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Mac OS X history

Mac OS X is widely being labeled the new kid on the operating system block, but in fact the Mac OS X history can be traced back to the 1960s -- to UNIX, to BSD, and most significantly to NeXTSTEP, Mac OS X's direct ancestor.

There are four main paths that can be followed to trace back the history:

Table of contents

The politics game

When Apple fired Steve Jobs in 1985, he immediately proceeded, with funding from Ross Perot and his own pockets, to create the NeXT insanely great thing. Because of performance and cost-related issues, NeXT was never a commercial success. But in 1996, Apple didn't seem to be a success either. The company was bleeding badly, and when the Apple board decided they needed a savior, Steve Jobs was quick to sell himself and his NeXTSTEP operating system back to the company. Jobs was, in essence, given carte blanche by the Apple board to return the company to profitability.

Apple's key personnel and the company's hardware and software plans were completely revamped by Jobs, and the NeXT influence could have scarcely been greater. NeXT's software engineers began the task of transforming their workstation-centric operating system into something suitable for Apple's humanist following. NeXTSTEP started to slowly evolve into Mac OS X.

From the operating system view

In 1986, NeXT was developing a product based on the Mach kernel. Whereas Apple was concentrating on recovering from the Apple Lisa disaster, and pushing its lower cost Macintosh line just to survive.

In late 1996, with Jobs back onboard, he was fully responsible for getting the Apple team up to date on incoporating NeXT over 4 years.

From the GUI perspective

Practically since its inception, Apple has stressed innovation. Starting in 1980, after some visits to Xerox PARC, Apple set out to have its own GUI based computing environment. By 1984, Apple had split its resources, and developed two GUI based operating systems, the lower cost Macintosh (the team that Jobs headed), and the more robust and professional Lisa, which failed in the marketplace. Again, after restabilizing in 1986, Apple developed, through research and trial-and-error, a set of human interface guidelines, with its first release as a book in ????. Apple continued to focus much of its effort on creating a usable operating system, to the point where it began to lose strength because of its lack of professional features. Nonetheless, when it came time for OSX, Apple poured on its experience in GUI and usability design.

From the language/third party developer perspective

Now, Objective C, Java, and Python can be used to program OSX natively. Adding industry standards like Java and Python only furthered this comfort. Contrasted with Microsoft, which completely develops its own languages, Apple's choice has shown to be more elegant, but Microsoft has had the market, and hence the manpower, to do what it wants.

Bringing it all together

Apple developed its GUI/usability experience as much as its systems experience (and that of NeXT's) into making OSX.

By relying on NeXT and BSD, on Objective C, and staying true to the BSD spirit of keeping things open, Apple has mixed its conservative decision to go with well developed components with a humble approach toward the power of the open source community to further its maintainability and acceptance in the world.

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