Home / Technology / It’s been 20 years since the launch of Mac OS X.

It’s been 20 years since the launch of Mac OS X.



Campaign image from the Apple event.
Enlarge / As Apple unveiled a new way forward, Apple CEO Tim Cook added the ARM transition with Mac’s other major transitions: PowerPC, MacOS X and Intel.

It was two decades ago that day ̵

1; March 24, 2001 – that Mac OS X first became available to users worldwide. We are not always big on empty sentimentality here at Ars, but the milestone seemed worthy of a quick comment.

Of course, Mac OS X (or macOS 10 as it later became known) did not pretty survive to the 20th anniversary; last year’s macOS Big Sur update brought the version number up to 11, ending the government to X.

But despite the dual lifespan of x86 and ARM processors and its ever closer connection to iOS and iPadOS, today’s macOS is still very directly a descendant of the original Mac OS X release. Mac OS X, in turn, evolved in part from Steve Jobs’ NeXT operating system – which was recently acquired by Apple – and the launch was the herald of Apple’s second Jobs era.

Cheetah, Mac OS X’s first release, was pretty buggy. But it introduced a number of things that are still present in the operating system today. These included the dock, which – despite some improvements and additional features – is still the same now as it once was, as well as the modern version of the Finder. And while macOS has seen a number of user interfaces and design tweaks that have changed over time, the footprints of Cheetah’s much-hyped Aqua interface can still be found throughout Big Sur.

OS X brought many new features and technologies we now take for granted as well. For example, it enabled Apple laptops to wake up from sleep immediately, and it introduced, among other things, dynamic memory management.

Mac OS X’s biggest impact in retrospect may be in the role it played in inspiring and supporting iOS, which has far surpassed macOS as Apple’s most widely used operating system. And in fact, macOS lives in a completely different context today than it did in 2001. It was recently bumped from the No.2 operating system space globally by Google’s Chrome OS, and ended a very long period for Mac OS as the world’s second most popular desktop operating system when it applies to devices that are sent.

The most popular desktop operating system in 2021 is Windows, just as it was in 2001, but the most popular operating system in general is Google’s Android, which has a dramatically larger market share in the mobile area than iOS does.

So while Mac OS X’s influence is deep, it exists today primarily as a support for iOS, which in itself is not the most popular operating system in its category. Despite Apple’s resounding success in the second Steve Jobs era, as well as in the recent era of Tim Cook, the Mac is still a relatively niche platform – loved by some, but skipped much of the ordinary.

After 20 years, much has changed, but much has remained the same.


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