Monday, January 03, 2011, 02:00 am PT (05:00 am ET)
2011 marks Apple's tenth anniversary of Mac OS X, iPod, Apple RetailAs Apple begins 2011 by opening its new Mac App Store and expanding its partnerships with Verizon, later this year the company can look forward to celebrating the tenth anniversary of three of its greatest successes: Mac OS X, the iPod, and the company's uniquely successful retail initiative.
Ten years ago, Apple was facing tremendous uncertainty as the dotcom bubble burst, killing off liberal tech spending on high end products and hitting the company's core audience of creative designers particularly hard. To make matters worse, Apple had just launched its expensive new Power Mac G4 Cube in an attempt to cater to the demand for fashionable, high end gadgets just as that market was collapsing.
The doctom era had helped Apple solidly return to profitability beginning in 1998 following the $1.8 billion in losses it reported in 1996 and 1997, but the company was now faced with reporting a new quarterly loss of $195 million in January 2001.
However, the long term execution of a series of three major new initiatives launched later that year ensured the company wouldn't have to report another quarterly loss across the next decade, even when hit by a much greater global recession that stalled growth across the industry in 2008.
Mac OS X
The first initiative was Mac OS X, Apple's new desktop operating system for Mac desktops, notebooks and servers. Mac OS X was based upon the NeXTSTEP technology it had acquired from Steve Jobs' NeXT, Inc. in the final days of 1996.
The company originally expected to quickly deploy NeXT's far superior OS, built upon a Unix foundation and offering advanced, object oriented development tools, to Mac users who currently running the ancient System 7. However, those hopes were dashed by the staunch resistance from major Mac developers including Adobe, Macromedia and Microsoft, who refused to spend the considerable resources needed to port their existing Mac apps to an entirely new system being offered by a company that, at the time, had a terrible record of delivering upon its software development roadmap and was struggling financially.
Without major modern apps, Mac hardware running NeXTSTEP would be hard to sell, given that Apple's existing customers wanted to retain their simple, familiar computing environment that could run their existing software, and the remains of NeXT's core audience had little interest in buying Apple hardware.
That forced the company to extend life support for System 7 while working to graft together NeXT's advanced technology and the valuable parts of Apple's existing software portfolio (its large Mac software library, QuickTime, and the familiar Mac user environment) into a new future product.
An ambitious project
That work took longer than planned, and the scope of the project kept expanding. Rather than making its next major Mac OS revision just a continuation of the existing Mac OS look and feel, Apple decided to take on the task of designing an entirely new graphical compositing engine to support the advanced graphics effects it needed to differentiate Mac OS X from the existing Mac OS and Microsoft's Windows, both of which used a relatively simple graphics system originating with the QuickDraw technology Apple had developed in the early 80s.
In March of 2001, Apple launched Mac OS X 10.0, the first major release of its new OS following its initial Public Beta of the previous fall. While loaded on new Macs, the new OS was not setup as the default boot system because it was noticeably slower than Mac OS 9 and offered few obvious advantages, given the lack of native software available.
In September, Apple followed up with a free 10.1 release that addressed performance and glaring omissions, including the ability to play DVDs. By the next summer, Apple was ready to stage a mock funeral for Mac OS 9, telling its Mac developers at WWDC that Mac OS X was the future. A series of attractive hardware releases, including the thin new 2001 Titanium PowerBook, 2002's distinctive iMac G4 and 2003's Power Mac G5 (the first mainstream 64-bit personal computer) helped Apple to attract new users to Macs years after many pundits had dismissed the platform.
Key to Apple's survival
The development of Mac OS X was a critical factor in Apple's resurgence. It established that the company could deliver upon its software roadmap, an important accomplishment given the company's failure to radically modernize System 7 throughout the 90s in a series of boondoggles and vaporware known as Taligent, Copland and Gershwin.
Mac OS X would later enable Apple to rapidly transition the Macintosh and its third party software to Intel in 2006 (something that would have been impossibly difficult to pull off with the old classic Mac OS). It also provided Apple with the ability to deliver a mobile version capable of using the same development tools in 2007's iOS, and set up the company to provide a strong alternative to Microsoft's Windows, which didn't attempt to deliver a similarly advanced graphics compositing engine until Windows Vista's release in 2007. There would be no modern Apple today without Mac OS X.
Later this year, Apple will release its seventh major reference release in Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, which the company says will advance many of the concepts present in its mobile variant, iOS 4. Prior to that happening, the company has announced that it will open the Mac App Store on January 6, which will bring iOS-style direct software shopping, downloads, and updates to desktop Mac OS X users.
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