Apple at 30: Part 3 -- Mac OS X arrives, and so does Intel

Editor’s note: Apple Computer Inc. celebrated its 30th birthday on April 1. This is Part 3 of a virtual trip down memory lane that looks back at some of Apple’s famous -- and infamous -- moments during the past three decades, including the advent of the Newton, the Clone Wars of the mid-1990s, Copeland, the return of Steve Jobs, the advent of Mac OS X, the iPod and Intel-based hardware.  Parts 1  and 2 are available online already.

Mac OS X -- Rhapsody in Blue and Yellow

In 1997, with Openstep now owned by Apple, development began on the next-generation Mac OS, at the time called Rhapsody. Rhapsody would be made up of two separate operating environments called the yellow box (the new operating system components) and the blue box (which existed as a "Mac compatibility environment"). Rumors abounded about other environments, including a red box that would run Windows software similar to Virtual PC. From the fall of 1997 until Apple’s WorldWide Developer Conference (WWDC) in the spring of 1998, everyone was speculating about Rhapsody. At WWDC, Steve Jobs announced that instead of calling the operating system Rhapsody, it would be known as Mac OS X (with the blue box becoming what we now know as the Classic environment). Mac OS 9 would be released to build in some of the foundation technologies needed for Classic to work and to provide needed updates.

When Apple released Mac OS X as a public beta in September 2000, a surprising number of Mac users paid $30 just to be able to run a beta version of the new operating system. Six months later, many purchased the first release of Mac OS X. Although the transition from the classic Mac OS was not an easy one -- in hindsight, many now agree that it wasn’t until Mac OS 10.2 arrived that the operating system seemed to be mature -- the transition did take place.

The iMac arrives

Also in 1998, Apple introduced the iMac. If any single Mac model can be credited with re-invigorating Apple design and aesthetics, it is the iMac.Friendly and easy to set up and use, it arrived with a price tag many families felt was moderately affordable. The iMac pioneered new ground technologically, too. It became the first Mac to offer USB ports, as well as the first to ship without a floppy drive or the traditional Apple Desktop Bus or serial ports. It was a sign that Apple was looking ahead at both the direction of computing and emerging technologies. The choice of USB as a sole means of connecting devices not only made the iMac slightly ahead of the curve, it also helped push adoption of USB throughout the computer industry.

Apple later took the design of the iMac even further, offering it in a range of colors: first five fruit-based calors (which caused Best Buy to pull the computer because of "difficulty tracking inventory of computers based on color"); then in a range that included Ruby, Sage, Snow and Graphite; and finally in print patterns called Blue Dalmatian and Flower Power. Eventually, Apple redesigned the iMac as a flat-panel creation with a rounded base and swivel arm and then again into its current all-in-one, all-white iteration.

iBooks and Airport

Following the iMac as its sole consumer desktop in a simplified consumer/pro product strategy, Apple introduced the iBook as a consumer portable. One of the first descriptions I personally heard of the original rounded and colored iBook -- the "clamshell" design -- was that it looked like a toilet seat, or a purse. Snide comments aside, the iBook reinvented the laptop market as being kid- and family-friendly and a whimsical design market. The original iBook was extremely durable and well-suited for schools as well as adults. Again, Apple stuck with the choice of colors (which eventually included Tangerine, Blueberry, Graphite, Key Lime and Indigo) before reinventing the iBook in a more traditional all-white laptop design. The iBook again pushed adoption of emerging technologies with AirPort, Apple’s branded version of the 802.11b wireless protocol.

Coming to a Mall Near You -- the Apple Store

After years of problems selling Macs in major retail chains (mostly due to poor presentation and limited sales staff training), Apple opened its first retail stores in 2001. Apple Retail offered a novel approach of putting the customer first and providing Mac users and potential switchers a place where they could truly learn more about Apple hardware, get answers to questions, receive technical support and purchase Macs, software and peripherals. The program proved to be a major success, and Apple has since opened scores of stores across the world.

Apple worked carefully to craft the image presented to shoppers in an Apple store, and the Mac faithful and curious passers-by all over the world have had the experience of a mini-MacWorld in a shopping center near their homes. The Apple store design also encouraged shoppers to play with technology, to ask questions and form communities. Of all Apple’s innovative ideas, the Apple Store may be the one that affects users the most personally. And it has definitely helped Apple effectively support users during the Mac OS X transition (and the more recent move to intel chips) and to engender more Mac switchers.

The iPod and iTunes

No piece of technology may have seemed as out of place in Apple’s product strategy in 2001 as the idea of an MP3 player. But, Apple released the iPod, and the world has never been the same since. The iPod set the bar for mobile music and, eventually, video. It truly fits into Apple’s idea of the computer as a digital hub for a digital lifestyle. Pairing it with a way for users to legally download music was also genius (and getting so many recording companies to sign onto the iTunes Music Store was a huge win for Apple CEO Steve Jobs). Both the iPod and iTunes have revolutionized Apple, not only financially but as an iconic figure in the entertainment industry.

Mac OS on Intel -- Part II

And that brings us to today, 30 years after the Apple I. Apple is successfully making a transition that was originally scrapped more than half its lifetime ago: moving the Mac OS to Intel hardware. The portability of Mac OS X (or of mach microkernel on which both it and Openstep are based) makes this not only possible but much easier than the attempts in the early 1990s. Although there are likely to be some bumps in the road, it is a transition that shows every sign of succeeding. In fact, with this week’s announcement of the Intel Core Duo-based MacBook, the only hardware not yet sporting Intel processors are the desktop machines. And updated desktops are likely by year’s end.

The Next 30 Years

Over the past 30 years, many people have tried to ring the death bell for Apple. The company has refocused and reinvented itself and its products time and time again, each time innovating and leading the technological world in some new direction. I don’t know where Apple will eventually lead the world, but I have no doubt that the company will be around and innovating for a long time to come.

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and IT consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network design and troubleshooting. He is the co-author of Essential Mac OS X Panther Server Administration and the author of Troubleshooting, Maintaining, and Repairing Macs. He is a regular contributor to Inform IT and is the mobile technology correspondent for Suite 101. For more information, visit RyanFaas.com.

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