Steve Jobs & the Future of Mac OS X

Will the Mac have an OS XI? In this article I discuss two topics that relate to this — In the first part of the article, I’ll discuss the name of the current Mac OS — Is it Mac OS X (letter X) or is it Mac OS 10 (number 10)? This is a well-known subject for long-time Mac users, but I haven’t seen other talk about my suggestion that Steve Jobs carefully crafted the “OS X” name as a brand that he and Apple won’t give up easily. In the second part of the article, I discuss how the iPad changes the game for the Mac OS and my prediction of what this means for Apple.

Is “Mac OS X” a Steve Jobs Pun?

The story of Steve Jobs’ firing and “second coming” at Apple has been told many times. For the purposes of this article, the highlight of the story is his founding of the Unix-based NeXT computer (when he was away from Apple), and then, when he returned as CEO, his fostering the adoption of its OS, which became Mac OS X. The Unix base of OS X was a large break from the previous non-Unix “Classic” Mac operating systems 1-9. … This is all common knowledge, but one aspect of the advent of OS X gets less attention (at least in writing) and that’s the name “OS X” –Why is it X instead of 10? A little digging reveals that the letter “X” has particular significance in the Unix world — When Unix people see a word with “x” in, they take notice because Unix-related words often have an “x” in. So it seems likely that the X was chosen with Unix in mind — A cute Unix insider pun. Surprisingly, though, I can’t find anything that describes the naming of OS X as a pun — Googling for “mac os x” pun or “mac os x” name pun or “mac os x” “double meaning” should certainly pick up something, but it doesn’t. I suspect that there was discussion of this when Mac OS X launched in 2000, and that I’m missing it. Talk on the Web was not nearly as well-developed then as it is now, though, so maybe it’s not there.

So why is this little pun important? Because it brings up the much more interesting idea – Where did the pun come from? Who thought of it? Was it Steve Jobs? If he didn’t think of it himself, he certainly would have been involved in its adoption. It seems likely that there was deep thought given to the name, that it didn’t “just happen” casually. How interesting and serendipitous that when Jobs brought Unix to the Mac, the versions of the OS just happened to be at OS 9, set to advance to … OS 10 >> OS X. But — Suggesting that the weighted meaning of “OS X” had been a long time in the planning, one commentator says that Apple pushed along pre-OS X versions from 8 to 9 so that the version number would be at “10″ when the new Mac-Unix OS was ready to launch. With this sort of long-range planning, it’s unimaginable that CEO Jobs would not have been heavily involved. It’s also an indication, I think, that Apple has a heavy investment in the name “OS X” and that they won’t be quick to move on to another name/version.

After the iPad – Mac OS XI or iOS?

Part of the phenomenal success of the iPad is that it’s created a new category. Before the iPad, “mobile” meant a device you could hold in one hand. The operating systems of such devices were different from those on laptops and desktops. But the iPad is nudging into the laptop category and it uses the same iOS operating system as the iPhone. So there’s been much recent speculation that the future operating system for Apple computers and devices will in some sense merge into one. The downsizing of Mac OS X is already starting to happen, with the smaller footprint of its newest version (Snow Leopard), and the trend will likely accelerate as iPad/Tablet computing increase.

With Mac OS X about to reach its 10th birthday (Xth birthday ;-) ) in March 2011, its interesting serendipitous life continues — Who would have ever guessed that it would persist for 10 years, right up to the next stage of computing, which is being ushered into existence by … Apple Computing with iPhone and iPad? Did Steve know all along and that’s why he held on to the “X” brand for so long?

My Prediction – I’m not taking sides in the debate about whether OS X is a version of the Mac OS or whether it’s a separate OS, and what the next Apple operating system will be called. What I am predicting is that the Mac OS and iOS will grow more alike, which is not original with me, as noted above. I’ll go a step further, though, and predict that around the 10-year birthday of Mac OS X in March, 2011, Steve Jobs will make some sort of announcement about the future direction of the Apple operating system — It’s just too good an opportunity for Steve miss it — The stage is set for the next episode in … the serendipitous life of Mac OS X.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

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