Ten years after its beta debuted, we look at where the ultra-successful Apple Mac OS X operating system came from

September 2000 is considered a turning point when it comes to Apple OSes. This is when the company released its Mac OS X Public Beta, a limited-time trial run of the ultra-modern, groundbreaking operating system that would replace the old Mac OS.

Priced at $30 (£19) for a CD distributed via Apple's online store, the beta gave the general public their first taste of an operating system that would go on to win popular acclaim and attract scores of Windows users to the Macintosh.

Mac owners have been living with OS X for some time now, and Apple has come a long way from those dark days of the late 1990s when the company simply struggled for survival. It's easy to forget in an age dominated by iPhones, iPads and other Apple successes, but the company saw some tough times more than a decade ago. True, it had the success of the iMac on its side. But new hardware only gets you so far when the software that runs on it is built upon an ancient and creaky foundation. To that end, it's hardly going out on a limb to suggest that Mac OS X wound up being a key driver in Apple's comeback story.

At the turn of the 1990s, Apple could confidently say it had the best desktop OS in the consumer PC marketplace. But the launch of Microsoft's Windows NT in 1993 and Windows 95 (the latter of which proved wildly popular) put Apple's once-rightful claim of OS superiority on shaky ground. Apple found itself in an especially vulnerable position as the once revolutionary Macintosh OS, first released in 1984 but only incrementally improved since then, suddenly looked very antiquated. Apple's life flashed before its eyes, and the once mighty computer company found itself forced to confront its own mortality - a mortality that would surely be tested if something didn't change.

This fundamental insecurity on Apple's part launched a long, drawn-out, and ultimately mismanaged search to supplant the Classic Mac OS with a modern replacement. Top features on the wish list for the new dream OS included protected memory (to prevent system-wide crashes) and pre-emptive multitasking (to end embarrassments like having a floppy reads slow down or freeze the entire system temporarily). The search became epic as it spanned three Apple CEOs and a half-dozen or more OS candidates from both within and without Apple.

The process finally came to an end in 1996 when Gil Amelio, then CEO of Apple, selected technology from a company called NeXT over that of former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassée's company, Be, whose OS was then in development.

NEXT PAGE: The NeXT connection

  1. The origins of Apple's successful OS
  2. The NeXT connection
  3. Rhapsody
  4. Enter OS X
  5. The OS X legacy