There’s been much celebration around the web, now that Mac OS X is five years old. I wanted to join the celebratory atmosphere, but rather than take you through the history of the OS (which other people have already done, much better than I could, elsewhere), I wanted to take some time to reflect on my personal experiences of OS X.
Now, the thought of using any other OS for my day-to-day work makes me shudder. The occasions when I have to use a Windows machine (usually while working for a client on-site) always leave me reeling at how much hard work Windows is after you’ve got out of the habit of coping with it. But when OS X was first released, things were somewhat different.
At that time, I was not a switcher, but a lurker. I lurked in OS 9.1 on my Lime Green G3 iMac, which was a lovely machine except for the intermittent video problems and the fact that, with only 64MB RAM (!), it struggled somewhat. With pretty much everything.
Most of my actual work was done on a Windows machine, an old one at the time but one I had spent some years customizing to suit me. It ran Windows 98SE very smoothly, very fast. Using Eudora for my email, Opera 5.x for web browsing, and TextPad for writing, I was on the whole a satisfied user. The iMac, which sat in a corner of the living room, was intended purely for casual surfing and messing about. I couldn’t really justify keeping it on, so I got rid of it.
But like everyone else in the geek community, I was fascinated to see what OS X was going to emerge as, and just how different to OS 9 it was going to be. I remember seeing the early screenshots, and in particular reading John Siracusa’s series of Developer Release and beta reviews (most of them critical, and rightly so), and thinking to myself that I’d end up sticking with Windows.
Then there were inevitable stability problems with my Win box which gradually sent me over the edge. After several re-installs, it still wouldn’t behave properly. I began to explore alternative options.
A good friend of mine was a keen FreeBSD user and suggested I try it.
“But I don’t know enough Unix to get by,” I said.
“You don’t need to. All you need to start with is a browser, an email client and an editor, right? You’ll cope. You can always ask me for help with the tricky stuff.”
So we spent an evening trying to get FreeBSD installed on the machine, but for reasons that escape me that didn’t work either. We abandoned the computing and sat downstairs, drinking beer.
“Well, that was a waste of time,” my friend said. “Maybe you should just get yourself one of those new Macs that runs OS X. It’s basically FreeBSD with some other stuff on top. Ideal for someone like you, I should think.”
The idea was planted in my head and I couldn’t shake it off, but it was still some time before I went ahead and bought my iBook. By then, OS X had reached 10.1 and was much improved. I drove to an independent Mac reseller in Swindon, about an hour from my home, to pick it up. The guy there had a house full of Macs, old and new, and was still very much an OS 9 man. He booted the machine up in front of me, and started showing me around OS 9.
“It’s OK,” I said, “I know about that. And in any case I’ve no intention of using it at all. I shall install OS X immediately.”
The guy looked at me like I was some kind of raving lunatic, but later that same day I installed OS X and never looked back. (That same laptop, a trusty G3 with 640MB RAM, still sits in my office today and is used quite often as a general-purpose family browsing machine.)
Now my adventure with OS X had begun. And frankly, so had a new chapter in my professional career. With my OS X machine to work on, I had a new subject to write about. In recent years, the focus for most of my professional written output has moved from “the internet” to OS X and the surrounding hardware and software.
I grew into the new environment, learning it as it matured. I watched my G3 machine become obsolete, and the G4 processor take over as the dominant Mac CPU; I’m still using G4 machines today. I watched, delighted, as OS X slowly shed its youthful stripes and adopted a sleeker, more mature look with smart gray tones and less of the “lickable” bubble-gum style. I was pretty pleased with Jaguar, very pleased with Panther (especially towards the end of its life), and took a little while to warm to Tiger (although I use it on all my machines now).
One of the great delights of using OS X in recent years has been the amount, variety and quality of software developed for it. Every time I hear non-Mac users complaining that “there’s not enough software for the Mac,” I always point them to Hyperjeff’s database (current application total: 14,766). There’s a massive choice of software covering almost every need you can think of, and the community of developers remains vibrant, opinionated, smart and constantly willing to work that little bit harder. The recent need to start making Universal Binaries has provided additional motivation and the updates just keep coming.
And I watched as OS X became the OS of choice among a swathe of friends and acquaintances. Large numbers of my formerly Linux-using friends (a majority of them, in fact) now use OS X to some degree. It’s impossible to attend any kind of tech-oriented conference, press launch or meeting without seeing Apple-logo’d laptops lids opening up everywhere.
My computing environment has changed enormously in the last five years, and for the better. Back then, I hadn’t imagined stuff like iChat AV, Google Earth, Automator, GarageBand, iWork, NetNewsWire, and Quicksilver. (Ah, Quicksilver! How did we ever use computers without it?)
Now here I am with a G4 PowerBook, using Eudora, Camino and BBEdit as my primary tools of the trade, and I’m more than just a satisfied user - I’m a happy one too. So Happy Birthday Mac OS X; here’s looking forward to another successful five years.