apple, that has always been a considered a premium brand and premium priced products!

    1. I agree with virtually everything you wrote — but why the fixation on this site for Tim Cook’s social agenda. He’s a supply-chain guy, and most of the time, he does a great job (record sales of iPhones in the last quarter are an indication he can ship product by the millions).

      Whatever his shortcomings as a CEO (and stepping into Steve Jobs’ shoes, virtually anyone else would be disappointing), it’s NOT because he’s socially progressive, or gay, or contributes to political causes you may or may not support. It’s because he’s not Steve.

      Tim Cook deserves the criticism he gets here and elsewhere. But he doesn’t deserve the cheap personal shots I frequently read on this site. We can do better. (Well, most of us can, anyway.)

      1. Tim brings it on himself by issuing social commentary.

        Steve kept his mouth shut on most social issues. His focus was on making really great technical objects that delighted users.

        1. …and Tim Cook still can’t manage Apple well. Maybe Tim Cook is simply incompetent and out of his league. I think you have correctly identified the problem. Thanks, Sean, appreciate your help.

    1. Yes it was. High Sierra was touted as the next Snow Leopard and it failed miserably. Snow Leopard was so stable for me I stuck with it until Mavericks when several programs I used couldn’t be upgraded without an OS upgrade.

  5. I’ll tell you why. Because for that time period the Applications that worked with Snow leopard
    Were State if the art professional programs. Too if the line. Like Finsl cut pro 7.

    Then everything became pussyfied childlike apps

    No pro uses fcpX. just some martyrs pricing they can do something with Work around.

    Everyone went to adobe premiere. Adobe suites Avid etc. same goes for ms office etc etc etc

    Sure you can get by otherwise but why ?

    Apple should have the state if the art application
    For every industry. Jesus what would it take.

    You’re a computer and software company fir Christ sakes.

    Considering Apple stick started moving with iPod a music player. You’d think they’d want the state if the art programs to make that music and videos

    Hey can they figure a way to fix typos as well.
    How about not allowing words that aren’t.

    Like assuming “not” rather than nit.

    Just a pet peeve.

    Make great killer applications.

  6. DavGreg,

    I agree with all your comments about SL! I’m still using it on my 2009 17”MBP and on one of my desktop Macs (2010 MacPro) because of its stability and ability to run legacy software via Rosetta. I’ve had to upgrade both desktop and laptop machines, but still use the older machines productively side-by-side with the newer ones!

      1. @Fred,

        Please re-read my post. I mentioned that I’ve had to upgrade both my laptop and desktop machines (running 10.13 and 10.12, respectively), but 10.6 SL was (and still is) a great OS for my older machines. Sure, the newer OS(s) offer features not present in 10.6, but (as others have posted as well) other features taken away since 10.6 have been a move in the wrong direction — features I surely miss in the newer versions of OS X.

        I’ve been a Mac user since 2001, when I first switched from Windows. I’ve used every version of OS X. Did you ever use 10.6 Snow Leopard for any length of time?

  7. TIm Cook has made a cruise liner amount of cash for Apple since Mr.Jobs death!
    No doubt, Tim Cook has done well for himself, top Apple employees and top shareholders of Apple and Apple as a whole company!
    Apple is STILL thriving.
    But Tim Cook is NOT inventor, innovator, product or software design guy or an entrepreneur!
    He just feels like a financial caretaker. Keep Apple making money and profitable, despite no real innovation and in absence of new product ideas or directions.
    And ONLY up until recently, Tim Cook has been failing at his own Apple core competency, as a logistics and technologies appropriations guy!
    Up until recently, pipeline Tim has missed many product ship dates and had, up until just recently, ignored the whole Apple professional user market!
    I was very surprised that he was able to put his product lineup stamp in Apple by coming up with the Apple Watch!
    I told all my Apple friends 5-6 years ago, that Mr. Jobs, when he knew he wasn’t well, must have already put 5-6 years of new product innovation/ideas into Apple to carry Apple for 5-6 years, even shortly before his death.
    Most long-term product companies plan possible products 5-10 years out.
    It has been nearly over 6 years since Mr.Jobs death.
    But what innovations will now come out of Aople from here on out?
    How many version numbers and variations are we going to have of iPhones/iiPads/iPods and iMacs?
    Is Apple done innovating anything in the personal computing and mobile computing spaces because Apple has no person that is capable of innovating and driving new personal technology products that people can embrace from Apple?
    Is Apple just going to keep making iPhones/iPads to some ridiculous version number?
    AND how long can Apple survive doing just that?
    How long are all of us going to keep purchasing expensive technology products from Apple if future products end up just being incremental steps forward of 10 year old design philosophies and product lineups and products that keep slipping in attention to detail and operation?
    What will Apple and Apple products look like in 10 years?

    1. Scott Forstall was the closest thing to Steve, and the idiots left behind pushed him out. One of the most stupid decisions since Steve’s death. They should bring him back and make HIM CEO in my opinion.

  8. 2018 marks 9 years since I switched to Mac. Its been disappointing to see the decline in quality of the OS. I was lucky to have started on Leopard and then Snow Leopard shortly thereafter. From what I remember those were paid upgrades back then, and Apple still sells SL!
    I imagine that the change from a paid upgrade to a guaranteed annual upgrade for everyone shifted something in the development process. Instead of creating a product for paying customers they were releasing an OS that was increasingly overshadowed by iOS and was meant to keep up with it, rather than shine in its own right. In many ways new versions of MacOS are a value-add/compatibility updates for iOS users. iOS is great for many things, but my Mac is where most business and entertainment happen.

  9. posted this yesterday in response to an Apple Support survey, I will say that Apple Support Chat put in a great effort to solve my 10.13.3 problem, still have a DNS problem, but its workable;

    “The complexity of the Apple ecosystem is a problem. The attempted integration of iOS and Mac is going too far, too fast. Mac seems to becoming the red-headed stepchild when it should be marketed, should have better development and general emphasis. As of last October, I am a 30 year Mac user. High Sierra was not ready. Last summer I worked on a web project for a company with the requirement that it be done at the clients facility on Windows 10. The interface is clunky, ugly, confusing, all of the things that we Mac users believe, and those are true. But the system was rock solid and dead reliable, no issues at all on that. My work, which is mostly HTML5 animation using Tumult Hype (not used on the project I am talking about) is one of about 12 3rd party apps around which I build my business. ALL excellent quality. How many Apple apps do I use? A quick list off the top of my head: Safari (but still compatibility problems in school systems and companies) Mail,( I am familiar with it even though it is buggy) TextEdit, Preview, Calendar (my needs there are not complex, again, familiarity is a factor) Contacts,Reminders, Notes (love it actually), iTunes horrible but my needs are minimal, not obsessed with entertainment and music as some are. Maps, actually not bad. —Pages, all of the other iWork group, haven’t had a use for them in years really. 90% of my time is on 3rd party apps, without them, the decision would be shaky.——————–in my daily work life, the quality of the 3rd party apps is the key factor in my success. Have a love-hate thing with Apple, bring back the mindset of 1988-20??? something. Would love the friendliness of Snow Leopard, haven’t felt that since. And that matters! Look at the style, but more importantly the feel and user friendliness of Snap On tools in the automotive world compared to others. Thats where we were. You just want to pick up and use one of their wrenches, (I am a hot rodder) Apple was the hot rod truck that you enjoyed driving, could go fast and HAUL STUFF! (and if you measured the emission levels it was right down there with the best due to aftermarket technology. I will stop now.”

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